The uses of soft power

Harry’s Place and Cabalamat both got to this Robert Kagan piece in the Washington Post (registration or Bug Me Not required) before me, and there’s not too much to add to Phil’s rather interesting remarks on it. As a sidenote to his contention that the EU is the Borg – ‘you will be assimilated (and enjoy it) – resistance is irrelevant’ – I can remember an episode of one of the myriad Star Trek series where someone made the same argument about the Federation.

I have a feeling that the Ukrainian crisis may, when we look back at it from ten or twenty years down the line, turn out to be one of those crucial turning points for the EU. It’s not just in terms of the Europe-Russia-US geopolitics that have been discussed quite extensively over the last two weeks, but it’s also important in the EU’s image of itself. It’s reiterated the idea that the countries of the former Eastern Bloc want to join the EU, that it has what Kagan calls ‘the power of the attraction’ but it’s also shown, as Phil discusses, that there are ways to use the ‘soft power’ of the EU constructively. Javier Solana may talk softly, but his big stick is economic and cultural rather than military, even though these may take longer to have an effect and cause changes.

Of course, one test for the EU will be to see how far away from its borders this sort of power can be wielded (it’s important to remember that the EU will most likely have a border with Iran in the medium term) and whether this soft power can be applied globally or merely within the neighbourhood.

28 thoughts on “The uses of soft power

  1. David Hearst has an opinion piece in today’s Guardian about the ‘faultline running through Ukraine that is a product of its history and people’ and its consequences for building democracy in the country:If Yushchenko’s revolution is to work, it will have to be one that works in all parts of Ukraine. Only by running Ukraine as a multi-ethnic state facing both east and west does it stand a chance of becoming a real democracy. But if the inheritors of the post-Soviet quagmire are using popular frustration as a cover for ethnic revenge, the fruits of this revolution will be sour indeed.

  2. Nick, great thanks for the links!

    This ‘power of attraction’ is something I argued about a lot on various forums for years now, but in Western Europe it is little-noted. That Kagan noted it first surprised me, but then I recalled his tours through European TV debate shows in 2002/3 (theme: Americans from Mars, Europeans from Venus) – there, people like Daniel Cohn-Bendit made such arguments to counter Kagan’s we-face-reality-you-live-off-our-security martialism, and while not during these debates, later on it seems to have sunken in to him.

    On the other hand, after I read all of Kagan’s article not just the excerpts, I’m less impressed. He regurgitates his apologia for militarism – and draws a completely unrealistic picture of Europe for another round of French-bashing.

    Contrary to his view, there are proponents and opponents of exerting the power of expansion in every country, and current leaders aren’t lined up as he thinks either.

    Schr?der has convinced Chirac on Turkey with strategic arguments (and the Socialist opposition is not really against it either). Meanwhile, most of Eastern Europe doesn’t want Turkey. Poland wants the Ukraine, but unfortunately not for integrationist but separate power pole creating intentions (that could counteract the depth of integration and in indirect consequence decrease the power of attraction), and it wants to close off off Russia. Bliar of Britain’s Europe policy consists of boldly trying to stop any step for further integration to appease Eurosceptics at home. Schr?der’s opposition and likely 2006 successor is even against a far-in-the-future Turkey membership, while Schr?der himself is not the visionary his foreign minister Joschka Fisher is but a bumbling opportunist who sometimes does something great and at other times things just abysmal (take the turmoil around recent visit to China for example), and so on.

  3. BTW, I don’t like Phil’s Borg analogy that much. It alludes to the (above all British and Scandinavian) Eurosceptic’s false image of a uniform EU, while in truth the nurturing of local cultural peculiarities, multilinguality and regionality are central themes of the EU.

  4. BTW, here is one of the Cohn-Bendit-Kagan exchanges – from 17 March 2003, very illuminating with the benefit of hindsight; but unfortunately for those who don’t speak it, in German.

  5. BTW, I don?t like Phil?s Borg analogy that much. It alludes to the (above all British and Scandinavian) Eurosceptic?s false image of a uniform EU, while in truth the nurturing of local cultural peculiarities, multilinguality and regionality are central themes of the EU.

    That’s not what I intended by the analogy — I don’t think the EU will end up homogenous — but I can see how people could read that into it.

  6. Regarding Ukraine, it would make sense after the reformers win (assuming they do) for the EU to offer it development aid at a considerably greater level than hitherto. If the development package succeeded in improving the Ukrainian economy, and was spread round the country it could do wonders in reducing inter-ethnic tensions.

  7. That’s the idea I was getting at with the Borg-Federation analogy – like I said, I can’t remember the episode, but someone pointed out that the Federation were kind of a ‘soft Borg’ in assimilating people by just being too nice and pulling them in. There’s probably a much larger analogy to be drawn, but I really don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of Trek obsessive (I’m not, but there aren’t any good analogies for this in Blake’s 7).

  8. I desire to identify myself as a Trek-obsessed nerd.

    The episode you speak of took place during the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 Series. One of the Maquis, the intriguing name chosen for Federation citizens-turned-rebels, accused the Federation representative (Captain Sisko) of wanting everyone to conform to the Federation’s dictates, and so was in that sense like the Borg, except with a happier face…

  9. Personally I think that Babylon 5 baddies are a more acurate representation of USA policy under Bush.


  10. Speaking of the Borg, the Google autotranslation of the article DoDo linked to has Kagan saying things like “Larva line Albright already suggested 1997 removing Saddam Hussein.” There is also a strange bit about spiders. I wish I knew German.

  11. The European response to events in Ukraine shows that Europe is beginning to feel self-confident in its dealings with the outside world. Combine this with 75 million people joining the EU this year, growing defence integration, the new European Constitution, the Parliament asserting itself against the commission, and the EU’s GDP overtaking the USA’s, and 2004’s been a big year for the EU.

  12. Spiegel: Mr. Kagan, Mr. Cohn-Bendit, never since WW2 the chasm between the US and Europe has been as deep as today. What are the reasons?

    Cohn-Bendit: The Americans view the world in a way I’d like to call: “democratic-bolshevistic”: We must change the world and history will show all that we’ll have been right. Freedom, multicultural democracy, pursuit of happiness, capitalism – if these principles were observed all over the world, GW Bush thinks, the Americans think, there would be no totalitarian temptation, thus fewer conflicts. According to this view Europeans understand neither the world nor history – they scare easily.

    Kagan: Your arguments about bolshevism sound nice, but are misleading. Yes, the chasm is the deepest since WW2. The conflict has arisen around the Iraqi question and on the difference of perception of threat by terrorism. The Europeans endured the RAF for years and are still enduring IRA and Eta. The AMericans say: You have no idea what real terrorism is, like the kind that struck us 9/11. Your terrorism are car bombs and exploding shops, our terrorism is collapsed skyscrapers and 3000 dead. Air defenses have been set up round Washington. Shops are selling tape and plastic foil like mad to people wishing to protect themselves against chemical weapons.

    Spiegel:Who is right?

    Kagan: In any case the Europeans cannot simply say: We are normal and the Americans are nuts. But exactly that is the current European perspective.

  13. Cohn-Bendit: And the Americans say: The Europeans are nuts. Both is false.

    Kagan: Or true. America and Europe see this conflict completely different – both for very understandable reasons.

    SPiegel: Mr. Cohn-Bendit, why are you opposed to war against Iraq?

    Cohn-Bendit: Because the war against terrorism inside and outside of Afghanistan isn’t finished at all. There’s no proof of a connection of the terrorists to Iraq. The US government decided to attack right after 9/11. And it didn’t discuss its change of strategy with its European partners.

  14. Kagan: That is among many Europeans’ significant miscalculations. It is not true, that the US attitude towards Iraq is a result of a neoconservative conspiracy using 9/11. Madeleine Albright proposed removing Saddam Hussein in 1997. In 1998 president Clinton bombed Iraq four days without UN resolution. It doesn’t matter that a few people allegedly are manipulating the whole world. Currently at least four democrat presidental candidates favor attacking.

    Cohn-Bendit: I didn’t say “conspiracy”

    Kagan: But you meant it.

    Cohn-Bendit: No. In 1991 I favored the Americans taking Baghdad. I favored a coalition against terror. I am not, as is widely known, a pacifist on principle. But sometimes negotiating with dictators is a regretable necesity. The US supported Saddam Hussein a long time, Donald Rumsfeld shook his hand.

    Kagan: I admit, that was not a great moment in American history. Possibly we are not that far apart. Perhaps our differences on Iraq were a matter of timing and priorities.

    Cohn-Bendit: I don’t believe that. The question is war becoming a normal instrument of foreign policy. The question is whether a policy of unilateral preventive intervention will make tomorrow’s world safer and juster.

    Spiegel: Mr. Kagan, you wrote that Americans come from mars and Europe from Venus. Is Mr. Cohn-Bendit coming from Venus, too?

    Kagan: His attitude is typical of Europe. The Europeans are living in the illusion that international policy is possible without millitary and might. In Kosovo they already needed the US and its know-how to stop the genocide.

  15. Cohn-Bendit: There you are right. We Europeans lacked political balls and military power. I was deeply ashamed, that we couldn’t or wouldn’t help the raped women and abused men in Bosnia.

    Spiegel: Mr. Kagan, why is Europe’s attitude towards millitary power so complicated?

    Kagan: Somebody meeting a bear in the woods equipped only with a knife acts differently from somebody equipped with a gun in hand. The man with the gun will feel strong and fire, the other one will run. Europe is weak and its attitude forged by historical precedents: by unfortunate wars and a feeling of security in the Cold War, during which the Americans guaranteed Europe’s security. Now after the Cold War Europa considers itself able to solve every conflict by a kind of posthistorical, multilateral negotiating policy.

    Spiegel: What’s the American way?

    Kagan: America uses power in a Hobbesian world, where everybody is fighting everybody and international accords and the law of nations are unreliable.

    Spiegel: Will Europe lose all significance continuing its policy?

    Kagan: Possibly. Europe rather debates where which cheese shall be made. It acts as if there were no bullets.

    Cohn-Bendit: That I call progress, even an incredible achievement of civilisation.

    Kagan: Don’t misunderstand me. I like living in Brussels. Europe is a kind of posthistoric paradise where war is unthinkable. It has developed an ideology considering military power of no worth. That is understandable, yet problematic: If Europe wants to act a world power, it’ll need military strength.

  16. Cohn-Bendit: Europe happens to be a collective. Its idea of solidarity shirks from responsibility. America on the other hand sees the world with neoliberal eyes. America acts as it will. It is a highly moral and generous country, yet selfish and brutal. It claims to be strong and able and called upon to order the world anew on its own.

    Kagan:Yes. The difference is showing in the Iraqi conflict as never before. Of course, there’ll be problems after Saddam Hussein’s removal and I am indeed not the one to say: it’s a picnic, democracy in Iraq and then in the rest of the Arab world. That would be stupid. I know the risk but the danger doing nothing would be larger.

    Cohn-Bendit: The Americans’ arrogance always surprises me. This attitude of can-do. Your book, Mr. Kagan, is dripping with that. Yet the US withdrawl from Afghanistan to allow an invasion of Iraq show this strategy’s dangers.

    Kagan: It was arrogance to believe that both Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia could be defeated simultaneously in WW2. Even more arrogant was to believe that the Japanese imperial dictatorship might be turned into something resembling democracy and that a stable peace could be made in Europe after centuries of war.

    Cohn-Bendit: But Europe already had civil societies building democracy by themselves once liberated.

    Kagan: True.

    Cohn-Bendit: In addition, America isn’t concerned only with ethics and democracy. In contrast to Bosnia, large US interest are at stake in Iraq. Sometimes ethics and interests are strongly entwined.

    Kagan: What’s bad about having both?

    Cohn-Bendit: It might be sensible to stand for these positions in public, too. I also would like Europe to be franker: If millions take to the streets, we must tell them that we need to use less oil, as we, too, are depending on foreign oil.

    Kagan: But the minute Mr. Bush were to call off the attack Europe would return to the topic it is most interested in: itself.

  17. Spiegel: What should have been done in Iraq?

    Cohn-Bendit: Saddam should have been disarmed by the inspectors. the UNO should have taken over oil-for-food to release the Iraqi people from Saddam’s grip, guaranteed by troops outside the country.

    Kagan: How many troops: 100 000? 200 000?

    Cohn-Bendit: I am not playing general now. But why not with as many soldiers as needed Baghdad having been conquered.

    Kagan: What if Saddam says no?

    Cohn-Bendit: I can answer only with good old European logic: It’s just a matter of time.

    Kagan: You would ask until he agrees? He’d never. You’d be where you are now.

    Cohn-Bendit. Perhaps. But, to use your favorite quote, I’d take that risk.

    Kagan: It would take years. Very complicated, expensive.

    Cohn-Bendit: By god, war and occupation aren’t cheaper.

  18. Thence it continues degenerating into name calling. Enough public service for today.

    By the way. The German word for spider is “Spinne” related to the verb. Which is rather restricted compared to its English cognate.
    You don’t spin yourself. You spin only a thread or an insane thought.

    Larva line is a mistaken attempt to interpret Mrs. Albrights given name as a compound noun.

  19. Phil Hunt: “That’s not what I intended by the analogy — I don’t think the EU will end up homogenous — but I can see how people could read that into it.”

    And just for the record, neither did I thought you intended it as such – it’s just that I thought about the Eurosceptics’ likely free assotiation 🙂 More EU money into a post-election Ukraine, especially if aimed at project in the East, would indeed be good.

  20. Cool. Thanks a lot Oliver. I got a lot of the article through context, but translation is still an area where one shouldn’t sent a machine to do a human’s job.

    I mentioned Albright as a joke in reference to the little Borg discussion above. The google translation made it sound as if the U.S. government is controlled by different breeds of hive mind larvae. Or something. I found it hilarious.

    Thanks again for the effort.

  21. Hmmm, Oliver, it degenerates into name-calling much later… I’ll continue the piblic service for a while:

    Kagan: What is it about this man [Saddam] that you get yourself all these problems, instead of going in and grabbing him?

    Cohn-Bendit: Many civilians will die.

    Kagan: Many did in Kosovo too.

    Cohn-Bendit: The difference was that at the time, we faced an aggressive-expansive regime.

    Kagan: Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and Kuweit, and killed Kurds in the North. That all is now over ten years ago – should we let him off the hook because of that?

    Spiegel: Mr Kagan, do you believe that Europe now fears Bush more than Saddam?

    Kagan: Europe has no fear of Saddam, and it can’t understand America’s fear either. The Europeans act as missionaries of a posthistorical-european world order, and they see the Americans as the greatest threat to this approach. Saddam may be a threat to other parts of the world, but no threat to the European vision.

    Cohn-Bendit: The threat to Europe is in the fact that the only thing left for us is to say Yes, Amen! to what the Americans want. The Europeans don’t want that anymore. Think of Kyoto or the exceptional status of the USA at the International Criminal Court. Americans now seem to owe an account only to Americans.

  22. Kagan: Europe must learn to live with this reality, and it can do that cleverly or stupidly. However, in their dealings with the USA, one doesn’t notice anything of the Europeans’ skill in diplomacy. If you have the impression that Americans don’t trust this international legal system, then you must make them it easier to befriend this stuff.

    Cohn-Bendit: The big delusion in your ‘clever politics’ is to believe that a democratic government can maintain such a politics against its own people for long. Millions were on the streets against the war.

    Kagan: I agree on this. Democracy kills diplomacy.

    Cohn-bendit: Politicians can act against majorities only if they are convinced of the necessity. The German government had their country participate in the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan because it was convinced that Germany must take over responsibilities, and not just pay responsibly. The USA must understand that the people here need time to understand what changes are necessary to take over responsibility.

    Kagan: OK, then we are dealing with a classic tragedy. Both sides can’t act differently, both sides feel they are completely right. America is famous for its self-righteousness, but it doesn’t seem to be different here in Europe. This is not about the mutual shouting across the Atlantic about how immoral the others are or how weak and cowardy. I believe the break is real and important.

  23. Spiegel: Is the deeper reason for the dissent that the USA still tries to expand its powers?

    Kagan: Yes. To be precise this is our policy for 400 years, when we were a few small colonies attached to the Atlantic Coast.

    Cohn-Bendit: For the better or worse?

    Kagan: We rarely have that choice. We have to face reality. From the American viewpoint, the international order can only have one centre: the USa and not the UN Security Council.

    Cohn-Bendit: With this ideology the USA could topple Allende, conduct the Vietnam War and commit many deadly errors.

    Kagan. That’s human. [the translator cracks up for half a minute at this.] If one has a nice big hammer, one suddenly sees nails everywhere. [[the translator cracks up for a second half minute, imagining himself into one of these myopia-made nails.] And sometimes one hits his own thumb. Unlike Europe, America knows what it wants. Europe must ask itself what it is today and what it wants to become someday.

    Cohn-Bendit: That’s exactly what we are doing at the moment. We are building Europe. In a multipolar world, we must take over more responsibilities: for security, conflict prevention, social justice and ecological responsibility. The United States of Europe.

    Kagan: I don’t know whether you noticed, but there is such a thing as differences in opinion between European states. Only when Europe has real power, will America adapt. I sometimes have the feeling that Europeans want to create a multipolar world via the legal pipeline.

  24. Cohn-Bendit: Europe is a magic car. It has two driving wheels, behind one sits Chirac, behind the other Schr?der, and behind them sit a lot of people, who debate in which direction the two should drive. Still I believe in the Vision Europe. Measured against the short a time the onetime Warshaw Pact countries are sovereign, we achieved qwuite something. This process is going on for longer than my generation’s life, in the end it will be an alliance which shares responsibilities with America and other superregional alliances.

    Spiegel: The americans seem to be isolated at the moment. Is US diplomacy failing?

    Kagan: Without doubt the USA showed weaknesses in this process. But no one could foresee that the French will risk their vision of international order in a brand new way of kamikaze-diplomacy. According to a poll for the New York Times, 58% of Americans think that the UN is doing a bad job. That’s 10% more than last month.

    Cohn-Bendit: The Americans are isolated and isolate their allies because they act in an autistic way.

    Spiegel: How will European-American relations develop after the Iraq crisis is over?

    Kagan: Stuff that connect us – culture, democracy, liberal principles – will again gain importance. Of course Washington needs to show more sensibility in its dealings with Europe. Conversely, Europe must fit itself to the mentality of the superpower and spend less time with stemming itself against it. [Translator cracks up a third time.]

  25. Spiegel: Can it be that America got as far as the British Empire, shortly before its downfall?

    Kagan: In 2050, Europeans will on average be at the end of their forties. Americans will be ten years younger. Usually that’s not the demography of a nation in downfall.

    Cohn-Bendit: You should tell your cuddle-friend Ms. Merkel that America wishes more immigrants, to hold up the downfall of New and Old Europe.

    Spiegel: Mr. Cohn-Bendit, Mr. Kagan, we thank for this talk.

  26. I sometimes have the feeling that Europeans want to create a multipolar world via the legal pipeline.

    Is Kagan joking? Isn’t this the (overwhelmingly large) main point of the EU? A post-WWII mainland Europe saying “Guys, seriously. Let’s not kill each other so much in the future.” (with a bit of “Dammit, the Americans had to save us again. This is intolerable.”)

    Addendum as I preview the post: “cuddle-friend”? He said that?

  27. “Guys, seriously. Let’s not kill each other so much in the future.”

    Yes, but where is the connection to a multipolar world?

    PS: The text definitely says “cuddle-friend”. In fact that’s the tamest accurate translation. Unless Mr. Kagan speaks German the text itself will be a translation.

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