It is conceivable that all four conflicts [namely, in Libya, Nigeria, Syria, and Ukraine] could rumble on unresolved throughout 2015.
The U.S. and its allies may continue to bomb Islamist terrorists in Syria, or pick them off in cross-border commando raids, without taking on the greater risks and costs of a long-term stabilization mission. This may also be the only option in Libya. French President Francois Hollande noted early last week that France is increasing its military presence near Libya’s border with Niger to tackle terrorist infiltrations, but that it is “not yet going down the road” toward a full-scale unilateral intervention.
If Western governments are unwilling to pick a fight in Libya, they are even less likely to do so over farther-off cities and villages in Nigeria and its environs. They would, by contrast, welcome the chance to send a few thousand troops to tamp down the Ukrainian crisis if it was politically and operationally viable to do so. But Moscow has no reason to acquiesce to any larger peacekeeping force there for now.
Yet the strategic calculations could change in each case over the coming year.
Atrocities such as last week’s slaughter in Paris are liable to push European governments to rethink their approaches to trouble spots that can harbor future terrorists. As I suggested last week, this could be the logic for an accommodation with the Syrian government to facilitate the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS). Equally, the West may take a harder line toward other trouble spots, like Libya and Nigeria, where extremist Islamist groups have well-established bases.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.