The mixed response to the news that the European Union has been awarded the 2012 Nobel peace prize says a lot about how polarized opinions on the EU have become in the wake of the euro zone crisis. It also says something about how people have forgotten many of the key achievements of Europe in the wake of that crisis.
The EU is not the first Nobel peace prize winner whose claim to the prize has been questioned, and nor will it be the last. But to suggest, as some have, that the prize should have been shared with NATO is absurd. NATO is a military alliance that only helped keep the peace through the threat of war, bringing to mind Albert Einstein’s warning that you cannot simultaneously prepare for war and plan for peace.
Quite unlike NATO, the EU is an economic, political and perhaps even cultural alliance that has helped keep the peace by offering opportunities rather than threats.
It is unfortunate that scholars know a great deal more about the causes of war than of peace, but the EU’s main contribution to peace lies in the way its habits of cooperation have helped remove (or at least neutralize) many of the conventional causes of inter-state war in Europe, such as nationalism, mistrust, the existence of opposing interests, and the struggle for power and resources.
There are some who argue that Europe has been at peace for such a long time that most of its residents cannot remember what war was like, and that we need to come up with a new reason to explain the benefits of Europe. This is easily done: the EU has not only helped bring a lasting peace to Europe but has become an example of the merits of civilian over military power.
Along the way it has become the world’s most effective force for the peaceful promotion of democracy and free markets.