Despite speculation that WikiLeaks might receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the winner turned out to be the European Union. Some thought this might be a satire. While WikiLeaks would have been incandescently controversial, the EU decision nonetheless demonstrates how the Peace Prize Committee has gone wrong in recent decades, increasingly honoring political favorites rather than substantive achievements. The 2009 award to Barack Obama, after just a few months in the presidency, exemplifies the problem.
The 2012 decision continues this pattern, graphically demonstrating the Nobel Committee’s ideological slant. First, the Committee’s justification misreads contemporary European history, although to be sure its misreading reflects conventional wisdom in some circles. According to this view, nationalism is the scourge of Europe, undermining democratic government and leading inexorably to war after war, on the continent and worldwide. Thus, the way to peace is, over time, to eliminate nationalism itself, hence the supra-national EU.
But this “history” is simplistic. Wars originate in conflicting interests and objectives, differing correlations of political and economic power, and an endless list of other sources. Nationalism may be an accelerator of tension and adversity, but it is hardly the only cause. Today, for example, we see Islamic radicalism threatening international peace and security through terrorism and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Not too many centuries ago, we saw conflicting religious views as the principal cause of seemingly endless European wars. And surely, in recent years, the Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s was as much over religion as over ethnicity and proto-nationalism. To end the cause of military conflicts based on differences of faith, then, shall we all become Lutherans, the established church of Norway? Simplistic analysis leads to simplistic solutions, hence the conventional wisdom’s worship before the EU altar.
Second, the Peace Prizers also misread post-World War II history. It is not primarily European economic and political integration that has kept Western Europe peaceful since 1945, but raw American power and the NATO alliance. The EU sheltered and grew under NATO’s nuclear umbrella and the threat of massive retaliation if the Red Army ever attacked through the Fulda Gap. Moreover, under the military structure Washington and its allies created, including throughout the defense industries that form so critical a role in any “military-industrial complex,” no European NATO member could have stepped out of line as Weimar Germany did in eviscerating the Versailles Treaty. Absent Washington’s big stick, Western Europe would likely have been subverted by Moscow or overrun militarily, one by one becoming Soviet satellites or being Finlandized. No one expects the United States to receive a Nobel for defending freedom, opposing fascism and communism and preserving Europe’s peace until the evil empire collapsed, but the decision makers should at least get their history straight.
Third, the Nobel Committee was wrong about the internal working of the EU itself. The current financial crisis among Eurozone members and the intense nationalistic reactions, not just in Greece and Spain, but the counter-reactions in Germany and elsewhere, demonstrate that the EU’s vaunted challenge to nationalism is far from successful. Even the recent collapse of the potential merger between Britain’s EADS and the Franco-German-led EADS shows the continuing intensity of nation-state politics more than over a half-century since the EU’s founding. Moreover, persistent and rising opposition to the EU’s “democratic deficit,” its remoteness from its citizens, lack of transparency and the utter disarray of its institutions all underline past failures and future problems. Now, there will even be an unseemly struggle over which of several leaders or organizations will represent the EU to receive the Peace Prize in Oslo. This is embarrassing to the EU and a trivialization of the award itself.
Finally, the EU decision continues the five-member Peace Prize Committee’s decades-long tendency to make highly politicized awards. The EU is in dire straits at the moment, and could obviously use a pat on the back, whether it deserves one or not. Ironically, Norway is not an EU member, having rejected it soundly in two referenda (1972 and 1994). Moreover, the Prize Committee, which makes its decisions unanimously and has always been entirely Norwegian, represents the thinking of Norway’s political elite and that of the EU elites generally, a distinct contrast to the referenda results from mere Norwegian citizens. Casting a further cloud over the award, Committee member Aagot Valle, publicly committed against honoring the EU, had suffered a stroke and did not participate in the final vote. The director of Oslo’s Peace Research Institute warned that, “The award of the prize will stir a massive controversy in Norway” and be seen “as undue meddling in Norway’s internal affairs.”
The 2012 decision will deserve full treatment if National Review editor Jay Nordlinger updates his just-published, scholarly and readable history of the Prize, “Peace, They Say” (Encounter, 2012). Until then, just look forward to next year’s award: Perhaps Mr. Obama will win again!
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).