Peace In Europe
When we discussed the idea that Europe does not need the EU, we received feedback from people claiming Europe will descent into war without the EU. It is a common idea and actively propagated by the European Union officials themselves. The choice, as they like to phrase it, is between Union and War. In 2012 the EU was even awarded the Nobel peace prize.
Yet, could this be a mere false dilemma?
A History Of War
Of course Europe knows a history of war. The most recent ones were extremely bloody, with both WW1 and WW2 leading to tens of millions casualties. Even before that there was the Franco-Germanic War of 1871, which solidified the unification of Germany. Going back two centuries we have Napoleon conquering most of Europe before being defeated in Russia. Further back the wars are too numerous to name them all.
Europe, with all its tiny states was usually experiencing a war somewhere on the continent. Currently, the last war on the European continent was the war in Yugoslavia. Although, if we call the conflict in Ukraine a war, we should say there is a war going on in Europe right now.
Are You MAD?
It is true that Europe has been relatively peaceful over the decades since 1945. However, until 1989 this was primarily due to the cold war between the Soviets and Americans. Europe was divided into two, and both empires used the practice of Mutually Assured Destruction. This MAD strategy implied that anyone starting a war in Europe, would enter a conflict so severe it would be suicide. The members of NATO and the members of the Warsaw pact were both wise enough not to risk it.
The Proxy Wars
Instead, they engaged in proxy wars across the globe. There was the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, where America supported the south and the Soviets supported the north. Then there is Vietnam from 1955 to 1975, again the Americans supporting the south and the Communist Chinese supporting the north. The Afghanistan war, where the Soviets invaded and the Americans armed freedom fighters like Osama Bin Laden.
And there were numerous other conflicts around South-America, Africa and Asia. Although the conflicts were framed as a battle of ideologies, communism or capitalism, they were mostly about who controlled the country: The USA or the USSR.
Perhaps what really changed was the battleground. Western powers had divided Europe and were now fighting over the rest of the world.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
After the collapse of the USSR and the disappearance of the Iron Curtain over Europe, many countries from Eastern Europe joined NATO. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined in 2004. Poland, Czech and Hungary joined already in 1999. The countries feared being ruled by Russia and looked to the wealth and prosperity of the West as an ideal. All of them joined the EU in 2004. Romania and Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 as well, while only joining the EU three years later in 2007.
NATO guarantees that the members will defend if one of them is attacked. Most critically it means the USA will come to your aid. The USA has by far and without any doubt the strongest military capability in the world; at least so far. The MAD strategy is still half there. If Russia were to attack a NATO member, they must be mad, because the US would destroy them. Whether Russia can still destroy the US depends on the missile shield’s capability to block incoming nuclear missiles.
NATO Against Russia
Regardless, not much has changed since the cold war. The reason Russia has invaded Georgia in 2008 and more recently the Ukraine, is precisely because they are not NATO member-states. Moreover, as long as the countries are in conflict with Russia and have Russian troops in their territories, it will be near impossible for them to join NATO.
To make it even clearer that NATO exists to contain Russia, below is a map of Europe showing NATO’s military presence. Troops are stationed in all the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Furthermore, Turkey is a NATO-member and controls access to the Black Sea.
The Impact Of The EU?
With a military alliance like NATO, can we really believe that the existence of the EU makes a difference? Even without the EU, it would be suicidal to declare war on a NATO-member. A German invasion of Poland would now immediately result in a triggering of NATO. There would no longer be the question whether the USA would join the war or not; unlike the previous world wars the USA would not delay joining the war.
Nobody Wants War
Besides that, there is no will among the European peoples to invade their neighbors. More than ever before people travel and go on holiday. Not thanks to the EU, but thanks to cheaper transport and the prevalence of cars and airlines. The last two attempts at domination of Europe ended so poorly that few could get optimistic about the idea of militarily conquering Europe.
It may sound obvious that nobody wants war, but especially before 1914 war was seen as a somewhat heroic or noble activity. There was no internet and communication with people in enemy territory was near impossible, so de-humanizing them was a lot easier. Who would believe the propaganda nowadays saying German soldiers would eat babies and were literally the most brutal monsters you could imagine?
No Resources To Gain
What would there even be to gain? Europe’s resources are not the most critical ones in today’s world. Nobody will start a war over coalmines. Conquering a new territory while upholding the welfare state makes war ridiculous from a financial point of view. Collecting taxes in a country that already has a budget deficit means you would need put in place severe austerity to make it profitable. Any conquered territory would meet with either more financial obligations to uphold the standard of living, or meet an outraged populace living under austerity.
If that was not enough, the industries and financial markets of Europe have become so interwoven that it would destroy the economy of the country going to war. European countries rely on trade, and there is more international trade than ever before in history. War would end those flows of goods.
Would We Really Decay Into War Without The EU?
The statement that without the European Union there would be a war between the nations of Europe is somewhat ridiculous. We have outlined numerous reasons above, from Russia to resources to trade. There is no advantage of going to war, there is nothing to gain from war. That is the lesson we have learned.
Easier transport and communication in the forms of cars, airlines and the internet ensure people know people from other countries. They are no longer strangers in a world far away.
With all these factors in play, it would be rather odd for the nations of Europe to start another war – even if the EU would fall apart.