At this point you may demand that I produce some evidence to back up what sounds like a crudely deterministic thesis. No way! If you want evidence you
have to read a book I wrote about this a decade or so ago. It was called Nonzero, and in it I put the
argument this way: Ever since the stone age, technological evolution has allowed and encouraged people to play more and more "non-zero-sum games" (roughly
speaking, games that can have a win-win or lose-lose outcome) with more and more people, at greater and greater distances. Economic exchange is one of the
most important such games. And what I called "non-zero-sumness" leads to more non-zero-sumness. Once people, following non-zero-sum logic, are trading
briskly, this economic interdependence means that war would be more of a lose-lose game than it might otherwise be. So peace makes more sense--and peace in
turn paves the way for more economic exchange, and so on.
Of course, this process isn't automatic. It's possible that, had far-seeing leaders not in 1951 created the European Coal and Steel Community, and had this
not led to a series of free trade agreements among European nations, economic nationalism would have started trade wars that led to real wars. Still, it's not as if
Europe is all that unusual in seeing erstwhile enemies turn into friends that are bound by economic ties. I used to make this point with the
only-half-joking line that one reason I would never favor bombing Japan is that the Japanese built my minivan. But then my minivan got totaled, so I don't
put it that way anymore. Still, I do think economic interdependence is one of the main guarantors of peace between the US and Japan. It's also the main
reason US-China relations will probably weather the tempests that threaten them.
The irony is that, though the European Coal and Steel Community, and the economic integration it facilitated, dampened international tensions, the thing it
grew into--the EU--has lately been heightening
nationalism of a sometimes abrasive sort. I had high hopes for the European currency union when it started--and there was, in its defense, a certain amount of non-zero-sum logic behind
it--but it may have been a bridge too far. The jury is still out.
But, whether or not the EU survives this crisis and continues to have an on-balance-pacifying effect, my central point is that the EU per se isn't the main
source of the pacification. Economic integration, which is carried to deeper and deeper levels largely by technological evolution--and, in a sense, by history itself--is the main source.
I don't like "great man" (or "great person") theories of history, because they often give short shrift to the big forces at play in the world--such as this
underrated tendency toward greater and greater non-zero-sumness. And I guess I feel the same way about "great institution" theories. If you're going to
start awarding peace prizes to abstractions, then go all the way.
[Postscript: If you somehow resist the temptation to read my book, you might try Steve Pinker's more recent book
The Better Angels of Our Nature
. In arguing that violence, including war, has tended to decline as history has proceeded, Pinker cites growing economic interdependence along with a
number of other factors.]