MADRID – Global security – a safe and peaceful environment free of conflict – is a public good. In other words, all of the world’s citizens and countries benefit from it, regardless of whether they contribute to supplying it. Given this, free riders (those who enjoy the benefits of the good without investing in its provision) are likely to be plentiful. But, when it comes to global stability, the world simply cannot afford a free-riding Europe.
To be sure, given Europe’s violent past, the European Union’s greatest contribution to international security has been to ensure stability in its own region. Today, nearly a century after the outbreak of World War I, peace and stability are firmly entrenched in Europe.
Other regions, however, are volatile and unstable. For example, strategic tinderboxes like the Middle East and Southeast Asia lack the regional security structures with which Europe is endowed. The Middle East’s geographic proximity means that Europe cannot ignore it, while it would be folly to ignore Southeast Asia’s economic weight.
The EU is the world’s largest economy, with annual GDP of more than €15.5 trillion ($21.3 trillion), and its greatest trading power, accounting for 20% of world trade. Clearly, the EU should aspire to increase its contribution to global security beyond maintaining peace among its member states. This is no time for Europe to rest on its laurels – particularly with the United States moving to extract itself from two wars and confronting isolationist urges.