International relations, for some, is about power. It has been an expression of the fight between civilizations throughout history. Today the debate, for both academics and practitioners, is still ongoing. This is even furthermore asserted with the influence that European power can have over the globe. It is not a state, and therefore it is quite interesting to see that Europe can still influence world affairs without having that central state character.
But the debate surrounding power and Europe has been due to the mere transformation of power in which Europe has been able to influence this process much more. The key to this is interdependence. It is because of this phenomenon that Europe has been able to exert its power, especially soft power, much better throughout the world.
- Joseph Nye - the man behind the notion of « soft power ».
Joseph Nye coined the term soft power in an almost biblical work for international relations scholars today. Here he states that soft power is politics of values, culture and policies. Interdependence and soft power tangle nicely into each other due to the fact that soft power needs an interconnected world, but also due to the way Europe conducts in international relations in various policy fields.
The interconnected world
Markets no longer work strictly in states. Regulations are now made in a transnational manner, and no longer only nationally. Today’s global village no longer works like yesterdays local market. The global village effects the local village and vica-versa. Europe is but a production of such a consequences. However, the spread of European power into the world has happened because of it’s own adaptation to modern times. But more so because it is a power composed of twenty-eight actors : its twenty-seven member states and the EU as a whole in international institutions.
The increased necessity to regulate the international market renders Europe as a power prima inter pares. The economist, in a recent issue, has described Europe as a standard setter. The European market is probably the most interconnected market in the world. The EU regulates its own market according to precautionary principles, according to the economist. It is due to the “what may happen” which drives Europe to make today’s laws. Half a billion people makes the European the market a high playing field for revenues. It is because of this fact that today companies indirectly now abide more by European regulations than any other market which has stricter regulations than that of the EU. All we need to do is ask Microsoft, General Electric, or maybe even Apple in the future.
Europe, however, no longer just makes regulations inside Europe, but now has tried to create rules, standards, and practices outside the EU. Regulations need to be made in multilateral fora. Europe works best in international negotiations, regimes and institutions, where they are able to regulate much of international law and the emerging regulations. This is no mere coincidence. Europe has been doing this in it’s own internal market for the past fifty years, and can bring its experience onto the negotiating table.
But in setting up international regulations numbers count. Twenty-seven member states have more voting power than one state, such as the United States. It can also exert heavier international pressure to many of its allies, mainly through the member states of the Union towards their former colonial holdings around the world. This situation is best seen in the Doha rounds, or the previous Uruguay rounds and G-8 meetings, where Europe has, maybe, too much to say.
A success story ?
One must be sceptical, however. Europe, economically, is a powerhouse. Politically, though, it still has much to work on. Soft power must always be linked to hard power. Power works with coercion as well as with values.
The best example of this would be Europe’s development policy. It is an area which the EU can best play its economic power as well as its political power. Conditionality is a key component of the spread of EU values into countries that receive EU aid. By putting conditions to recipients to improve democratic conditions, Europe can play its power effectively. This is one success story. Nation-building, too, as in the Balkans, the CIS, and the enlarged countries, are also another success story. The EU has effectively been able to use soft and hard power to change regimes and develop them to a securer neighbourhood.
But there are always unsuccessful stories, and for the EU these seem to seep out on high-level politics were economics does not play a large role. Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and other international crises, have seen the EU play a secondary role. The main reason is the lack of European credibility of delivering. How can it deliver ? It simply needs credibility. The only way that it can deliver credibility is to have a force to back up its normative statements. Right now, though, Europe does not have that capacity ; there is no European army that can act on its own words.
If Europe want to be an effective power that spreads its soft power, and its normative rhetoric, Europe has to develop its military. Europe’s identity as a normative power is only effective when it can act on its normative agenda. But Europe can’t play the good broker if it wants to be a global player. Threats are an important part of diplomacy, and by having the punch behind the rhetoric is an important character. As Robert Cooper, a British diplomat and advisor to Javier Solana, has argued, Europe needs to be able to work in the jungle outside Europe.
Power shapes values. And to shape those values you need hard power. In the jungle if you want to be respected you sometimes need to flex those muscles to state a stance. If Europe wants to be respected it needs to start to develop its muscles to make a real difference. It must now use its power smartly.