Enthusiastic supporters of the European Union appear to think that the inevitable alternative to a European Union would be chaos and war. This has been one of the key arguments in the debate around Brexit. Leave the EU and, almost by the sole force of a powerful unforgiving fate, for one reason or another, there will soon be war. But the EU is only the last of a series of universalist ideas that excluded any form of peace, order and civilization outside of their realm. Global Catholicism, International Socialism, the Holy Alliance, the concert of Europe, the UN, they have all had mixed successes to put it mildly. The EU, however, is supposed to be an inclusive and civilizing institution of a wholly different kind.
Deeply entrenched in the Manichean belief that there cannot be any form of peace in Europe without the EU, is the idea that democracies naturally tend to create economic interdependence and shared institutions, which leads to a reluctance to use military force to solve conflicts. Moreover peaceful democratic, economically and institutionally integrated neighbours not only refrain from wars but actually prevent conflicts from ever arising, because there cannot be any real conflicts between perfectly integrated democracies. This is of course a perfect example of these theories that look all very well on paper and in textbooks, like macroeconomics or psychology, but often do not stand up to the simple test of everyday reality.
Moreover, the kind of democracy required is strictly limited to the very unique sort of Western democracies, because the “perfect democracies inevitably lead to peace” theory falls apart elsewhere. The Soviet Union was a federation of nominally democratic republics. One can say many terrible things about the Soviet Union, and many of them will certainly be true, but there is the undeniable fact that the Soviet regime, unlike more really democratic places, had a rather good degree of social mobility, with careers open to the masses, free education and free health care. In spite of all this, the Soviet Union collapsed and many of its members went to war with each other.
But does the EU really create peace? First of all, the European Union is not in the business of security. Every EU country has its own army. NATO, the OSCE, these are security specialised institutions. So even assuming that European integration means peace, it would be more accurate to say that NATO and the OSCE, not the EU itself, are responsible for avoiding the (remote) possibility of war in Europe.
The most pertinent fact, however, is that security competition in the EU does not exist. The UK, France, Germany cannot, by design, exert any real power. The USA is the regional leviathan. Europeans destroyed themselves over two wars. For hundreds of years, at least since the half of the XIX century, European security has been about the German question. This is why Germany continues to host USA bases. This is why Thatcher and other Europeans were not keen on German reunification, fearing that a united Germany would inevitably pose a threat or come to dominate Europe. Russia also is not relishing EU expansion to the east, that would translate into having a German institutional empire lite in its borders.
The first sign of strength of a reunited Germany, pushing for a quick recognition of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991, when Yugoslavia was collapsing, was not necessarily the best of starts. Yugoslavia descended into chaos and war and eventually disintegrated. Germany, however, had won. Croatia and Slovenia obtained international recognition in 1992 already, even by an initially reluctant United States, and are now loyal impeccable democratic members of the European Union. Their main trade partner is, of course, Germany.
And there are at least a couple of other instances where it could be argued that the EU actually caused conflict. Take the civil wars in Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia. Of course the EU, like in Yugoslavia, was not directly involved in any of the those wars, but by unilaterally throwing its support behind one side it certainly did little to prevent war and bring peace, which supposedly constitutes its main merit. All these conflicts could be interpreted as conflicts over the different countries’ stance with regard to a large unified European hegemon. This is the potential danger of creating one state, with one army. How would this impact on Eurasian peace? It would destabilize the whole balance of forces on the European continent. Yes, a single powerful European army would probably reduce the possibility of interstate conflict in Europe to a minimum (Indeed the US presence confirms this: And is the only true component of the Pax Americana). It would, however, almost by force of gravity, increase instability on European borders. Power often leads to hubris, even among otherwise perfectly civilized people. Moreover, a single large European polity with centralized institutions would certainly be significantly less democratic than an assembly of smaller independent states.
Hence Europeans cannot view security in the subjective view of inter EU peace, if the very EU poses a threat to regional peace. The Yalta agreement by contrast was a realist balance of power, that’s why it worked, because it focused on the security dilemma. However, liberal universalists have failed to understand this, replacing common sense with misplaced idealism and have wreaked havoc just across the European borders. The road to hell is often paved with all too good intentions.