Europe's power is easy to miss because news is told by journalists rather than historians, but Europe's success has led to the evolution of a new kind of power—about spreading norms rather than always getting your wayby Mark Leonard / March 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
For all the talk of American empire, the last two years have demonstrated the limits of US power. America’s economic lead over the rest of the world has disappeared. In 1950 its GDP was twice the size of western Europe’s and five times Japan’s; today its GDP is the same size as the EU’s and just over twice that of Japan. Its political power is waning too: its failure to secure support on Iraq from Europeans, and even from countries as economically dependent upon it as Mexico and Chile, shows that the price for saying “no” to the US has been falling. US dominance is clear-cut on only two levels: the ability to fight and win intensive conventional wars, and the ubiquity of its popular culture. These two kinds of power are often described as “hard” and “soft”: the ability to get your way by coercion and attraction. Both are declining currencies for the US.
Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction allow the desperate and weak to neutralise the superpower’s military machine. And by constantly talking of countries as “rogue states” and threatening them with military attack, the Bush administration encourages them to adopt these tactics. What is more, hard power erodes soft power by replacing memories of America as saviour with fear of the instability its war on terror is causing. As David Calleo, director of the European studies programme at Johns Hopkins University, says: “Where promiscuous Europe sees a world where everybody is a potential friend, martial America lives in a world where everyone… is a potential enemy.” The paradox is that the more this Janus-faced empire flaunts its strength, the less it is able to achieve its global goals. To understand the shape of the 21st century, we need to change the way we think about power.
Put the words “Europe” and “crisis” into Google and over 4m entries come up. On any day over the past 50 years there have been stories of divisions, failure to meet targets, diplomatic wrangles, a perpetual sense of failure. Over the next 18 months there could be more, with at least ten referendums on the European constitution planned, and some countries—in particular Britain—likely to reject it. But historians tell a different story from journalists. They tell us that Europe has emerged stronger from every setback: launching the single market after years of Eurosclerosis, the single currency after the Maastricht…