The European Union’s Preference of Soft Power

Introduction

After European involvement in major military wars during the 20th century, the region’s foreign policy approaches changed significantly. An important feature in this change is the establishment of the European Union, which brought together 27 member states with the aim of developing an economic and social system. It sought to achieve close integration and interrelationship between the member states1.

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The most effective foreign policy under the EU is an important topic of debate in international politics. In foreign policy, the EU shows a preference for ‘soft power’ instead of ‘hard power’ policy. In general, a ‘soft power’ policy integrates the idea of ‘influencing other nations without the need to involve the military, economic and social restrictions’. Although almost all EU member states have individual foreign policies that involve such aspects of hard power as economic restrictions, sanctions and military involvement in foreign nations, it is worth noting that the EU, as a union, does not involve hard power2.

Also, the EU does not have its military and does not intend to establish one, despite the frequent international crisis that requires the union to take strict measures. Therefore, it is interesting that the EU aims to be an important international actor, yet the ‘soft power’ foreign policy is less effective in some cases3. So, why does the EU prefer ‘soft power’ mechanisms in its foreign policy yet some cases require strict measures? Arguably, despite being slow, soft power mechanisms are more likely to produce positive long-term impacts, reduce costs and alleviate international conflicts and rivalries, unlike hard power policy.

The soft power policy: What is it and why should it be an important topic of debate?

Joseph Nye, an American academic and political expert at Harvard University, introduced the idea of “soft power” and “hard power” in international politics and political science. According to his definition, soft power is the ability of an individual to get what he or she wants through attracting and persuading others to adopt his or her preferred individual4. Nye continues to argue that soft power, in its definition, differs from hard power mechanisms that attempt to use “carrots and sticks” for the military as well as economic prowess to make others follow your will5. According to this definition, both hard power and soft power mechanisms are necessary for war, but the cost of attracting others is less and more effective than coercion6. Therefore, Nye argues that soft power is an asset that should be polished and used in foreign policies on the international level.

Since Nye provided the first definition of soft power, several other authors have attempted to describe this idea from a wider perspective. Various analysts have shown that soft power includes several mechanisms that seek to influence the developing and underdeveloped world through education, economic and social interrelations, science and technology as well as other areas7. For instance, the EU encourages its member states to provide academic scholarship or exchange programs for students in the developing world to allow young people from the target nations to have an experience of the European way of life, education, social system, language, and economic systems. It is believed that this model has a long-term or permanent impact on the developing nations.

In this way, the EU wants to lead by example rather than coercing others. It wants to persuade other nations to emulate most of its aspects such as academic, economic, social and political systems8. It emphasizes shared values between partners, where information, ideas, skills, and problem-solving methods are key to the relationship9.

On the other hand, hard power attempts to apply strict measures that aim at coercion, inducement or forcing influence on others. It places a lot of emphasis on command power- the ability to change what other nations do. It seeks to intervene in foreign affairs, including the economic, social, political and other aspects. For instance, economic and military sanctions, provision of money in the form of military, social and economic aid as well as direct military intervention are the major examples of mechanisms applied in hard power policies10.

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Why does the EU want to apply soft power even in cases where hard measures are required?

Pertinent to this question is the idea of European history. After several wars (including two world wars and a cold war in the 20th century), most states in Europe desired to achieve and sustain peace11. It was clear that most citizens in Europe were no longer willing to see a world where one nation attacks the other. These wars had massive impacts on the lives of individuals and their social and economic systems.

Also, governments across Europe desired to achieve regional and international peace, especially due to the massive economic demands brought by wars and military crisis. Between 1945 and 1990, most European nations were recovering from the two world wars as well as involvement in foreign interventions in Africa, South America, and Asia. They sought to achieve peace with each other and sustain effective relations rather than economic and military rivalry. Also, most European economic and military powers like Germany, Britain, and France were seeking to develop effective foreign policies based on mutual benefits12.

According to Kaunert and Zwolski13, these initiatives (together with the massive population loss in the two world wars, economic and military powers) explain why the US and the USSR became the new superpowers between 1945 and 1990.14 Europe was almost tired of wars and international conflicts but emphasized economic and social recovery. Most member states believed in the policy of using military power or intervention as the last option to solve a crisis. Countries like Germany reduced their military power, with its annual budget for defense as part of the national GDP reduced by more than half15. Other nations concentrated on economic development, which included trade agreements with foreign nations and provision of aid to developing nations as a way of influencing their economic and social systems

Accordingly, the EU was formed based on these aspects. One of the most important aims of the union is to achieve and sustain economic, social and cultural development, peace and integration. The EU was formed on the grounds of providing a mechanism through which crisis prevention would be achieved and maintained. The aim is to ensure that member states are involved in ensuring that the region has an effective mission in foreign and security policy. Crisis prevention, in the EU context, is the art of recognizing that a seemingly dormant or “sleeping” problem can emerge or re-emerge into a conflict or crisis. During its establishment, the EU had a clear aim of achieving and sustaining peace and security not only in Europe but also in its neighboring countries and regions.

Apart from history, the EU also prefers soft power as opposed to hard power for several other reasons. For instance, the emergence of the US as the only real superpower after the fall of the former USSR explains, partly, why the involvement of a military force was not in the agenda of the EU during its formation. The makers of the EU were aware that almost all European states, especially those in Western Europe, had developed good relationships with the US.

Also, the US had achieved good relations with its former rivals in the region, including Germany and Italy. The makers of the EU considered that developing the EU into a military superpower would only rival the US16. Also, it was clear that the US, the UN, and other international bodies had taken a leading role in international politics, which meant that Europe was no longer in need of using military prowess to influence change in foreign nations or its neighbors. The threat of war in Europe was no longer a major problem. Economic and social problems were the major points of focus. Therefore, the best option was to adopt soft power as compared to hard power, especially in terms of international politics and security.

Also, the EU is the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world, contributing more than 48% of the humanitarian aid every year17. Therefore, as a good neighbor, the EU was formed with an idea of influencing the nations that benefit from this aid. In this way, the EU exerted its influence in foreign countries by suggesting overall changes in government structures, political and economic structures.

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This is one of the most effective ‘soft power’ mechanisms used by the European Union in Africa, South America, and Asia. According to Nugent18, the EU aims at buying goodwill and augmenting its soft power mechanisms not only in Europe but also in the regions where it does not have a direct or obvious political, geographical or economic interest. The EU is aware that without its aid, most nations and regions depending on humanitarian and foreign aid will suffer significant consequences. Therefore, it uses this position to attract foreign nations to its economic, social and political systems.

It is also worth noting that the EU aims at attracting its immediate neighbors by suggesting enlargement. The Union remains open to new membership, which targets nations lying between continental Europe and Asia. For these nations to receive EU membership, they are required to adopt certain standards established under the union. Also, they must change their governance structures and ensure that their domestic and foreign policies are in line with the EU.

For instance, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey have been exposed to these requirements in their desire to join the EU. Thus, the EU is aware that its large market, economic standards, political and social systems are attractive to foreign nations. In this way, it uses these aspects as a tool for attracting and influencing other nations. Therefore, the need for hard power policies is reduced significantly.

Conclusion

The EU attempts to reduce conflict, wars and the cost of hard power mechanisms in its foreign and domestic policies. It prefers using soft power mechanisms because it is aware that its economic, social, cultural and other standards and development are attractive to other nations and regions. Therefore, the need for hard power mechanisms is reduced, while also reducing the cost of implementing foreign policies.

Bibliography

Engelbrekt, K & J Hallenberg, European Union and Strategy: An Emerging Actor, Routledge, London, 2010.

Hyde-Price, A ‘A ‘tragic Actor?: A Realist Perspective on Ethical Power Europe’, International Affairs, vol. 84, no. 1, 2008, pp. 49-64.

Hyde-Price, A, Normative power Europe: A realistic critique,’ Journal of European public policy, vol.13, no. 2, 2006, pp. 217-234.

Kaunert, C & K Zwolski, The EU as a global security actor: A comprehensive analysis beyond CFSP and JHA, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2013.

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Nugent, N, The Government and Politics of the European Union, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Nye, JS, ‘Soft power,’ Foreign Policy, vol. 90, no. 80, 2004, pp. 153-155.

Nye, JS, Soft Power: The means to success in world politics, Public Affairs, New York, 2009.

Waltz, K, ‘Structural realism after the Cold War,’ International security, vol. 25, no. 1, 2000, pp. 5-41.

Footnotes

  1. Kaunert & Zwolski, The EU as a global security actor: A comprehensive analysis beyond CFSP and JHA, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2013, p. 24.
  2. Hyde-Price, A ‘A “tragic Actor”?: A Realist Perspective on Ethical Power Europe’, International Affairs, vol. 84, no. 1, 2008, p. 49.
  3. Engelbrekt & Hallenberg, European Union and Strategy: An Emerging Actor, Routledge, London, 2010.
  4. Nye, JS, Soft Power: The Means to success in world politics, Public Affairs, New York, 2009, p. 29.
  5. Kaunert & Zwolski, p. 67.
  6. Nye, p. 27.
  7. Nugent, N, The Government and Politics of the European Union, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 53.
  8. Hyde-Price, A p. 51.
  9. Nye, JS, ‘Soft power,’ Foreign Policy, vol. 90, no. 80, 2004, pp. 153-155.
  10. Kaunert & Zwolski, p. 67.
  11. Waltz, K, ‘Structural Realism after the Cold War,’ International Security, vol. 25, no. 1, 2000, p. 6.
  12. Nugent, N, p. 128.
  13. Kaunert & Zwolski, p. 128.
  14. Nye, Soft power: Foreign Policy, p. 93.
  15. Hyde-Price, A, p. 53.
  16. Nugent, N, p. 169.
  17. Hyde-Price, A, Normative power Europe: A realistic critique,’ Journal of European public policy, vol.13, no. 2, 2006, p. 217.
  18. Nugent, N, p. 136.
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StudyCorgi. "The European Union’s Preference of Soft Power." December 30, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/the-european-unions-preference-of-soft-power/.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "The European Union’s Preference of Soft Power." December 30, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/the-european-unions-preference-of-soft-power/.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'The European Union’s Preference of Soft Power'. 30 December.

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