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Is the European Union a force to stop wars?

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Dave Sewell begins a series on issues raised by the European Union referendum, which will take place on Thursday 23 June
Issue 2504
War in Yugoslavia was accelerated by European powers
War in Yugoslavia was accelerated by European powers (Pic: Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

The European Union’s (EU) supporters often say its greatest success is stopping wars. In a Remain campaign speech last week David Cameron said, “The first purpose of the European Union—to secure peace—has been achieved”.

It’s an argument that taps into the trauma of two world wars fought between European states. No one wants to relive that slaughter and devastation.

But the claim the EU has avoided conflict disregards all the evidence.

In particular it means forgetting the millions of people murdered by EU powers since 1945 outside Europe’s borders.

French forces killed around 700,000 people as they tried to hold on to Algeria in north Africa.

The French killed over half a million in Vietnam.

Portugal’s colonial wars in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea killed tens of thousands of Africans and partly triggered Portugal’s revolution in 1974.

Britain waged vicious wars in Malaya, Kenya, Yemen and elsewhere in the 1950s and 60s and joined an invasion of Egypt in 1956.

Tensions between European states have never gone away, even though the direct competition for colonies has waned.

Today’s border crisis has seen ambassadors recalled—and more fences go up on European national borders than existed when the Berlin Wall fell.

At the same time as signing the Maastricht Treaty that created the EU, European states were stirring up rival factions in the wars that tore the former Yugoslavia apart.

Germany egged on Croatian nationalists.

Crucially the US and its allies—including most EU states—seized their moment to gain influence at Russia’s expense.

European integration is about subsuming rivalries between states into rivalries between bigger power blocs.

The Cold War between the US and Soviet Russia was setting in.

The US unified European states in a drive against its Russian rivals.


The US funded integration at the same time as sending the CIA to repress Communists and other radicals.

The EU was one pillar of this. The other was the Nato military alliance.

Through Nato European states supported the Vietnam War and more recently sent troops to Afghanistan.

Militarism is still a driving force of EU expansion. Former Eastern Bloc countries that joined in the 2000s had to join Nato at the same time.

Nato ships now patrol the EU’s border off Greece.

The rivalry between the EU and Russia over Ukraine is fuelling a low-level war that has already killed thousands.

Prospective EU members have to sign “security” agreements on military cooperation.

The arms race between the Cold War power blocs repeatedly brought the world to the brink of destruction.

Today Britain’s establishment insists on being “part of Europe” for the same reason it insists on renewing Trident nuclear weapons.

They can no longer be a major imperialist power on their own, so they want to be part of something that can be.

The drive to war is an intrinsic part of capitalism.

No arrangement between states, however close, can stop this.

To stop wars means uprooting the system that makes them—and leaving the EU will weaken the warmongers.

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