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October 17, 2007 |  4 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Why Europe Needs a Hard Power Reality Check

Soeren Kern: I argue that the soft power of Europe requires US hard power behind it to be effective. A strong America and a strong transatlantic relationship will increase—not decrease—Europe’s position on the global stage.

Europeans are hoping a new European Union treaty will help raise their profile in international affairs. But unless European elites bring their postmodern fantasies about the illegitimacy of military “hard power” into line with the way the rest of the world interprets reality, Europe is unlikely to have much of a global voice at all.

Indeed, after years of overselling the efficacy of diplomatic and economic “soft power” as the elixir for the world’s problems, Europeans have been left wanting, both at home and abroad.

Most Europeans will admit that their halfhearted performance in Afghanistan has been less than spectacular, even embarrassing in the case of Spain. And in Lebanon, the European-led United Nations peacekeeping mission that was to have cemented Europe’s role as an impartial actor in the Middle East is now the main protector of the Hezbollah militias it was sent to monitor.

Three years of European soft power diplomacy has not persuaded Iran to abandon what Europeans admit is a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. If anything, Iran has been emboldened by European equivocation. At the same time, China and Russia, expert practitioners of power politics, continue to pursue aggressive trade and energy policies vis-à-vis Europe with evident impunity.

Meanwhile, the European effort to construct an anti-hegemonic coalition to counter-balance American power seems to have been swept into the dustbin of history. Four years ago, what short-sighted Europeans feared most was a swift American military victory in Iraq that would magnify the preponderance of US power and influence on the world stage. But the American humiliation in Iraq deflated Europe’s bipolar ambitions.

Now the future of the entire Middle East is at stake, and Europeans have no meaningful role in the process. Initiatives by European policy analysts to provide America with advice on Iraq, however well-intentioned, are certain to ring hollow in Washington.

Some Europeans are hoping that the next American president will adopt a more post-modern European perception of reality. But doing so would be a big mistake—American elites of all political stripes understand the vital role that “hard power” plays in securing US strategic interests. Many of them are also growing impatient with Europe’s inability or unwillingness to follow through on even the most basic of its transatlantic commitments. Listen to US presidential candidates talk about foreign policy, and one hears hardly a word about Europe. For them, the future is with Asia.

Everyone knows that Europe cannot guarantee its own security, much less guarantee the security of others. The United States will continue to be the main guarantor of European security for well into the foreseeable future, even if reflexively anti-American European elites wish it were not so. By pretending that Europe can go it alone, Europeans are damaging their credibility, and not just in the eyes of Americans.

It is time for Europeans to realign their ambitions with reality. A good first step would be to acknowledge that the ability to back up “soft power” with the credible threat of “hard power” still makes a very big difference in a world where nation-states remain as strong as ever.

The leaders of France and Germany, the two countries on the European mainland that factor most in the American strategic calculus, appear to be moving in this direction. They also seem to recognize that European “soft power” detached from America’s “hard power” is not enough for a Europe to maintain (much less increase) its global influence.

As committed Atlanticists have been saying all along, a strong America and a strong transatlantic relationship will increase—not decrease—Europe’s position on the global stage. And when that happens, both Europeans and Americans are set to win.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.



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Tags: | European Union | Alliance | Defense |
 
Comments
Gunnar  Schmidt

October 17, 2007

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"Everyone knows that Europe cannot guarantee its own security, much less guarantee the security of others."

In this day and age, no country can "guarantee" its own security. Welcome to a world of complex risks.

"The United States will continue to be the main guarantor of European security for well into the foreseeable future"

The US cannot do that. Besides, most Americans don't want to do that. They think that Europeans should grow up and help themselves.
Europe mostly stayed out of Iraq and does not contribute much in Afghanistan. Americans are disappointed. Americans do not want to help Europeans with the next Balkans crisis.
 
Valentina  Klausen

October 17, 2007

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PLEASE: No more "Soft Power"!! Even though one has to admire Prof. Nye to "invent" this concept (cultural diplomacy, anybody??), its time to come up with a new approach, name it "Neo-Realism" and make the same arguments that have been made the last 200 years or so by the adherents to that certain type of school. While "Soft Power" might be a great line to impress Freshmen at a college party, I doubt its usefulness in the international arena.
(Sorry for this outburst!)

As for the arguments presented: I have to agree with both of you: Gunnar you're right, when you say that there's no "guarantee" for security in this day of age, BUT (and here Soeren has a point), chances are that "the West" can establish a somewhat safe environment if they work together on security standards and the like. After all both the Old World and the New Jerusalem are liberal democracies, hence do share some common sentiment, which can't be found in other parts of the World (Russia, China etc.)
Tags: | soft power; security |
 
Oliver  Hauss

October 19, 2007

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What's this articles supposed to be? It certainly doesn't qualify as anything remotely resembling scholarship, and even for an opinion piece, it's on par with the worst. It's a frothing piece of ideology pushing. It rabidly points at alleged ineffectiveness of "soft power" and completely ignores that "hard power" has been even less effective -and is one of the main causes for diplomacy being ineffective at the moment. People don't tend to be convinced by your arguments if you hold a gun to their head. They might act on them for the moment, and they might be forced to listen to you, but that doesn't make them convinced -and it makes you unable to take that gun away, because the moment you do so, you will have a guy at your throat eager to get back at you. Thus, holding a gun at someone's head might give you temporary power over him, but it is in truth both a sign of weakness in demonstrating that you are powerless to use any other means to get him to do what you want, and it is weakening yourself because you limit your own options even further -you bind yourself to keep that gun there.

This piece completely ignores economic factors as factors in security and it is completely devoid of any sound military theory. Intoxication, and that's what it is, with military power isn't any kind of strength. The current US administration demonstrates quite well how weak such a position is. Military force can fight wars, but it cannot end them. And without a "soft power" approach as the fundamental concept behind the operation, military force will actually drive the conflict towards prolongation, not towards an end.

Military power has its role. But it certainly shouldn't be in the driving seat. Clausewitz wrote "war is the continuation of politics with other means". The continuation of politics clearly shows that it is soft-power concepts that are in the driving seat -military power is a means to achieve political goals, one among many, used when the others have failed and in a fashion suited to achieve those political goals, not to thwart them.
 
Lior  Petek

October 28, 2007

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There are three deficiencies in this discussion on whether “hard power” or “soft power” is superior one to the other.

First of all, the definition of “soft power” used (“diplomatic and economic”) is way too narrow and does not grasp the really decisive sources of “soft power”. Thus, Nye (Soft Power, 2004, p. 11) himself sees three sources of “soft power”: attractive culture, attractive political values, legitimate foreign policy, of which – according to my view – the last one is the most decisive.

The criteria of legitimate foreign policy brings up a second deficiency, namely the neglect of the fact that power sources can be both “hard” and “soft” simultaneously. Hence, the use of military force in an asymmetric warfare to kill terrorists, for instance, may be seen as legitimate (therefore, exerting more "soft power"), the more it is able to exclude hurting the civil population amongst which the terrorists hide. I think the Israeli “bionic hornet” (see www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,449171,00.html) is a wonderful example of such an optimal power source.

Thirdly, this discussion neglects that “power” is a fungible concept, that is, different “powers” are generally more useful in different areas (for instance, military “hard power” on the battlefield and persuasive “soft power” in a Security Council vote). This makes a general discussion on which sort of "power" is more useful seem obsolete.
 

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