The EU and the paradox of peace

The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for six decades of work in advancing peace in Europe. The Nobel committee said the EU had helped to transform Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace”.

It’s easy to joke about former European ‘Unions’ and their progress towards peace: The Napoleonic Wars, WWI, WWII, the Cold War  and other European conflicts.

It’s also easy to joke about other recipients. Yasser Arafat, leader of a terrorist organisation,  won the award in 1994 along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for “opening up opportunities for further fraternity in the Middle East.”

Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 for non-stop gassing about climate change; and Barack Obama for being Barack Obama.

The parody of peace continues. When Angela Merkel visited Greece last week snipers were positioned on rooftops and protesters lined the streets to oppose EU directorates  – some even dressed as Nazis. Many would question the validity of awarding the noble peace prize to a largely undemocratic institution which, some would argue, causes more problems than it solves.

Bureaucratic boredom did not win the peace in Europe. It was the Marshall Plan, NATO and, paradoxically, the threat of nuclear war.

The end of the Second World War left Europe split in two. The democratic nations of the West and the Eastern Block countries behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet rule. The implementation of the Marshall Plan in 1947, in which the US gave economic aid to help rebuild Europe and prevent the spread of communism, helped foster peace in Europe.  In his Harvard speech Marshall said:

“It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.

“Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the U.S.A. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”

The Soviet Union was offered economic aid but turned it down. With tensions once again growing on the continent, NATO was formed two years later as a mutual defence pact to protect member states from Soviet aggression. Since then it has fought wars across the globe with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction never far away.

The hotline between the US and USSR led to conflict aversion. When Kennedy and Khrushchev stared each other down over Cuba in 1962 the outcome would have had serious consequences for Europe.

Let’s not forget that out of the 28 countries currently comprising NATO only three are not European (USA, Canada and Iceland).  When conflict arose in Bosnia it was NATO, primarily the US and Britain, and not the EU who bombed Serbian targets, established safe zones and ultimately forced a surrender.  After the 9/11 attacks it was NATO who responded in Afghanistan while the EU was too busy issuing edicts about the shape of vegetables. Even as recently as Libya it was Britain, France and the US who went to war to prevent the Gaddafi regime from slaughtering rebels.

NATO will probably never receive the award. After all, it has gone to war on countless occasions and still has a presence in Afghanistan. The legacy of the 2003 Iraq War will still cast doubts over its peace building credentials in modern times. This is the paradox of peace.  To award the EU with a prize for maintaining peace in Europe underwrites the role of NATO in kindling a light for all mankind after the dark days of the Second World War.