Editorial: Nobel Peace Prize is given to European Union

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 has been awarded to the European Union (EU).

Messages of congratulations from across the world are customary, but the selection of the EU has caused some discomfort to the people of Hiroshima. The EU includes countries armed with nuclear weapons, as well as nations where nuclear weapons have been deployed. It is hardly the case that the union is uniformly making efforts for the elimination of such weapons.

In addition to each nation’s military forces, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) maintains its own military force which holds powerful conventional weapons.

The fact that the peace prize has been awarded to a group of nations is, in the first place, a great surprise.

Explaining its decision, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that the EU has made a “successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.”

Narrow nationalism can trigger war between nations. Therefore, promoting cross-border exchange on a continual basis and strengthening mutual trust are clearly the best ways of preventing extreme forms of nationalism from growing.

Europe became a battlefield in two world wars. The lessons learned from these tragedies resulted in the establishment of the EU. As a start, the union is attempting to transcend national borders psychologically by creating a common currency. In this way, the EU is considered a grand experiment that is unprecedented in human history.

Of course, there are many lessons East Asia can learn from the EU’s efforts. The East Asian nations have been far from successful in creating a framework for multinational dialogue and have been struggling to build trust in the region.

Still, why should the EU be given a prize now, particularly a prize for peace?

One of the main reasons to raise this question is the fact that the region still bristles with nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom and France are both nuclear powers, while some other nations are hosting American nuclear arms. Any progress toward eliminating and removing these weapons from the EU is frustratingly slow.

The Cold War between East and West ended long ago. At what targets are these weapons aimed?

As long as nuclear weapons exist, they will be a threat to world peace. The nuclear arms found in Europe will not lead to peace in that region. And a “peaceful Europe” was cited as a reason for awarding this year’s peace prize to the EU. The nations of the EU must act in concert and pursue the work of realizing a nuclear weapon-free Europe.

Furthermore, our era today is a time when people are more fearful of recurring regional conflicts and horrific terrorist acts than wars between nations. How can poverty, hunger, religious conflict, and other factors that breed violence be eradicated? It is hoped that the EU, which is seeking to remove the barrier of national borders, will be able to devise unique measures for peace building.

Traditionally, Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to individuals and groups that have made substantial contributions to such worthy causes as eliminating land mines, alleviating poverty, and bringing peace to areas of conflict. This year’s peace prize is seen as a wake-up call to nations which tend to raise, not reduce, regional tensions.

Awarding the prize to the EU, though, means that a union of nations is now being recognized. Will honoring their grand experiment lead to a peaceful world?

There is no end in sight to the European credit crunch. But the EU nations are far from unified in their support for the problem. It is clear that what is hindering the solidarity of member nations is the widening gap between the nations to the south, such as Greece and Spain, and those in the north, including Germany and France.

Lifting indebted countries from this quagmire through financial assistance alone would be a difficult feat. The EU must grapple with the challenge of bridging the divide between the member nations. This may be a roundabout approach, but it is an issue that cannot be sidestepped if the EU is to resolve the crisis and reap the fruits of its unified currency.

This is true not only of Europe. There are divisions present throughout the world, and those divisions are at the heart of our modern world’s instability. If the EU can contribute to eliminating those divisions, then its peace prize will be well-deserved.

(Originally published on October 13, 2012)