Peace researcher Dieter Senghaas
Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union

Dieter Senghaas
Dieter Senghaas | Photo (detail): © private

In 1992, during a time of momentous upheaval in the world, the peace researcher Dieter Senghaas published his study “Peace Project Europe”. Twenty years later the European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Rightly?

Professor Senghaas, when you published your book “Friedensprojekt Europa” (i.e., Peace Project Europe) in 1992, the continent was in a phase of radical change. With the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War came to an end. Yet only a little later terrible civil wars were raging in the Balkans. Now, twenty years after the publication of your book, the European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Rightly?

The Nobel Peace Prize was given, in my interpretation, to honor the idea of a Europe of sustainable co-existence, which in recent decades has gradually developed corresponding institutions. Sixty years ago far-sighted political leaders and intellectuals had programmatic ideas about such a project, which, corresponding to global political conditions, was initially limited to the Western European core countries. Realistically enough, it was assumed that in such a Europe different interests and identities, and so too corresponding conflicts, would continue to exist, but that these could in principle be solved peacefully in a newly developing institutional framework – without threats of force and certainly without the use of military violence. This project was a reaction to the two world wars of the twentieth century, but also to the many armed conflicts in the modern history of Europe, in which war was naturally understood to be the continuation of politics by other means.

In retrospect, this project is a profound and far-reaching collective learning process, which became a matter-of-course for my and the following generation, but which was quite untypical of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and is documented, for example, in the German-French relationship. I grew up in the then French occupation zone of southern Württemberg. After 1950 we tried, both teachers and students, to establish a Franco-German student exchange program; we even succeeded in setting up city twinnings, which have been maintained to this day. There wasn’t even a hint of fantasies about “arch-enemies”. The Peace Project Europe was internalized by my generation early on and lastingly, and it was a natural part of the socialization of the following generation.

Of course there are gray areas in the European Union, which has now grown beyond the old core countries to include 27 states (and will probably soon be extended to include a few more). But the opportunities for having a constructive effect in these areas with the aim of avoiding military confrontations in the case of escalating conflicts, and so for acting as a mediator, are much greater today than ever before in European history. Nevertheless, there of course exists a gap between the exemplarily regularized “South Tyrol Problem” on the one hand and the still not definitively settled “Kosovo Problem”. But if the Scots should turn their back on London, Belgium split into two states, the Catalans and Basques want to found their own state, then it isn’t about to come to military conflicts. In this sense, Europe has come of age.

Part of Peace Project Europe is the pursuit of social justice

The award of the Peace Prize comes in the midst of an economic and financial crisis that has been festering for years, in which the European Union is fighting for the survival of its common currency, whose breakup, according to a widely held view, endangers the European project as a whole. In the states especially affected by the crisis such as Greece and Portugal there have been repeated angry protests – not only against the local government but also against “Europe” and its “austerity mandate”. How secure is the European Union and the internal peace of Europe today?

The problems you address are the result of a hasty introduction of a common currency in an economic zone where there are still considerable differences in the economic profile, level of productivity, and hence competitiveness of all parties.

The results of development research show that free trade and, in addition, a common currency have no negative consequences only when all concerned have approximately the same level of development and competitiveness. If asymmetries in the common economic zone are too great, then the inevitable happens: a devastating cut-throat competition with dramatic shifts in the structurally weaker partners of such an alliance. These consequences are one of the fundamental experiences of European economic history since the early agricultural and industrial revolution in Great Britain.

We should also know that unregulated markets, let alone such as are disconnected from the real economy, and globalizing financial markets do not promote prosperity. What they promote is a growing gap between the rich and the poor, which is totally counter-productive even for the dynamics of capitalist development under the conditions of a real economy, though not for maximizing the wealth of the few. The pursuit of social justice is essential not only within modern societies, but also in the European peace project. Without it, sustainable peace is impossible.

Therapeutic conflict intervention

And what about the role of the European Union in the world and its significance for world peace?

Notions that Europe must become a great power or a global power so as to be able survive in concert with the purportedly existing or developing world powers are quite misleading. Naturally, in future there will be states that have more influence than others, but the possibilities for influence in the rest of the world are more restricted today than ever before. In future, even states with a higher degree of potential influence than others will in fact have less influence.

What the European Union should develop is far-sighted expertise and institutional abilities in the mediation of conflicts in other places. One of these abilities is the early detection of emerging conflicts and the proposal of corresponding options, without using conflict management to further our own narrow interests. The key word is therapeutic intervention – and the abilities required for this are unfortunately still quite underdeveloped and need all possible political, conceptual and scientific support.

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the annually awarded “Nobel Prizes”, founded by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel. The Nobel Prizes are regarded throughout the world as the highest honor in their respective areas. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of its founder.

Dieter Senghaas, born in 1940, is one of the leading German peace researchers. He studied political and social science, philosophy and history, and took his Ph.D. in 1967 at the University of Frankfurt am Main with a work on the “Kritik der Abschreckung” (i.e., Critique of Deterrence). From 1972 to 1978, he was director of a research group at the Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research and also a professor at the University of Frankfurt; since then a professor at the University of Bremen.