Comment: Hats off to EU
As a denizen of planet Earth, which suffered devastations twice when European wars expanded to engulf the globe, I do not see any reason why the Nobel committee should not confer a peace prize on an entity that has given Europe — and planet Earth — unprecedented peace despite the stockpiles of conventional and non-conventional tools of mass death.
There is, though, some injustice inherent in the Nobel committee’s decision, for I wish the prize had gone posthumously to a man long dead, Robert Schuman. A naturalised Frenchman, and originally form Luxembourg, Schuman visualised and promoted the concept behind what today is the European Union by having the wisdom to seek a Franco-German détente based on economy. In brief, France could have as much Ruhr coal as it wanted and (West) Germany would have no objection.
Opposed as much by his countrymen as by Germans, Schuman, prime minister twice, pursued the idea of a European coal and steel union between France and Germany and managed to get the support of four others (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy) to start a new chapter in European and world history. Passing through various phases and changes in nomenclature and membership, the small six-state coal and steel union with a limited supranational agenda expanded to become what it is today — the 27-member European Union with a population of over 500 million.
There should be no doubt the EU is an extraordinary human achievement, for it has given peace to a continent which never had freedom from strife for more than 20 years. That the Germans wouldn’t again ‘pass through’ Belgium as they did twice last century, that Flanders and Ardennes wouldn’t turn into slaughterhouses, nor would there be another Verdun or Somme goes to the credit of the EU. The tragedy for mankind was that each time Germans crossed the Meuse, the war didn’t remain confined to Europe; it became a world war. In the last war, total casualties stood at 60 million — not all of them European.
Prosperity at the people’s level came to Europe after World War II — millions of cars on roads and highways, mass tourism, skyscrapers, shopping malls, fast food — even the shower. But all this would not have been possible without (1) Marshall Plan aid and (2) peace — a lasting peace for a continent that had lived by war and gloried in war. Beginning with the Prussian victory at Waterloo (1815), Europe had one hundred years of peace — until the crime at Sarajevo (1914) touched off the First World War. So the 19th is considered one of Europe’s glorious centuries — the age of enlightenment, the development of steamships, trains, telegraph, piston engine, Wright brothers’ experiments, Europe’s colonial expansion and three great minds, all three Jew and German (Karl Marx, Freud and Einstein). But even in this century of peace there were regional wars in the Balkans, Crimea and central Europe (the Battle of Sadowa, 1866, and the Franco-Prussian war, 1870-71). The latter two events paved the way for Europe’s holocaust in the form of two world wars.
Since 1945, however, Europe hasn’t suffered an ‘all-European’ war. It came close to it at least thrice — the Berlin blockade and airlift, the Hungarian crisis and Russia’s Czech invasion.
A greater crisis was averted in the last decade of the 20th century when Nato and Warsaw Pact statesmen joined hands and showed extraordinary care to limit the Bosnian war to the Balkans.
But then there is one basic question that contains a bit of irony. Does Europe owe the peace to Schuman or to the most destructive weapon of destruction humanity has developed? To wit, do Europe and the world thank Schuman or the Bomb? If there were no nuclear weapons, it is doubtful if Europe would have enjoyed this uninterrupted peace, which has spawned besides unprecedented prosperity a new generation of Europeans utterly indifferent to such concepts as ‘revanche’ and ‘irredentism’.
Europe’s collective memory about the ravages of war goes several centuries back — the Napoleonic wars, the wars of Louis XIV and the mass tragedy that the thirty-year sectarian war was. The Islamic world never suffered even a fraction of that sectarian holocaust. Let us also note that Europe saw cannibalism not only in the 30-year war that ended with the peace of Westphalia (1648), there were cases of cannibalism even in World War II on the eastern front when POWs ate the flesh of dead comrades.
So, as irony would have it, must this Nobel Prize go to Einstein, who suggested to FDR that a bomb could be made if the atom was split, or should it go to the man behind the six-state coal and steel union — Schuman? Today a dozen countries wouldn’t be on the EU’s waiting list for membership, in spite of the euro crisis and in spite of what the British media calls the PIGS — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — if the EU hadn’t given peace to Europe and by implication to the world. The EU also served as a model for a number of other supranational bodies, none of which, with the exception of Asean, achieved the high degree of political, economic and cultural integration demonstrated by the EU. An award conferred on Schuman would not have demeaned the EU.