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

by John Quiggin on August 31, 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 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.

{ 28 comments }

1

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.31.06 at 1:14 am

“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.”

Iran, North Korea and Syria are not failures of soft power? Surely they ought not be counted as triumphs of soft power.

2

John Quiggin 08.31.06 at 1:20 am

Did you read the post, Sebastian? In particular, the statement

not that the cases mentioned are particularly amenable to soft power either, but it seems to be the only feasible option on offer

Does this sound to you like a claim that these are triumphs of soft power?

3

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.31.06 at 1:39 am

So in what way do they represent Europe’s comparative advantage?

And to what extent does soft power work with zero or near-zero hard power threat?

An even better case would be Iraq. Soft power was not effective in maintaining inspections in the 1998-2002 period. Why not? Soft power allowed the genocide in the Sudan to go on for more than two years, and the main reason for stopping now seems to be exhaustion. Does soft power mean allowing genocide?

These questions are almost never asked by soft power advocates. Soft power as currently advocated is a bust. In theory you might be able to change blend soft power with hard power better to deal with such things. But that will most definitely not happen so long as the failures are met with “well, we can’t do anything else…”

4

John Quiggin 08.31.06 at 1:54 am

Sebastian, I’ve picked out cases specifically identified in the “Axis of Evil” speeches as meriting the application of US hard power and pointed out that hard power is no use in these cases – it’s failed in Iraq, and it would clearly fail even more catastrophically if it were applied in the other cases. Maybe soft power will work in the end in these cases, or maybe nothing will work well. The relevant point is that nothing would be gained in this cases even if Europe had the same military capability as the US.

I’ve also pointed out a number of successes of soft power. This suggests to me that Europe has a comparative advantage in this area.

5

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.31.06 at 2:15 am

You’ve pointed out a number of successes? Where?

“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.”

First, you would do well to remember that this took place with the backdrop of NATO (which is for effective purposes to say US) hard power.

Second, you seem to be saying that soft power is successful when it isn’t particularly challenged. (Which I suppose is why it is ‘soft’). The question remains, what happens when it is particularly challenged? What happens when a genocide is being executed? What happens when a populist leader whips up a militia and takes over a nearby government? What happens when nuclear proliferation treaties are essentially laughed at? If the soft power answer is “nothing” or “talks to give the party more time to carry out its plans” it would be better labeled “acquiescence”.

But on second thought, acquiescence may indeed be Europe’s comparative advantage.

6

John Quiggin 08.31.06 at 2:49 am

Let’s agree to differ on this, Sebastian. The discussion I’d like to have on this post requires a bit more common ground than we share.

7

abb1 08.31.06 at 3:56 am

What happens when a populist leader whips up a militia and takes over a nearby government?

What would you like to happen?

And as far as the NPT is concerned – doesn’t it specify appropriate penalties for specific violations? What’s the problem?

8

dsquared 08.31.06 at 4:19 am

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

worth remembering that the EU is a free immigration area too, which isn’t a deal that the US is offering to its allies.

9

dsquared 08.31.06 at 4:20 am

An even better case would be Iraq. Soft power was not effective in maintaining inspections in the 1998-2002 period. Why not?

jeepers, if an aerial blockade and daily bombing sorties is Sebastian’s concept of “soft power” I would hate to see what “hard power” means in this context.

10

Planeshift 08.31.06 at 4:37 am

“What happens when nuclear proliferation treaties are essentially laughed at? ”

Pretty much nothing when the leadership laughing at the treaties is lead by a man called Bush.

11

Elliott Oti 08.31.06 at 4:50 am

I’d like to second dsquared’s remarks re soft power and Iraq. International foreign policy towards Iraq since 1990 was all stick and no carrot. Punitive sanctions, frequent bombing raids and Operation Desert Fox do not spell “soft power” in my book: they spell “hard power”, and an expensive and bloody failure it has been indeed.

12

Glenn 08.31.06 at 4:59 am

Part of the problem is that the hard/soft power trope encourages sloppy thinking. It treats power like a raygun with a soft and hard setting, to be used against whatever undesirable situations arise.

This, of course, completely misconstrues the situation. The power, if you will, of soft power is that it prevents those crises from forming in the first place. So for S.H. to ask “what happens when it is particularly challenged?” is utterly unfair. Evaluating it crisis by crisis stacks the deck, because those crises already represent failures of soft power. That is one of the reasons hard power is so much more attractive to pundits and thinkers, because it is more methodologically agreeable. Soft power is inherently resistant to analysis because there are not clear counterfactuals to use as test cases.

13

soru 08.31.06 at 5:01 am

Do the people who design airplanes have conflicts between those who want to build a plane that can take off and those that want to build a plane that can land?

Because that is what this discussion sounds like.

‘What if the plane is sitting on the run-way, what good would your ground-detection gear do?’

‘if the plane is hurtling towards the ground at 600 miles an hour, what good would a turbo-boost do?’

To extend the metaphor, the current international system is like one set of people is in control of the brakes, another the engine, a third the flaps, and they don’t have any shared language to describe concepts such as ‘flying’, ‘on the gorund’, ‘airport’ and ‘air traffic control’, let alone an agreement on where it is they should be going, or by what route.

14

Elliott Oti 08.31.06 at 5:06 am

Iran, North Korea and Syria are not failures of soft power?

What ‘soft power’? North Korea, possibly. Iran and Syria? Mossadegh’s removal, the proximate cause of today’s troubles, and the entire low-intensity conflict between the US and Iran since 1979, represents a failure of ‘hard power’, and the continuous stream of belligerence directed at Syria the past 5 years has been neither ‘soft’ nor productive.

In particular, it is irritating to have to read screeds from you, Sebastian, decrying the fact that this or that ‘soft’ measure has failed to achieve the (invariably) militaristic outcome that you personally consider optimal. If your goal is to see thousands of dead Iranian civilians then no, ‘soft power’ won’t accomplish any of that. You may regard that as a signal failure of ‘soft policy’; others regard that as a plus.

15

bad Jim 08.31.06 at 5:18 am

Would a stronger Europe make a Basque nation possible? Would a common economic policy, a bigger army, a shared nuclear deterrent, make Catalonia or Wales viable independent entities?

16

Alex 08.31.06 at 5:44 am

And in what bizarre framework of reference was it “not effective”? There were no weapons of mass destruction, Sebastian – it’s time to let go!

Further, the meme that “The US cooks and Europe washes up” was thin stuff even in its late 90s heyday. In Bosnia, for example, the bulk of the eventual IFOR was actually composed of British and French troops. The artillery and armour that compelled the Serbs to retreat from Sarajevo belonged to the British Army’s 24 Airmobile Brigade plus an armoured battlegroup based on the Cheshire Regiment (I think), and the French Foreign Legion, under the command of the British general Rupert Smith. A lot of the air cover came from British Sea Harriers operating off the Ark Royal and French Mirage-2000s in southern Italy.

For Kosovo, most of the airpower was drawn from the USAF, but again, when it came to put some skin in the game and generate forces for Option B-Minus, the planned “noncompliant entry” into Kosovo, it was the British and German armies who forked out.

More recently, it’s become more accurate to say that the US bursts into the kitchen like Biffa Bacon after 15 pints of wifebeater, tries to cook chips, slashes itself chopping the spuds, breaks the crockery, sets the curtains on fire, keeps trying to cook the chips, realises the kitchen is on fire, throws the pan through the window, misses, spilling burning lard all over the place, tries again, this time smashes the window successfully, burns itself, then collapses in a pool of tears and urine at the bottom of the stairs, alternately begging the Europeans to get up and clean up the mess and threatening to spank them like the little sluts they are.

It’s not pretty. Perhaps if we point and jeer enough eventually he’ll realise what a sorry spectacle he’s making of himself.

17

Alex 08.31.06 at 5:47 am

Or, in a shorter version: if you don’t do the washing up, eventually you’ll get typhoid.

18

james 08.31.06 at 8:29 am

The very fact that there is a North and South Korea proves the effectiveness of “hard power”.

As for Bosnia and Kososvo, EU leaders are on record as stating that it was a failure for the EU and proved that they where still reliant on the US. The EU and UN failed for several years before the US invovlement. The US did not want to commit ground troups to another European War and suddenly everyone is claiming they did nothing.

19

Henry 08.31.06 at 8:40 am

Sebastian, I’m sorry but you’re talking smack. Any account of the changes in Central and Eastern Europe during and after the fall of the Berlin Wall which didn’t refer to soft power would be missing the major part of the story. First through the CSCE/OSCE, which played a major role in preventing secession and Russian intervention in Latvia and Estonia. Then through the EU and the Copenhagen Criteria which defused potentially very nasty issues with Hungary’s minority population in other countries etc. If it weren’t for soft power, Central and Eastern Europe would look very different today, and much nastier – the experience of Yugoslavia would have been repeated on a much wider scale, and Russia would have succeeded in drawing back some countries into its sphere of influence which had successfully escaped this. The findings of people who’ve studied this, myself included, are pretty unanimous. This may not agree with your priors – but it’s a matter of historical record. Nobody is denying that hard power has consequences, least of all John. But your contention that soft power is merely a form of ‘acquiescence’ flies in the face of what we know about what happened on the ground.

20

Daniel Nexon 08.31.06 at 8:46 am

Henry’s point is well taken, but these aren’t necessarily examples of soft power. Soft power uses, according to Nye, an actor’s “attractiveness” to “persuade” others to change their policies. A terribly fuzzy — pardon the pun — concept that we should not, I think, use as a catch-all for non-military forms of influence, whether they involve other sources of persuasion, the use of economic incentives, institutional binding, and so forth.

21

Henry 08.31.06 at 8:58 am

Dan – absolutely fair; I was using soft power in the sense that it’s being used in this argument (i.e. so that it includes the use of more direct incentives such as EU membership to change behaviour).

22

Martin Bento 08.31.06 at 9:37 am

Maybe an expansive definition of soft power is desirable. After all, if hard power is just the threat of carnage and soft power just the glow of prestige, what is economic pressure? Lumpy power?

23

glenn 08.31.06 at 9:39 am

What about Libya? There’s a potential success story here, and I think arguments could made for both Soft Power and Hard Power (and a combination of both)…or of course, it could just have alot of untapped oil, and because of that, we’re being forgiving.

24

otto 08.31.06 at 12:04 pm

“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.”

I wonder if you would support offering eventual membership to the whole Mediterranean basin, following the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria, with Europe Agreement style FTAs as the first stage? That might take decades for many of these countries, but the marker would have been planted.

25

a 08.31.06 at 1:57 pm

Might I suggest that the successes of soft power come because there has also been hard power (or the threat of it), and the successes of hard power have come when soft power has been used as well? That is, one shouldn’t get caught up in a soft power vs hard power argument; it’s more that one should have both, and be wise enough to see when one needs to use one, when the other.

26

John Quiggin 08.31.06 at 3:19 pm

“wonder if you would support offering eventual membership to the whole Mediterranean basin, following the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria, with Europe Agreement style FTAs as the first stage? That might take decades for many of these countries, but the marker would have been planted.”

I would – my reference to membership or close association includes the idea of an eventual transition from association to membership. I wrote a bit about this here.

27

Jim Harrison 08.31.06 at 6:18 pm

The track record of aggressive military powers over the last couple of centuries cannot be encouraging to fans of the Bush administration. The tub thumpers tend to win battles and lose wars. Maybe the important difference between America and Europe is not that the one pursues hard power and the other soft, but that the Americans have become votaries of Ares while the Europeans honor Athena. A region that is far too powerful to attack but which is no threat to others is bound to be more appealing than a declining superpower attempting to maintain its primacy by engaging in “preventive” wars against minor powers.

28

Oskar Shapley 09.01.06 at 10:44 am

The problem with the US is that it has internalized the self-image of an empire too much. And by “it” I mean the intellectual/pundit elites. The honor of a non-imperial state is not tarnished if it prefers to use soft power or negotiates without threatening to become violent.

An empire on the other hand demands and must not politely ask for. That would go against its reputation. Why negotiate if bombing is so much more fun?

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