I shall fight the urge to comment on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. I doubt there is much I can add that hasn’t been said (not that that usually stops me, but I shall resist the urge*). But I will ask, and completely fail to answer, a question ignored by the process, though not perhaps by Nobel himself, who essayed a form of answer: how do you contribute to world peace in any way that could mark you out for recognition or awards?
“…one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
I have long wondered what Nobel meant by ‘peace conferences’. It is probable that he lived in a world very different from our own, and it was possible to imagine that if leaders of nations, or their favoured officials, could be persuaded to sit down together, peace would result from it. Despite the incompetence and corruption of that perpetual peace congress that is the UN, despite the failure of NATO, the EU and similar organizations to keep absolute peace in the areas they try to control, despite the abject failure of many meetings convened for the specific purpose of ending or averting conflict, the fact is that at least they exist, to an extent perhaps unimaginable a century ago, and that a significant number of people cannot conceive of a war breaking out in the country they live in, suggests that things have improved in the presence of such congresses.
Economic growth and the material comfort it brings are undoubtedly important as well, as is a fair bit of luck, but I think our Alfred, casting an eye about him today, would be fairly happy that he had identified a way of bringing some improvement to the world in general.
The abolition of reduction of standing armies is a trickier matter. The negotiated death of the arms race, and the subsequent ending of the Cold War, certainly made the world in general a much more peaceful place, and I think Nobel would consider this within the scope of ‘reducing standing armies (not that those responsible for it were ever recognised by the Nobel Committee). So one up to Sir Alfred.
The dissolution of the Japanese and German armies after WWII led to unprecedented peace in Western Europe and the Far East, but it was an expression of the desire of those countries and their peoples (in the case of Germany at least) not to start further conflict on the scale they had previously been responsible for. The reduction in the standing army was a consequence of the fervent desire for peace, not the direct cause of peace. A scoreless draw there, I think.
And then there is the contribution of armies to peace, something which Nobel could probably not imagine. The idea that armies could prevent conflict rather than be the cause of it by their very existence is unlikely to have entered his head, as it was obviously indisputable at the time that war was caused by armies. I might be misjudging the times, not being remotely expert, but I assume the thought process was something like that. Now an Army, in the sense of a body of men trained and disciplined for certain rôles requiring controlled authority, can contribute to the peace of their own or more frequently other nations.
And then there is the Fraternity between Nations. Hard to define, harder to quantify, but how would you work to achieve fraternity among nations? Much as I hate to admit it, we have to let the governments help us out on this one, not because they are likely to be any good at it, but because they can very easily stop it happening. The global trade, comfortable lives (in some countries at least) and cheap travel that freedom and stability have brought about lead to an increase in understanding and knowledge about people who are not quite like us, and a (slightly) reduced desire to kill each other unthinkingly.
Governments, the press, others with a voice and some kind of control can very easily persuade us (for some value of us) to hate some given ‘them’, and frequently find it useful to do so. They have a harder time persuading us to like ‘them’, usually having to resort to abuse and the law. In fact, you would think from reading the papers that no one would like anyone at all if we weren’t forced by law to pretend that we do.
But the fact is the more we travel, the more we surf the internet, the more we expose ourselves to news, entertainment, food and other artefacts of culture from around the world, the fewer the obstacles to that fraternity which Nobel wanted. There is surely a case for awarding the prize to Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee, Freddy Laker, Michael Ryan, or some combination of little-known people who have made communication around the world so much easier. Or from a slightly broader perspective, to the world’s major banks, which have, over the last century, made investment easy, with the result that we have the prosperity that has allowed bars to fraternity to be broken down. A serious suggestion, though perhaps not a popular one.
It has often been observed that free, wealthy countries don’t go to war with each other. To bring about peace and fraternity we should try to bring about freedom and prosperity. We know now how to do that, although there are many who don’t want it to happen.
*In consequence of which the whole of paragraphs 2 and 3, much of paragraphs 4 and 6, and quite a lot of the introduction, have been struck out.