The EU has been a consequence, not a cause of European peace. Yet, ludicrously, the Prime Minister recently tried to assert that leaving the European Union could lead to World War Three. There are many things wrong with this bizarre statement, let alone the distrust the Prime Minister seems to betray for those who are currently our partners as EU member states.
But the important fact is that it is NATO, not the EU, that has been the guarantor of peace in Europe for the last half-century. Claims to the contrary are “mystifying” in the words of David Abulafia, Professor of History at Cambridge University.
In the first place, the EU’s predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community was only founded in 1951, immediately begging the question of how peace was preserved in the six years since 1945 if there was no supranational body in charge. Certainly the Coal and Steel Community was intended to entwine France and Germany so closely as to deter future war, but given that Germany was fragmented and occupied until Berlin’s reunification, this deterrent was military as well as economic.
One must understand that a huge tension existed in Germany between East and West for many years, a tension that the Coal and Steel Community did almost nothing to reduce. What prevented tension escalating into war was NATO and the continued presence of a nuclear deterrent which gave the alliance its strength.
It makes much more sense to see the EU and its predecessors as a consequence of the peace in Europe between World War Two and the onset of the Cold War rather than a cause. With the security afforded by NATO and economic assistance provided by the Marshall Plan, the Western Europeans could go about rebuilding their economies, with no means and no desire for further hostilities among themselves.
However, whether the EU and NATO are travelling in the same or divergent directions is the new question we have to ask. The EU’s insistence on planning its own army (as mentioned in reputable papers here and here) poses a distinct danger to European stability if its record is anything to go by, with the EU falling at a number of hurdles in the past when it has tried operations of its own, finally having to give way to NATO to solve the crisis.
Balkans conflicts 1991-2013
When Yugoslavia collapsed, the United States was initially happy to see the problem as a European one, best solved by European nations. But the EU was paralysed by the differing opinions of its members towards the newly-forming states and the outcome was a chaotic and ineffective mess. Serbia was allowed to trample unchecked until NATO stepped in with military force to push Serbian troops back.
The south of the country saw protests initially against Pyramid selling that deteriorated into ethnic violence. The UN authorised NATO to launch Operation Sunrise which calmed the situation and restored order.
The recent migration crisis in the Mediterranean
NATO’s Aegean operation is policing the Mediterranean and aiming to deter people smugglers from attempting the passage across. The EU has failed to do this itself and some member states seem to have a policy of inviting more to make the dangerous crossing.
You can read more about the EU, NATO and the historical background to these points here.