Yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for 2012. This was met with a mixed response: support in many quarters of Europe, but outright derision in others. In my view, the decision was a profound mistake. Some readers of European Geostrategy – a blog that generally supports deeper and wider European integration, and of a wider global role for the European Union – might ask why one of its editors has come to this conclusion. I would like to explain why:
To begin with, I would like to outline my main disagreement with the Nobel Peace Prize Committee: European integration is not responsible for peace in Europe. The reasons for this are twofold. But let’s start at the beginning – in 1945. Victorious in the Second World War, the United Kingdom and the United States had acquired total command over the destiny of most of the western half of the European continent. Indeed, their occupation of most of Germany – including its industrial heart, the Ruhr valley – until the 1950s (and their maintenance of troops on German soil to this day), allowed them to dictate the terms of the ‘peace’, that is to say, of the future European geopolitical order. They decided that this peace should be institutionalised, and put under their direction, initially through security guarantees – in the form of the Dunkirk and Brussels treaties, issued to France and the Low Countries by London in 1947 and 1948 respectively – and then by the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty, which gave birth to the Atlantic Alliance, including Washington, in 1949.
This set the stage for European unification; it provided a soft, benign and – most importantly – secure womb for functional integration to begin in the early 1950s, animated by Winston Churchill’s speech on the need for a ‘United States of Europe’ at the University of Zurich a few years before. Logic suggests that, without the provision of this relatively benign strategic environment – further galvanised by the threat of Soviet aggression and cushioned by American aid in the form of the Marshall Plan – European integration would not have occurred. Nobody really knows what might have happened had the British and Americans geopolitically disengaged from mainland Europe after 1945, as they did in 1918, but a combination of the security-dilemma – particularly on France’s part – born from a fear of German resurgence, allied with competitive re-armament and Soviet expansionism, would have likely soon led, once again, to further conflict and war. London’s and Washington’s foresight ensured that this did not happen.
Secondly, the fact that the United States and the United Kingdom chose to maintain strategic weapons systems with the ability to flatten entire cities within a few hours also contributed to the peace in Western Europe. Initially, the United States was the only nuclear power, although the United Kingdom retained a strategic bomber fleet that had proven itself as destructive in the firebombing of Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden as the nuclear bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were. Britain gained nuclear parity with the explosion of its own atomic bomb over the Montebello Islands off the western coast of Australia in 1952, further reinforcing its strategically advantageous position and effectively rendering itself invincible in relation to the other European powers.
So with these facts in mind, is the European Union the European peacekeeper as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee claims it is? No, it is not. Peace was put in place long before the European Coal and Steel Community was born; and even longer before the European Community and European Union came to fruition, or before they were ‘enlarged’ to cover the European components of the former Warsaw Pact. Peace was also established before the formation of the Atlantic Alliance, or before it was extended to cover Central and Eastern Europe. So if not European integration, who or what is responsible for peace in Europe? If anyone, the Nobel Peace Prize should have gone to London and Washington, whose leadership and foresight after the Second World War has delivered – to date – over sixty years of peace and prosperity, almost unprecedented in European history.
As for the European Union: if it has a future at all, it is less as a European peacekeeper but as a global power, an instrument to allow Europeans to speak – as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing put it in his opening speech to the European Convention in 2002 – ‘as a political power which will talk on equal terms to the greatest powers on our planet, either existing or future’. Based on that prospect, the jury is still out: so far, the European Union has failed to transform itself from its own fantasy into a geopolitical reality. Will it succeed? Who knows? Only time will tell. But no pro-European should congratulate themselves with respect to winning the Nobel Peace Prize; rather, they should see it more as a wake-up call, a means of encouraging more sophisticated geopolitical thinking about security in their own continent, and the role played by hard geostrategic power in the enforcement of order.
* For those wondering about the relevance of the image above, it shows the signing of the Treaty of Brussels on 17th March 1948.