The so-called "European Neighborhood Policy" has, so far, been a curious thing. There is much talk about it in the EU, but little practical effect. It was meant as an alternative to the ever-increasing number of accession rounds, say, involving the countries in the southern Caucasus. But the war in Lebanon and its consequences have caused a sudden and fundamental change in the leisurely pursuit of this policy.
The Lebanon war has served as a harsh reminder to the EU that it has "strategic interests" -- security interests first and foremost -- and that, should it choose to ignore them, the price will be high.
Moreover, the division of labor between the US and Europe isn't functioning in the time-tested manner of old: the ongoing war in Iraq is gnawing at the US' military capabilities and has resulted in a deterioration of the moral and political legitimacy of the US as seen in the Islamic world.
With the decision of its member states to send several thousand soldiers to Lebanon to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the EU has made its most significant decision yet in terms of the Neighborhood Policy. Can the EU in fact emerge as a stabilizing political force in the most dangerous area of conflict within Europe's immediate geopolitical neighborhood?
After the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the Middle East is at once the most dangerous and also -- given security considerations -- the most important neighboring region for the EU today. Why? Because the main threats to European security at the beginning of the 21st century stem from that region. The threats concentrated in the Middle East are diverse: regional conflicts, totalitarian religious ideologies, terrorism, nuclear armament programs, blockades to modernization, unstable regimes and ambitions of hegemony.
If one asks what interests the EU and its member states have in this crisis-riddled region, the answer is that European energy and economic interests are certainly at stake, as well as the vital interests of Europe's partners and allies (Israel in particular).
How the Middle East develops will determine the extent of the risks for, or even probable challenges to, Europe's security. Success in containing, or indeed resolving, the conflict there will have overwhelmingly positive consequences for Europe's security.
The Middle East today is defined by three central conflicts: the Israeli-Arab conflict, Iraq and Iran. The fusion of Iran's nuclear program (and Iran's ambitions of hegemony) with the situation in Iraq and with Hezbollah in Lebanon will lead to a "New Middle East" which, in all likelihood, will provoke a major confrontation. This will involve far more than just the usual regional actors and conflicts. The war in Lebanon has made it abundantly clear how far this dangerous process has already progressed.
The mission in Lebanon is a high-risk one for the UN force, and for Europe in particular. The war did not result in a real decision. Neither Hezbollah nor Syria, let alone Iran, have any interest in the UN mission's success. The Security Council resolution presupposes -- in addition to separating the combatants -- the enforcement of the internal and external sovereignty of Lebanon's elected government, without saying how this is to be accomplished with a politically strengthened Hezbollah that is militarily superior to the Lebanese forces