Home > World Events > The Idea of a European Superstate: Military power and soft power

The Idea of a European Superstate: Military power and soft power

September 1st, 2006

I was also going to review Glyn Morgan’s The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration, but it’s fortunate I didn’t, as Henry Farrell at CT has done a better job of most of the points I was going to make. So let me make just one more point, about the implications of soft power.

Morgan is dismissive of soft power, but this is, like it or not, Europe’s comparative advantage. And, whereas the experience of the 1990s seemed to point up the need for US hard power, the debacle in Iraq, and the obvious impotence of the US in dealing with Iran, North Korea and even Syria have pointed up its limitations. Cases when large-scale projection of military power is actually feasible and useful seem to be quite rare (not that the cases mentioned are particularly amenable to soft power either, but it seems to be the only feasible option on offer). Situations calling for peacekeeping with more robust rules of engagement than we have seen in the past are more common, but as Henry says, there’s no obvious reason that Europe can’t manage this with its existing structure.

By contrast, with the important exception of the former Yugoslavia, European soft power, particularly as embodied in the lure of eventual membership has been exceptionally successful in promoting both a democratic transition in Eastern Europe and the peaceful resolution of many territorial disputes left unresolved through the Cold War.

Looking at Yugoslavia, it’s important to observe that soft power wasn’t really applied. In the period leading up to the war, the EU was preoccupied with deepening rather than widening. If EU membership had been more clearly in prospect, the futility of nationalist populism might have been more clearly evident.

Given Morgan’s central concern with the future state of Europe, the obvious question to ask is what kind of structure will most enhance Europe’s soft power, by increasing the appeal of membership or close association, and the willingness of states to make constructive changes to increase this goal. It seems to me that the answer is something more like a post-sovereign federal system than the unitary state favoured by Morgan. On the other hand, it seems clear that a mere customs union or free trade area, the kind of deal offered by the US to its allies, is unlikely to be enough to generate substantial political leverage over policies in areas such as foreign policy and human rights.

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  1. Louis Hissink
    September 1st, 2006 at 21:54 | #1

    John,

    you simply have not defined softpower, so it is all a non sequitor is it not?

  2. September 1st, 2006 at 23:30 | #2

    Softpower has a well established meaning of non-military power. i.e. economic muscle (Japan say), diplomatic clout (France and Britain say), aid and tying recipients into acts (EU grants to Iran or Palestinean Territories for changes of behaviour etc), etc, etc.

    The term softpower came to define certain struggles in the late 1980′s – notably in trade disputes between Japan and the US. In short the US was the hegemon but could not dictate on certain trade disputes as examples.

    Alternatively – the EU was shown during the Balkans Wars to be without either hard or soft power to stop the Serbian war machine. Indeed during the Kosovo crisis US forces dropped 94% of the bombing tonnage on Serbia. This led to the famous quote by Robert Kagan: “the US cooks the dinner and Europe does the dishes”.

    Whilst Kagan is wrong as often as not – on that quote he was dead right in my view.

  3. Rabee
    September 3rd, 2006 at 00:32 | #3

    The worry for me is will Europe be able to resist becoming a super colonial a power?

  4. murph
    September 3rd, 2006 at 08:03 | #4

    Utter trash. Europe will never be a superpower because the people who live within Europe feel no allegiance to the EU. Europe is the dying man of the world stage.

  5. Derick Cullen
    September 3rd, 2006 at 10:32 | #5

    I agree with Corin that the Yugoslav/Balkans episode was a shock to the EU, particularly with resonances of 1914.

    As a somewhat detached observer from within various EU organs, I watched with some fascination as they built “containment” policies aimed at limiting the impacts of Balkanisation particularly from the former soviet union countries and satellites.

    There seemed to be two prongs to the policy. Firstly, technical and other aid which seemed mainly aimed at creating a democratic/ aspirational/ bourgeois ethos and second, depending on the success of the first, “associate” and ultimately “full” membership of the EU.

    It is my view the EU 6 felt vulnerable to the spread of tribalism, ultimately into their own ranks and aspirations for a more centralised EU. At a minimum they wanted a barrier of buffer states to the East.

  6. September 3rd, 2006 at 23:49 | #6

    Dear John

    I have to adjust the language you use on one point in your article: “whereas the experience of the 1990s seemed to point up the need for US hard power, the debacle in Iraq, and the obvious impotence of the US in dealing with Iran, North Korea and even Syria have pointed up its limitations”.

    Following the disgraceful war crimes the US has committed directly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and indirectly in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, no one in their right mind wants the US to apply any more of its ‘hard power’ (brute force) anywhere in the world. The outcome of this ludicrous pre-emptive bullying – massive destruction and mass murder is a total breakdown in human security and a long legacy of resentment, anger and distrust.

    Nor can the USA be entrusted any more to apply its soft power. So, the USA’s ‘moral suasion’ has become completely impotent. The USA can no longer be trusted to run an HIV AIDS clinic in a sub Saharan African country, without intimidating staff into allowing fundamentalist Christian humbug to be rammed down the throats of vulnerable people and the conducting of phoney drug trials that kill a proportion of the patients.

    Thuggery puts the USA ‘out of the game’ – Robert Kagan sounds clever when he says: “the US cooks the dinner and Europe does the dishesâ€?, but this is a dumb and arrogant statement. Most of us would rather not eat the meal, thanks anyway.

    Of course, had the Clinton administration done something real about the Rwandan genocide, and had they not done some of their own reckless militarist adventurism and had the American people fixed up their corrupt voting system and not allowed the boy-fool-mass murderer to take the reigns of power – maybe things would have been different.

    By the time China becomes the next badly behaved hegemon we will have come to accept organ harvesting from prisoners killed to order as perfectly normal. We should also blame ourselves for being seduced into thinking the US-Australia Alliance still has any meaning – beyond trotting along behind at the bidding of our “great and powerful friend” and making some of their killing look respectable.

    Willy Bach

  7. rog
    September 4th, 2006 at 00:33 | #7

    The US were dissuaded from entering the Congo and Rwanda as it is regarded as a domain of the French.

  8. observa
    September 4th, 2006 at 09:15 | #8

    Didn’t the US and the EU use soft power in Rwanda? The same sort we are using in Zimbabwe. When does John think it will be diplomatic mission accomplished in places like this?

  9. observa
    September 4th, 2006 at 09:17 | #9

    Was soft power in Kampuchea warmer and fuzzier than hard power in Vietnam in the long run?

  10. September 4th, 2006 at 21:01 | #10

    Look the use of hard power by the US may have its unwanted consequences and some bad tastes attached from time to time, but isn’t that the point of Kagan’s quote. He is really saying to the EU, unless you have the muscle on the world stage to resolve these things, you will be doing the dishes for a long while – yet still complaining bitterly about the taste of the dinner. While the US is tied down in Iraq it is less hegemonic but ultimately it is still the master of security and military issues in European international relations. For instance the EU would never have bombed Serbia without the US and NATO.

  11. jquiggin
    September 4th, 2006 at 21:10 | #11

    “For instance the EU would never have bombed Serbia without the US and NATO.”

    This seems a problematic formulation given that NATO = US+EU (approx). Part of the problem for the EU is that, not only does it have limited military power, but most of the effective stuff is in NATO and therefore subject to a US veto.

  12. September 4th, 2006 at 23:27 | #12

    Dear John and Corin

    I find this post rather defensive and it seeks to excuse one of the most horrific bloodbaths in modern times: “the use of hard power by the US may have its unwanted consequences and some bad tastes attached from time to time.” “may have its unwanted consequences” you say! “from time to time” you say!

    What can we say about a bullying out-of-control hegemon that will not play by the rules that other nations play by and starts a new war every 12-18 months? Even the fallout from these wars encourages a world arms race and dictators to tighten their grip. Perhaps it would be good to check out the ‘lifestyle’ of Africans in the Horn, where the USA is busy pouring in weapons and backing their favoured terrorist groups.

    “For instance the EU would never have bombed Serbia without the US and NATO.” Corin writes of this as though it was a good thing, necessary. I would strongly disagree.

    I think we are going to discover what has been obvious to the Serbian people for a long time that the bombing of civilian areas of Belgrade was a war crime and in no way contributed to ending the reign of terror by Milosovic’s forces in Kosovo.

    I would like to direct you to my propaganda blog and one of the references I have quoted from http://www.eastbayexpress.com/gallery/index.album6.cat78.1.html
    ‘Cooked Iraqi’ – I should warn people that this material is not for people with delicate constitutions. But this is the reality of the USA’s militarist adventurism around the world. They spread lawlessness and misery, not democracy.

    Regards
    Willy Bach
    http://willybachpropaganda.blogspot.com/

  13. September 4th, 2006 at 23:45 | #13

    John – fair point. However the EU could have acted against Serbia and did not until the US was willing. Ultimately Iraq has complicated the view of US hard power – and rightly so. I’m not justifying US power – simply saying it exists.

    Willy – All the morality you can muster means nought if they want something else. IRAQ say.

    My own personal view is that an emerging balance of power is the US, Japan, China, India, Russia, and EU. However non-state based violence is also an actor on the world stage: al Queda etc.

    Soft power is being pushed to one side – unfortunately for economists and internationalists – due to unilateralist sentiments among many of the big powers and especially among the non-state based terror organisation.

    The EU may have some better instincts than the US but it has still not understood the reality of a post-Iraq – post-nuclear Iran.

  14. Sean Kellett
    September 5th, 2006 at 16:07 | #14

    John, you write: “European soft power, particularly as embodied in the lure of eventual membership has been exceptionally successful in promoting both a democratic transition in Eastern Europe and the peaceful resolution of many territorial disputes left unresolved through the Cold War”.

    The implication being that for Europe’s soft power to remain effective, it will have to offer “the lure of eventual membership” to more and more states. Potentially every state.

    I personally support the idea that Australia eventuall join the EU, which hopefully evolves into something more like a federation of democratic states rather than a super-state. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the idea is not widely supported at the present time. But who knows, I could be wrong.

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