Europe’s strategic situation is simultaneously precarious and curiously comfortable. From eastern Ukraine to northern Africa, conflicts crowd in on the European Union (EU). Yet the bloc’s security may actually benefit from the ongoing instability in cases such as Ukraine, Mali and even Syria. The longer these conflicts absorb the energies of potential foes, ranging from Russian President Vladimir Putin to various Islamist radical groups, the less likely they are to menace the EU directly. Europeans have little or no appetite to get involved in these wars, leading critics to grumble that they refuse to fight for their interests. But it may be in Europe’s interest to let others keep fighting.
A quick survey of the EU’s neighborhood is dispiriting. The Ukrainian war is worsening. Apparently insoluble conflicts crisscross the Middle East. To the south of the Mediterranean, Libya is in anarchy. Much of the Maghreb appears unstable.
Yet the crises on Europe’s borders still only rarely disrupt its internal affairs. Security services worry about European jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq to launch terrorist attacks at home. An attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels this May, which claimed four lives, has been tied to a Franco-Algerian Islamist who fought in Syria.* Norwegian officials warned of another potential incident last week. But these threats have not inspired general public fear. Interest in eastern Ukraine was also waning across much of Europe until a missile hit Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over the warzone this month.