The citation that announced the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union last October stated, “The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe.”  

Walking through Rome’s Fiumicino Airport last week I espied a big sign emblazoned across a wall celebrating the award and trumpeting the message that the EU had kept the peace in Europe for sixty years. 

This week I attended the opening of the Norwegian Atlantic Council’s Leangkollen Conference in Oslo’s Nobel Institute. Looking at the certificates awarded to Peace Prize recipients with NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, it struck me just how unfair it is that the Alliance has not been recognized as the true guardian of European peace during the past sixty years plus. 

The 2012 award to the EU was not as preposterous as some have suggested but it does point to the increasing politicization of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Clearly, the role of ‘Europe’ in helping to institutionalize the post-1945 Franco-German rapprochement at the core of European Reconciliation Phase One was vitally important. However, speaking to senior Norwegian politicians here it is also evident that the Prize is indeed becoming politicized which is a shame.  In 2009 it was awarded to the then new President Barack H. Obama for simply not being George W. Bush. 

In reality Franco-German reconciliation could not have taken place but for the security guarantee offered by NATO and by extension the taxpayers of America, Britain, and Canada who bore much of the cost to keep the Red Army at bay during the deepest freezes of the Cold War.  And yet go to the European Parliament and the Euro-fanatics therein have completely air-brushed NATO out of Europe’s contemporary history.  It is as if the Americans, British, and Canadians had nothing whatsoever to do with the European peace.  

NATO set out to achieve a Europe free and whole.  One only has to survey the map of Europe of today to see the incredible achievement of the Atlantic Alliance and its contribution to European peace and stability.  It is a peace and stability without which the European Union simply could not exist.  It is also a continuing mission.  The EU likes to present itself as the savior of a Europe torn apart by war.  In fact it was the 1941 Atlantic Charter of the then two great democracies America and Britain that paved the way not only for victory in World War Two but eventually victory in the Cold War.  However, the difference between the EU and NATO is that the Alliance has had to take the hard, tough decisions over the use of force upon which sustainable peace in Europe has been built at the cost of both blood and geld.

In the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and a host of other challenging arenas NATO wrestles with the use of legitimate, proportionate force daily for the Alliance is no less a peace organization than the EU.  However, NATO simply does not have the luxury of being able to eternally theorize about peace.  Crises happen and any visit to the Justus Lipsius building, home of the European Council and known as ‘Just Lips,’ the European Commission or the European Parliament and it quickly becomes clear that the peace-building of the EU has NATO foundations.

In an ideal world/Europe the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize would have been awarded jointly to both the EU and NATO for they both played a crucial role in the European peace and they will both continue to do so.

Given that the Norwegian Nobel Committee needs to go back to first principles and ask itself a fundamental question: is the Nobel Peace Prize only for those who seek peace through non-violent means or is it open to all those who have made a critical contribution to peace?  If it is the former then both Obama and the EU should be excluded.  If it is the latter then NATO must also be recognized.  

So, when is NATO going to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? 2013 would do nicely.

Julian Lindley-French is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisory Group.