EU Nobel Prize: A call for a greater structural peace


I welcome and congratulate the European Union for winning the 2012 Nobel Peace prize. However, as a historian, I cannot say that this award is timely albeit it is a great gesture for the need for the world to strive for a greater peace: a structural peace. There are two ways of looking at this recognition. One is seeing it as having come sixty-seven years too soon. The other, is celebrating the end, in the continent, of an era of mechanized or industrial warfare that had its early beginnings in the indirect fire revolution with the use of the artillery during the Napoleonic wars.
It is possible that in making this decision, the Nobel (Peace) prize Commission was saluting an unprecedented European peace record. That is, over fifty years of peace undisturbed by industrial armament and military rivalry, which has been replaced by intense focus on trade, varied areas of cooperation and the building of a European identity.

Nevertheless, there are two things worth noting. As stated above, the world must join the Nobel Commission in the celebration of the European economy that has in the last six decades transformed itself from a fighting machine in itself fatalities of which reached, in the last century, industrial proportions. Peace, however, isn’t the absence of physical combat and mechanical violence. Which ushers in the second point: there’s need to cast a broader vision for the 21st century, which takes into full account the total lessons of European and global history. I wish to suggest that the full measure of European, and therefore, world peace lies in the resolution, or at least, approximate palliation of centuries of politico-economic contradictions ushered through European agency throughout the world. In a nutshell, congratulations EU but there’s a lot more homework for you in the offing.

In other words, the background of social unrest and riots inspired by hard economic times in Europe, for example in Greece and Spain, against which the announcement of the prize comes, needs to be taken into consideration. Far from riots inspired by economic austerity measures in Europe, there seems to be, in recent times, a groundswell of street protest and unrest by youthful crowds triggered by unlikely causes. A good case in point was the Tottenham riots in north London in 2011 that spread to other boroughs of the city, which is arguably one of the world’s leading financial capitals. The anger, frustration and violence characterized by pillage, looting and arson cannot be explained solely as a protest against the unfortunate murder of a young black man. This unrest bore a striking resemblance with the 2010 suburban-minority Parisian riots by disillusioned marginalized and unemployed youngsters most of them second-plus generation of immigrants. This riot was shadowed by the university students fee-fires that rocked Britain at the end of the same year. It is telling that angry student protestors in London were rather callously irreverent in their attack of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, since their main grievance was the rising cost of university education that had just tripled. Students were protesting education becoming a luxury that couldn’t be afforded by poor students. This round of protests was prefigured by the Paris October 2005 riots of poor ghettoized youth. Such discontent with social and economic inequalities and rising levels of “glocal” poverty was also reflected in the Occupy movement towards the end of 2011 across the Atlantic. This trend has roots in Seattle 1999 and the 31st G8 summit protest in 2005, which have less to do with anti-globalization than they do the urge for greater focus on world poverty and the need to bridge the gap between the world’s rich and the poor, social groups as well as countries.

As such, the bestowal of this prize to the EU should be seen as a call to address a different kind of war far from the trench and mechanized conflicts of the last century. It should serve as a wake-up call to turn attention to what could be humanity’s greatest task of the century. That is, a shift of focus from regional integration to redoubled efforts of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic integration. Indeed, the prosperity and comfort availed by technological advancement that Europe, more than any other continent, championed through industrial modernization and progress was not attained in isolation but, rather, through global interaction. The challenge for Europe and other industrialized nations of the world is to reverse the trend towards retreating into economic fortresses characterized by internal inequality to embrace the less fortunate especially the young within them and around the world. This is a surer path to global stability that rests on pillars of peace that are structural in nature.

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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.