Brexit Violence Deeply Rooted, With Lessons for U.S.

On Thursday, in a political move more typical of the United States than Europe, a member of the British Parliament was murdered. She was an opponent of Brexit (Britain exiting the European Union), and her murderer reportedly shouted “Britain First!”

There is a case to be made, on the one hand, that exiting the EU is actually the move away from violence. There are many areas, from banking to farming to militarism, that motivate Norway and Iceland to stay out, for all the right reasons, including resistance to war making — as with Sweden’s and Switzerland’s staying out of NATO. I was rooting for Scotland’s departure from the UK in the name of peace and disarmament, and looked forward to U.S. nukes and NATO being kicked out of that beautiful country.

The European Union has become the civilian arm of NATO, expanding ever nearer Russia at the insistence of the United States, which — believe it or not — is not actually a European nation at all. Were Norway to join the EU, that could mean trouble for Norway’s fair and humane economy. But Britain? Britain is a drag on the EU, there at the insistence of the United States which needs puppet-veto power over any European moves toward independence, peace, environmental sustainability, or economic fairness. The EU’s influence on Britain is largely to the benefit of the Brits.

There is perhaps a stronger case to be made that exiting the EU would be a move toward violence. This is the case for the EU as a model of peacemaking. For this argument I refer you to a new book by Vijay Mehta called Peace Beyond Borders: How the EU Brought Peace to Europe and How Exporting It Would End Conflicts Around the World. Let me make very clear that I think Mehta wildly exaggerates his case. Far more important to ending war in the world, I believe, are a number of other factors, the top two being: (1) Get the rich countries, led by the U.S. and Europe, to stop selling weapons to the world, and (2) Get the rich countries, led by the U.S. and Europe, to stop bombing, invading, and occupying poor countries.

The EU’s supposed 70 years of peace leaves out massive warmaking abroad, as well as wars in Yugoslavia. The case for the EU’s bringing of peace and prosperity has to explain Norwegian and Icelandic peace and prosperity as tangential effects of the EU’s orbit. Bestowing a Nobel Prize on a leading warmaking region of the world, a prize meant to fund disarmament activists given to the EU which could fund itself by buying a bit less weaponry — that was an insult to the world and to Alfred Nobel’s will.

But, within its proper scope, there is nonetheless a major point to be made. Europe was for centuries the leading hotspot for war as well as its leading exporter. For an unprecedented 71 years Europe has been almost exclusively an exporter of war. The idea of a war within Europe is now almost unthinkable. Mehta argues that we ought to try thinking it, because a few slips could quickly bring it back again. Mehta credits the EU with having made peace normal through 10 mechanisms. I would add to these, of course, fear of nuclear holocaust, and cultural trends away from war acceptance. But here are the mechanisms:

  • Enshrined democracy and rule of law
  • Economic truce
  • Open borders and human ties
  • Soft power and shared values
  • Permanent discussion, dialogue, diplomacy
  • Financial incentives and support
  • Veto and consensus building
  • Resistance to external influence
  • Rules, human rights, and multiculturalism
  • Mutual trust and peaceful coexistence

Mehta argues that these mechanisms helped resolve the dispute in Northern Ireland, a dispute over Gibraltar, and secessionist movements in Scotland, Spain, and Belgium. (But, even by Mehta’s admission, the EU bowed to U.S. desires in facilitating a coup in Ukraine.) Mehta believes the EU should change, should free itself from U.S. influence and militarism. Yet he makes a strong case for the power of the ten mechanisms. And he strengthens it with examples of budding regional unions in other parts of the world: the African Union keeping the peace between Egypt and Ethiopia; the International Criminal Court being put to good use by African nations; the Association of South-East Asian Nations influencing its members and would-be members toward peace; and the Union de Naciones Suramericanas developing similar potential. (Mehta’s book seems to have been written before the latest coup in Brazil).

LESSONS FOR THE USA

Surprisingly, Mehta’s advice to the United States is not to join a regional alliance, but to restore power to the states that has been concentrated by the federal government. Mehta’s prescription is for both internationalism and localism. He holds up Canada as a model of the latter. Canadian provinces have far more power and independence than do U.S. states. California’s budget is less than 3 percent of the U.S. government’s. Ontario’s is 46 percent the size of Canada’s.

U.S. states lower corporate taxes to attract corporations, resulting in smaller budgets for all U.S. states. The federal government takes on the role of guiding the economy, resulting in military expansion as a jobs program — there being nothing else the government is willing to hire people to do than kill.

Of course, U.S. liberals rightly fear racism and bigotry from state governments, while wrongly not really caring much about massive slaughter abroad. But giving power to states would give power to democracy and strip it from Wall Street and weapons makers. Some states might do horrible things. Other states would do amazingly wonderful things. Look at the states that are right now being blocked from providing single-payer healthcare by Obama’s corporate boondoggle. Imagine the influence the first state to provide preschool, college, family leave, vacation, retirement, childcare, transportation, and environmental sustainability would have on the other 49!

So, the United States needs to re-federalize by de-concentrating power. It also needs to pull its nose out of every region of the earth other than North America. Britain could give the U.S. a helpful kick out the door by voting to stay in the EU and to declare independence instead from the U.S.A.