E.U.’s Nobel Peace Prize: Does NATO Deserve It More?

The E.U. won the 2012 Nobel peace prize, but some argue other institutional actors played a far more immediate role in bringing security and prosperity to the once war-ravaged continent

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Vadim Ghirda / AP

The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to promote peace and democracy in Europe, in the midst of the union's biggest crisis since its creation in the 1950s.

When Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, woke up this morning he said he “did not expect it to be such a good day.” After all, it’s a moment where his region faces a seemingly insurmountable economic quagmire, soaring unemployment—a record 25 percent in Greece—and a political crisis that has exacerbated divisions in the continent rather than spur greater cooperation.

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But the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award an ailing E.U. the Peace Prize has caused many to question whether the Brussels-based grand project of European integration deserves the full credit for transforming “most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

Indeed, critics argue that the post-war peace was delivered by collaboration of several major players, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “If they want to give the prize for preserving the peace in Europe they should divide it between NATO and the E.U.,” former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said. “Until the end of the Cold War, it was NATO more than anyone else that kept the peace.”

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While NATO, also based in Brussels, was quick to congratulate the E.U. for playing a “vital role,” it did not forget to mention its own involvement. “From the outset, NATO and the European Union have shared common values and helped shape the new Europe,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s Secretary General.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, stressed the importance of trans-Atlantic contributions to Europe’s decades of post-war stability. “I think the United States has played a far bigger role in bringing peace to Europe than the European Union,” he said, citing the much-lauded, iron-willed friendship of Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Despite the savage conflict in the Balkans and the initial fumbled efforts to quieten hostilities, the Norwegian Commission praised the E.U. for bringing about reconciliation there, citing Croatia’s imminent inclusion into the Union, as well as the E.U.’s ongoing negotiations with Montenegro and its granting of candidate status to Serbia.

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U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, who negotiated the conflict-ending Dayton Accords with Richard Holbrooke in 1995 and now serves as the Dean of the Josef Korbel School for International Studies at the University of Denver,  says the E.U. has a continued responsibility to aid the Balkans. “I hope the award will not only be an award for things done but an award for things that still need to be done,” he says. “I think there is unfinished work in the Balkans, [such as in] Macedonia, to name one of the troubled countries. I hope the European union will take renewed interest in the region.”

Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow at Chatham House focusing on U.S. foreign policy, happened to be in Brussels Friday. The mood, she said, was “pleased but skeptical.” Still, she said, the reward was justified. “There’s nobody that can make a credible argument to say the E.U. hasn’t created peace on a continent that hadn’t seen peace in centuries,” Dormandy said. “The idea that there would be a conflict between E.U. member states today—we don’t even think about it.”

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