50 years of peace

An argument presented many times before and after the European Union's recent 50th birthday is that the EU should be credited for maintaining peace within the union. The Independent offered an example of this in their list of the EU's achievements:

1. The end of war between European nations

While rows between England, France and Germany have been a feature of EU summits, war between Europe's major powers is now unthinkable. The fact that the two world wars that shaped the last century now seem so remote is, in itself, tribute to a visionary project that has permanently changed the landscape. As the EU celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome it is clear that while the detailed topography will always be difficult to agree, it is an extraordinary achievement that we are standing on common ground.
We can't really say that the EU has kept peace in Europe, since wars have been fought on this continent during the past 50 years, and we can't really say that EU members have been at peace for 50 years, because many of them have taken part in wars fought in other people's soil. However, it is indeed true that there have been no intra-EU wars, even though member countries have long histories of fighting each other. That's unquestionably a positive development. Another matter is who deserves credit for it.

The thing is, the claim that this newfound peaceful coexistence should be credited to the EU confuses cause and effect. Member countries' desire to cooperate peacefully was a necessary condition for the EU's creation, but the EU didn't create the circumstances in which that condition was met. The EU didn't destroy large swathes of Europe and in the process ram home the point that wars between modern armies are hugely destructive. The EU didn't invent nuclear weapons to raise the stakes of armed conflict between major powers even further. The EU didn't bring democracy to (West) Germany and Italy. The EU didn't end the competition for overseas colonies among European countries. The EU didn't create an external threat in Eastern Europe that helped to unite Western European countries. The EU didn't form NATO, which has greatly increased the risk involved in invading its European members.

The claim that further integration is needed to maintain peace is even weaker. Without ever closer integration, the argument goes, the EU will disintegrate; and once countries cease to be members, they'll go back to fighting wars; but this is founded on a number of questionable assumptions. Why would further integration necessarily protect the EU from falling apart? The less veto rights member countries have, the greater the likelihood becomes that some majority decision will be so unacceptable to some member that it chooses to resign from the club. Further, why would former member countries go back to fighting wars? It's more likely that former members would be about as hostile toward each other as notorious non-EU warmongers Norway and Iceland. (I would have mentioned Switzerland as another example, but there was that invasion of Liechtenstein.)

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