As most of you will no doubt know, the European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This highly prestigious award, previously awarded to such geniuses as Al Gore and Yassir Arafat, has now gone to the supra-national peace corps that is the EU.
The Nobel committee motivated themselves by stating among other things that the EU has brought peace to Europe for over six decades. Now I could certainly write a five thousands word essay about how stupid the peace prize is, but that doesn’t matter in this context. What does matter is: Has the EU brought peace to Europe? It’s true there hasn’t been a war between two European nations since World War II, and it’s also true that the EU was founded right after WWII – but does this correlation really imply causation?
Basically, the question I’m going to try and answer is: Why don’t we fight anymore? Here are seven reasons why the EU has nothing to do with this.
1) The willingness to fight had been falling for a long time. Many people have this simplistic view of European history that we all used to fight one another constantly, and then we had WWII, realized fighting wasn’t fun, formed the EU and lived happily ever after. The real story of course is a lot more complicated: The tendency to fight one another had been falling since the 19th century. There hadn’t been that many European wars in the decades prior to World War I, which is why everyone was so surprised when World War I broke out. And, at the the time of World War II, there was only one country that wanted to fight: Germany. The Soviet Union had no plans of starting any wars, the UK was very happy to live in peace, France even more so, and let’s not even talk about the Scandinavian countries – boy, did we NOT want to fight! Germany was solely responsible for the outbreak of World War II. This extreme reluctance to fight was shown in the initial phase of WWII, the “phoney war” phase, when the UK (who had promised to protect Poland in the event of a German attack) mostly stood by on the sidelines and watched as Germany’s ethnic cleansing of eastern Europeans began. Because, at the end of the day, we didn’t want to fight. The UK probably never thought that they would have to make good on their promise to wage war on Germany in the even that they attacked Poland; it was seen as a very unlikely scenario. Even Italy didn’t really want to fight; they joined the war much later.
2) Free trade was a much bigger factor in creating peace than the political organization known as the EU. That free trade is a peace-keeper is well-known; free trade creates a co-dependence between countries and therefore makes it harder for countries to fight one another. If one country makes the bullets and the other makes the guns, neither can fight without the other (as presumably a country being attacked would stop trading with the country that attacked them). Thus, peace is guaranteed. I’m all for free trade between European countries, but the political, supra-national organization that is the EU was not necessary to guarantee this. In fact…
3) The EU has created more conflicts than it has solved. Why is everyone so concerned about Greece? It’s not like Greece hasn’t had a banking crisis before – in fact, at one point in the 19th century, Greece defaulted and was unable to borrow money for 80 years! But of course, the EU and its common currency (that not all EU countries have adopted but still) the euro is what is messing things up. Through the euro, one country’s economic problems becomes everyone’s economic problems. And without independent currencies to regulate booms and busts, the odds of any given country getting economic problems are so much greater. Sure, this conflict hasn’t turned into a war yet – and most likely won’t. The point is that the EU creates conflicts, and conflicts increase the risk of war breaking out.
4) The cold war was a great factor in preventing wars from breaking out between European countries. Suddenly, the world was divided into two blocks: The First world, consisting of market economies, and the Second world, consisting of the communist countries lead by the Soviet Union. There was of course also a Third world, but that’s not relevant to the discussion. In short: We were too busy worrying about Soviet expansion to fight one another. In situations like the one during the cold war, countries stick together. It wasn’t the first time – remember how catholic and protestant countries fought one another during the 30 years war? Sweden was a protestant country that had often been in war with Germany; yet, during the 30 years war, we fought together, united against a (in our view) greater evil.
5) Another factor that has done more to prevent war than the EU ever has is nuclear weapons. The most famous nuclear powers may be the US and Russia, but countries such as the UK, France, Belgium and Italy also possess nuclear weapons – effectively guaranteeing that these countries won’t ever again be attacked. The existance of nuclear weapons in European countries means that conflicts are unlikely to escalate into wars. Please read my previous post on this topic for more information.
6) Democracy. While democracy is by no means a perfect way of guaranteeing peace, it has certainly played a large part in keeping peace. Now I know someone will point out that most countries in Europe were democratic already in the aftermath of WWI – and democracy didn’t stop Hitler from being elected, did it? This however ignores that democracy is more than just a way of governing; it’s a mindset. And, like any mindset, it takes a while to fully adopt: Germany may have been a technically speaking democratic country back in the 1920′s and early 30′s, but people still longed for a strong leader. While today we generally define a good leader as someone who is folksy, transparent, can communicate well etc, back in Germany what they looked for was a leader who reminded them of their Kaiser (the former Monarch of Germany). They may have been a democracy, but they still had a “dictatorship” mindset. Their idea of what a good leader should be like was still very much tainted by their pre-democratic leaders. And Adolf Hitler fit the bill perfectly. Democracy, freedom of speech and press – it takes a while to get used to. Just look at the rocky start democracy has had in Iraq and Afghanistan and you’ll see what I mean. By the time WWII was over, Europe had become used to democracy, and the people in Germany and Italy – having had some time to think about it while their countries were being beaten to pulp – were finally ready to fully embrace democracy. This is a very important point, because the EU has actually weakened democracy in Europe: Decisions are made in Brussels, thousands of miles away from where most Europeans live. The governing body of the EU (the EU commission) is not democratically elected – and yet, despite this, one reason the Nobel Prize committee gave for giving the EU the peace prize was that the organisation somehow has promoted democracy.
7) Lastly, the EU doesn’t really have a great track record when it comes to preventing and solving conflicts. Look at Northern Ireland: The EU stood by and allowed the protestants in Northern Ireland to treat the catholics like second class citizens, causing a violent backlash and an outdrawn military conflict that became known as The Troubles. In Yugoslavia, the EU was completely ineffective and the US had to step in for the third time in a century to solve a problem we Europeans couldn’t (or at least wouldn’t) solve ourselves. Spain and the ETA (an armed separatist group) is yet another example of EU inefficiency and inability to negotiate diplomatic solutions. A more recent problem is the rise of the Neo-nazi group Golden Dawn in Greece, a group that relies heavily on violence (despite being a political party). So far, the EU has done absolutely nothing to stop them – instead, it’s actually the policies of the EU that has fuelled the rise of Golden Dawn. We can of course hope that the EU will intervene somehow eventually, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
I’ve previously written about my distaste for the EU, and this peace prize obviously doesn’t change anything to me. The EU remains the greatest threat to the free nations of Europe since Nazi Germany (yes, including the Soviet Union). Why the EU has been awarded the Nobel peace prize remains for me a mystery, given how it is usually awarded to worthy recipients with notable achievements, like Al Gore, Barack Obama, Yassir Ara…
… OK, I guess I get it now.
Thanks for reading.