FrontPage | 10.17.12
By Alan W. Dowd

So, the people that gave a peace prize to President Barack Obama (self-styled slayer of Osama bin Laden, conqueror of al Qaeda, drone-warrior of Pakistan and liberator of Libya) “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy”—eight months into his presidency, no less—have decided to confer the same honor on the European Union. Praising the EU for transforming Europe “from a continent of wars to a continent of peace,” Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says, “The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” If the Obama pick was—ahem—premature, the EU pick seems too late.

The EU, after all, appears to be falling apart. Greece is ready to quit the Eurozone—if it’s not expelled first. Half of the EU resents Germany’s heavy-handedness, while Germans resent bailing out countries that don’t require their citizens to work for a living. Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy are increasingly seen as dead weight by the EU’s powerbrokers, as those four play the role of entitled college grad living off mom and dad’s checking account.

No longer bragging that the euro will replace the dollar, eurocrats are now scrambling simply to prevent the collapse of their beloved euro. In fact, there is open talk of certain countries seceding from the EU—or at least taking the path Britain took and returning to a national currency. (The Brits, wisely, never traded in their pounds for euros.) Financial experts have already dubbed a post-euro German monetary unit the “neo-Mark.”

But the silliness of the Nobel Committee’s choice of the EU for the 2012 peace prize goes beyond the possibility that the EU as we know it may not even be here this time next year.

Simply put, the EU isn’t the reason Europe was transformed “from a continent of wars to a continent of peace.” Rather, the EU is a byproduct of that transformation—a transformation largely brought about by American statesmanship and leadership.

To be sure, Europe had its share of forward-looking leaders after World War II. But Western Europe would not have had the space, time and resources to stand on its own and create the Coal and Steel Community, and then the European Community and then the EU were it not for America’s willingness to protect it from the Soviet army. After the briefest of flirtations with abandoning Europe, the U.S. decided to stick around and stick it out, rescuing Berlin from Stalin’s blockade, opening spigots of aid and trade, forging NATO, holding back the Iron Curtain, mentoring Europe in the ways of pluralism and providing a security umbrella that allowed Germans and Italians, Danes and Dutch, Belgians and French, to develop a European identity.

That’s what transformed Europe from an incubator of world wars into a community of free nations and a continent of peace.

It’s no coincidence that the EU’s membership roster virtually mirrors NATO’s. In fact, the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Balts and the rest of the orphans left behind by the Cold War did not clamor for EU membership out of a desire to attend conferences in Belgium. Rather, they joined to be anchored to that community of free nations—a community that extends across the Atlantic and is protected by the U.S. security guarantee. Without that guarantee, there is no security in Europe and no peace in Europe, as history has a way of reminding those on the outside looking in, from postwar Poland to Cold War Hungary to post-Cold War Georgia.

Moreover, the EU has proven time and again that it cannot keep the peace without U.S. guidance.

For instance, when Yugoslavia began to descend into civil war in 1992, Western Europe seized upon the crisis as an opportunity to prove it was ready to keep the peace. It was, as one European diplomat famously declared, “the hour of Europe.” Washington took the hint and stepped aside. It would be a fateful decision. As historian William Pfaff argues in “The Wrath of Nations,” the European Community (forerunner to the EU) “proved an obstacle to action, by inhibiting individual national action and rationalizing the refusal to act nationally.”

The result: some 200,000 dead and millions of refugees. Only after the U.S. reasserted itself as Europe’s leader did the war in Bosnia come to a rapid end.

In Kosovo, Europe’s spirit was willing but its flesh was weak. The U.S. had to lead the air war because only 10 percent of Europe’s combat aircraft were capable of precision bombing.

By the time Libya called for help in 2011, this asymmetry in military power was even more dramatic, as Europe’s disappearing militaries turned to the Americans for targeting and jamming capabilities, mid-air refueling planes, reconnaissance platforms, drones, and command-and-control assets—just about everything needed to conduct a 21st-century air war. 

Even when it has the assets to deal with security challenges, as in the multinational counter-piracy effort off the Horn of Africa, the EU is crippled by a postmodern view of force. According to a Reuters report, the EU’s naval flotilla confiscates the pirates’ weapons and the ladders they use to board ships, “leaving them with only enough petrol to get back to shore.” (That’ll show them.) In a similar vein, until recently, German troops operating in Afghanistan were required to shout warnings to enemy forces—in three languages—before opening fire. Equally troubling, Italy didn’t permit its fighter-bombers in Afghanistan to carry bombs.

One thing’s for certain: The Europe of 2012 is anything but “a continent of wars.”