Will leaving the EU lead to war?

Supermarine_Spitfire_F_Mk_XIIs_of_41_SqnDavid Cameron claimed yesterday that leaving the EU could threaten the peaceful co-existence of European nations.

Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption.

His comments were immediately (and predictably) criticised by the Leave campaign, and particularly by Boris Johnson, who questioned whether the Prime Minister ‘could really be suggesting that, should we leave the EU, there will be a declaration of war.’

As with other issues, the public debate appears to lapse into an exchange of sound bites, and doesn’t actually address the issue: what is the relation between the EU and peace in Europe, and are the social and economic ties between countries a positive partnership which reduces the possibility of conflict? This is an especially significant question in relation to the more recent countries to join from the former Eastern Bloc. On the other hand, is the sense of a democratic deficit within the EU fomenting dissent within countries, as shown by the recent resurgence of the right in Austria?

In his new Grove Ethics booklet, Andrew Goddard sets out the issues in the third chapter on the EU’s aims, motives and ethos.

War is Over? Peace and the EU

In 2014 we commemorated the centenary of World War One’s start and last year marked the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end. It was in response to these traumatic events and to prevent war that the EU was formed. In his final public speech, Clement Attlee dismissively said, ‘The so-called Common Market of six nations. Know them all very well. Very recently this country spent a great deal of blood and treasure rescuing four of ‘em from attacks by the other two.’20 Back in 1984, the Conservatives ran a Euro-election poster showing troops on the battlefield and headed ‘AT LEAST THESE DAYS WE’RE ONLY FIGHTING OVER BEEF AND LAMB.’

War is, of course, not always the greatest evil but it is right that nations do all they can to find non-violent ways of resolving conflicts. Christians should sup- port the creation and sustaining of transnational institutions where dialogue and debate can occur, some common consensus be sought, and practices of international co-operation nurtured. They should reject attitudes and language encouraging hostility and hatred towards other nations. The EU’s success among its own members is remarkable (although it has been less successful in recent years, now in relation to refugees, in responding effectively to conflict on its borders). Not only have historic animosities been ended but the continent has peacefully navigated Germany’s reunification and the Warsaw Pact’s collapse. Though not widely publicized, it is therefore unsurprising that ‘Peace among the member states of the EU’ was the top positive result of the EU, identified by 56% surveyed.

The danger in this area is that some, following Kant, conclude war can ultimately only be prevented by one particular political means: entering into ‘a federation of peoples.’ While there may be arguments for such a trajectory, war and conflict can erupt when people are forced to live within political institutions and forms of federalism and integration from which they feel detached and alienated. Christians must also be realists about human nature and acknowledge that no set of political institutions or forms of international integration can eliminate war. Despite these cautions, and the importance of other international bodies, this aspect of the EU’s vision and its remarkable success—recognized in the 2012 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU—is too often taken for granted. Decades of European peace, and the EU’s role in securing that, need to be acknowledged and factored into decision-making in the referendum.

Stand by Me? Solidarity

One of the EU’s means of securing peace was drawing on the principle of solidarity within Roman Catholic social teaching. Pope John Paul II defined solidarity as the proper response to a recognition of our interdependence. It involves

a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good…the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all…A commitment to the good of one’s neighbour with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’ for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ‘serve him’ instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage.

The 1950 Schuman Declaration saw post-war Europe had to be rebuilt on the basis of a ‘de facto solidarity,’ and so from the start Monnet and others sought to create a sense of interdependence and co-operation between Europe’s nations and peoples. This can be understood as the outworking of biblical teaching about neighbour-love in relation to our geographical neighbours on God’s earth and a recognition of humanity’s essential unity (Acts 17.26).

The principle of the free movement of peoples is central partly in order to encourage such mutual belonging and solidarity. The migrant crisis, disproportionately borne among member states, perhaps suggests this attitude may no longer be as strong in the EU. Furthermore, as with that principle, questions need to be asked about the external expression of solidarity, particularly as the UN’s Human Development Index reveals that almost all the bottom 25 countries are former colonies of EU members. The EU response to those outside it, particularly the poorest, should be a factor in Christian thinking. This means considering the EU’s trade policy where it claims to be ‘at the forefront of global initiatives to help least developed countries (LDC) integrate further into the global economy,’ while others argue that Africa could feed itself in a generation but is frustrated by EU trading policies. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is also causing major concerns. In relation to international development, the European Develop- ment Fund provides development aid. Recently, the EU’s own expansion has shifted aid priorities to poorer central and Eastern European states and the EU has integrated development policy more with its evolving foreign policy. As in other areas there are questions as to whether these are decisions that should be left to national governments, but in February 2016 many UK lead- ers in development warned that ‘withdrawing from the EU would diminish the UK’s role in the world and set back our efforts to end global poverty.’


Following an exploration of the importance of economics in the development of the EU, Andrew offers these conclusions about the EU’s motives, aims and ethos.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 18.13.11Understanding the EU’s historic and evolving motives, aims and ethos gives an insight into what makes the EU tick, what lies at its heart. From a biblical perspective, the world outside Christ falls prey to various principalities and powers and serves idols. The previous chapter considered the nation state and national sovereignty (not idols of the EU) but also noted the biblical connection between empire and idolatry. This chapter has looked at some of the EU’s core convictions and commitments. While many elements should gain Christian approval, there are also some serious dangers, though these are not unique to the EU. If we are to speak of the EU’s idols then the leading gods in its pantheon (such as free-market capitalism, technological progress and self-sufficiency, economic growth, the freedom of individuals and capital) are those worshipped in its members states, including the UK. If the EU fuels the fires of consumerism, materialism and secularism, it is not alone in doing so and leaving it will not in itself dampen them. In relation to the EU, Christians need to act as they should in relation to their national governments and cultures: encouraging those commitments and actions consistent with a Christian vision of human flourishing while being ‘watchmen’ (Ezek 33) who warn whenever they discern danger signs of the EU developing hubris and becoming an idolatrous imperial project which damages rather than enhances the lives of its own citizens or those who live outside its borders.

You can buy the booklet in electronic and print format, with free delivery in the UK, from the Grove website.

Follow me on Twitter @psephizo

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

5 thoughts on “Will leaving the EU lead to war?”

  1. I am very skeptical that some people think it is the EU that has kept the peace since WW2. The EU as a fully fledged federated economic and military institution is still very much in its early days. The Euro is not that old as a currency. What has kept the peace post war is NATO and the nuclear weapon. With the collapse of the USSR and the post-cold war settlement (or lack of it), it remains to be seen if NATO or a more developed EU can maintain economic and military stability in the west.

    What you can be certain of is that whatever the result of the referendum, war will break out in the Conservative party..

  2. Neither staying in the EU nor leaving the EU will lead to war. People’s intolerance one of another leads to war, and a desire to retain control of resources leads to war. We are probably on that path right now, unless something in social attitudes changes. We ought also to be clear that membership of the EU may have kept us from war, but war is a constant in most of the world.

  3. Reading this, my mind went back to Miroslav Wolf’s Exclusion and Embrace. It seems that much of the EU referendum debate, whether the specifics of keeping the peace or more generally, revolves around how we view ‘the other’.This has particular force for a Christian response to the debate. When much of the debate is built around suspiciion of and consequent exclusion of ‘the other’, what doers it mean for us to embrace ‘the other’? There will be different answers, but those whose theological understanding and personal transformation is shaped by the embrace of God in Christ, can at least model a different way. Conflict happens when we build boundaries and exclude, and at the very least the EU has broken down some boundaries and has led to higher, albeit incomplete, levels of inclusion.

  4. The lack of treaties between nations doesn’t cause war. Wars arise between or from dictatorships not accountable to or sackable by the people. Democracies don’t go to war with each other.
    But the EU is very far from a democracy: it is an oligarchy, and the driving force in it, absent from Andrew Goddard’s booklet, is German economic and social policy.
    Britain has always been an outsider in European power politics. European power politics has always been about Franco-German rivalry or Russo-German rivalry.
    Germany could yet drag Europe into war with Russia over Ukraine.


Leave a comment