He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:4
On International Day for Peace, it is important to remember that the European Project was borne out of a century of devastating conflict. From the Crimean War in the 1850s, through the Franco-Prussian War and two World Wars, the empires of Europe had rampaged across the continent, crushing the smaller nations that got in their way. Belgium became the battleground of Europe, its neutrality consistently violated by those sworn to protect it. It is worth marking again just how far we have come in the century since the end of the First World War, when peace between the great nations of Europe was no more than a pipe-dream.
Is Brexit therefore a sign of success for the European Union as a peace project? In the decades since the signing of the Treaty of Paris between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries in 1951, creating the European Coal and Steel Community, countries emerging from dictatorship - Greece, Spain and Portugal - or Soviet communism, have been embraced by the Union, in part, to secure the path to peace and democracy. And slowly enemies became partners, even friends.
The fact that one of the major players in the Union can choose to leave at this stage in its history may, in fact, point to a deep stability within Western Europe that can now be taken for granted. Or, more likely, it is part the spasm of nationalism that is currently convulsing the democracies of the Western world in reaction to the stark economic realities of global capitalism. Revd Harold Good, the great Irish Methodist leader of reconciliation, described Brexit as a vote:
‘... to isolate ourselves to protect our imaginary oneness by excluding others.’
One of the questions for Christians is whether Brexit is a move for greater peace and stability or not. On the surface, of course, everyone wants more peace. The job of the Christian is to understand the nature of real peace and work to make it a reality in the here and now. That means a great deal more than the absence of war or ‘hot’ conflict. It is sobering to think that over 100 million people died as a result of wars begun in the 20th century on our continent, the ramifications of which are still being felt in Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia and beyond. The Cold War rarely resulted in conflict on the continent of Europe, but the devastating psychological and cultural effects of such repression and suppression are easily seen still today. The physical walls and barbed wire came down twenty years ago, but the reconstruction of true communities is still some way off.
Will a post-Brexit world be more peaceful? The peace espoused by Jesus was not worldly, built on narrow national self-interest or mutually-assured destruction. It was a peace built on strong relationships of mutual concern, compassion and a desire for justice. Is it naive to want those kind of values put at the heart of national foreign policy?
Without its own army, the EU has, up to now, exerted ‘soft power’ around the world, based on development, trade, human rights and poverty alleviation. A security policy informed by Christian ethics might go further and ensure that the Ministry of Defence should allocate at least as much of its budget to conflict prevention and transformation as it does to military spending. Last year the Defence budget was £40bn whilst International Development was only £10bn. When we know well that conflicts arise in areas of instability caused by underdevelopment, endemic poverty, diminishing life-resources, especially water, and colonial legacies of divide-and-rule, is this the right way round? It is inequality, insecurity and injustice that fuel mass migration, with the world’s poor fed up of waiting for Western aid and trade that never seems to trickle down, and come to make their own fortunes.
If the UK is to be a true peacemaker in the post-Brexit world, it will need to form alliances with others based on real partnership and mutuality. As a Christian, I will be watching and waiting for ‘swords to be beaten in ploughshares’.