Essay: Why Europe is sleepwalking in Ukraine

In an essay for the liberal Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, I analyse why Europe seems to be so indifferent about a military escalation in Ukraine.

For the first time in decades a military conflict at the heart of Europe is not only seen as a real possibility, but even as inevitable.

Not unlike during the time before the First World War, everyone is aware of the chance of an outbreak at any moment. And like 100 years ago, individual interests hinder the achievement of a common goal – preserving the peace in Europe. Germany doesn’t want to give up a pipeline, Ukraine wishes to continue building two nuclear power plants, and France seeks to limit American and British influence through more European cooperation.

The Australian historian Christopher Clark describes in his book ‘The Sleepwalkers’ how Europe stumbled into war in 1914. Underneath the decisions to go to war lay poor communication, assumptions, and guesswork which had the potential to cause an unpredictable development of events. In such a situation of mistrust, everyone assumed that war was about to erupt. Until it actually happened.

The analogy with the past is not the threat of a third world war. The analogy is the notion that war has somehow become inevitable.