German Tornado Formation Flight 2003 Ronny Stiffel/flickr

Hard Truths About Europe’s Soft Power

Europeans may be “postmodern,” but the rest of the world is not. Even a cursory glance at Europe’s neighborhood demonstrates the limitations of “soft” power and dispel hopes that emerging powers can be house-trained as “responsible stakeholders” in a Western-designed international system.

LONDON – In the run-up to last December’s European Union defense summit, British General Nick Houghton warned that the United Kingdom’s armed forces risked being “hollowed out.” Too little of Britain’s reduced defense budget was being spent on personnel, he noted, and too much on “exquisite” equipment bought for the wrong reasons. “We must also be careful,” he cautioned, “that the defense budget is not disproportionately used to support the British defense industry.”

Houghton’s concerns are as relevant, if not more so, to Europe’s security. When it comes to using the defense budget to advance its industrial, employment, or regional-policy goals, the UK is by no means the worst offender. Europe’s leaders may have declared last December that “defense matters,” but evidently not as much as their economic concerns.

To assert one policy and practice another is unhealthy for democracy, as well as being economically inefficient. But, more important, Europe’s lack of seriousness about defense presupposes the absence of any military threat, and suggests that the need to project power and influence internationally is somehow irrelevant, outdated, or even distasteful in the modern age.

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