Thanking Europe for No World Wars

The Nobel committee’s award of the Peace Prize to the European Union may be head-scratching to some, given the continent’s angry economic divisions and NATO’s role in recent wars. But the point was to commend Europe for having avoided a repeat of the two world wars, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is an appropriate recognition of one of the most significant departures in modern history to advance the cause of peace.

Awarding the prize to the EU is best seen as a big-picture, long-term sort of recognition. It is consistent in that regard with the award of many Nobels in the scientific categories, which often recognize work that was done decades earlier but had significance that would be proven only later.

Flag of the European Union

The committee that decides on the Peace Prize has shown a tendency in recent years to use the prize to make statements about issues of current concern. Maybe there was some of that thinking as well in its decision this year, with the prize intended to compensate for what even committed Europeanists would have to admit has not been one of the EU’s happier periods. But that need not detract from the larger significance of what is being recognized.

Some of the initial responses within Europe to the Nobel committee’s decision have been colored by whatever gripes about Brussels people happen to have at the moment. These responses are of a piece with what has been an unfortunate tendency lately to think of European integration only in terms of the fiscal and economic crisis in the euro zone.

The common-currency project is not to be equated with the European Union. And although the next steps in that project are uncertain, it should be remembered that the disharmony entailed in a monetary union that precedes a fiscal union is the sort of creative tension that European founding fathers had in mind in using economics to propel political integration.

What is even more worth remembering, and the Nobel prize serves as a useful reminder, is the central idea, founding concept and biggest historic contribution of the whole experiment in European integration: the overcoming of divisions that have, at enormous cost, repeatedly torn the Continent apart. That tearing took the form of round after round of warfare through centuries.

This long, violent history has involved absolute monarchies, modern dictatorships and democracies alike, culminating in the multilateral bloodlettings of the first half of the Twentieth Century. The harmful impact extending beyond Europe is captured by our reference to these last conflicts as “world wars.”

The European integration project managed to move a substantial portion of the Continent, within just a few years, from the biggest and in some respects most savage of the bloodlettings to a different set of identities that have made unthinkable any new war between some of the nations that had been principal protagonists in the old ones. We should not forget how huge and wonderful a development in human history this has been.

May the European Union not only enjoy an enduring peace in its own lands but also serve as an inspiration in overcoming the destructive consequences of competing nationalisms elsewhere. Congratulations on the Nobel prize, EU; you’ve earned it.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

4 comments for “Thanking Europe for No World Wars

  1. Md Tareq
    October 18, 2012 at 19:24

    euro zone helps its associate on right time

  2. incontinent reader
    October 13, 2012 at 17:46

    Dispensing with the differences in the technical definitions and the mandates of the EU and NATO, it is still hard to understand how or why one can really distinguish or separate the EU from NATO, where the participants or stakeholders are practically the same (Turkey and a few others notwithstanding). Does this mean that wearing one cap (the EU’s) should be able immunize a stakeholder, i.e., nation, from bearing responsibility for its actions when wearing the helmet of a sister organization (NATO) that is waging global war? Moreover, F.G. Sanford’s point resonates when we look at the same nations in their capacity as members of the EU imposing sanctions on some of those very same Islamic nations, namely, Libya (under Qadaafi, Syria, and Iran attacked by NATO.

    Does it make sense to award a “peace” prize, with the “hope” (or audacity thereof) that the award and the eloquent words of the awardee will translate into visionary policies of peace, when in fact the award is powerless to influence anything, and may well be cited to legitimize an awardee’s policies of war? The Nobel Committee already did it once, with Obama, and we can see the results. So, while Europe has not been at war with itself (though some would contest the point with regard to Yugoslavia), NATO has been embarked on a series of wars equivalent to a global war against much of the Islamic world, a global war that, not counting the Iran-Iraq War or Gulf War I, has caused at least one, and perhaps two million or more in loss of life, a multiple of that in the numbers of refugees and internal displaced persons, and of course, the horrendous genetic damage to the indigenous populations from the use of radioactive ordinance that will last for generations to come.

    To some, the award to Europe seems misplaced and unrealistically hopeful that the yin and yang of Europe and its leadership will change course and follow a policy of peace with the rest of the world. One’s sense is they won’t until they exhaust themselves and fall off the cliff, and it becomes clear to the European peoples that they have been suckered by their leaders and the real powers behind the scenes pulling the strings.

  3. rosemerry
    October 13, 2012 at 17:37

    Sorry, but I disagree. The EU has its good points, but is now too big and unwieldy, and the poorer countries have not been fairly treated by the big guys. Wars have been avoided within the Union, but the closeness to the USA and the pervasive dangerous influence of NATO means this may be just fear in each country.

  4. F. G. Sanford
    October 13, 2012 at 16:12

    Carl von Clausewitz is famous for his observation, “War is politics by other means”. I wonder who’s going to get famous for saying, “Finance capitalism is war by other means”. It won’t be me, but as the economies of the west unravel, someone with a reputation is likely to make that observation stick.

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