The Next High Rep needs look beyond soft power

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This piece is part of a series on the casting of a new High Representative. For the full series, click here. Read Josef Janning's introductory piece here

One should hope that the next High Rep will help Europe shed its illusions about the impact of soft power. Europe’s security, interests, and values depend on it.

With the world drawn to the rise of China’s state capitalism and with the increasing focus of emerging democracies like Brazil and India on national sovereignty and non-interference, Europe must be able to assert its influence and values - and that requires military power. While the United States sees security concerns in Asia, Europeans see only an enormous market.

The crisis in Ukraine should constitute a long-overdue wake-up call. But Europe’s leaders have not rushed to respond to America’s calls for increased defence spending. They would rather confront Russia as they did in the twentieth century – from under America’s protective wing.

Europe’s leaders may have declared last December that “defence matters,” but evidently not as much as their economic concerns. The prevailing attitude toward defence overlooks the vital deterrent purpose of armed forces. Threats are backed by human calculation and that calculation is crucially affected by perceptions of the other side’s willingness and ability to resist. In short, failing to take defence seriously risks turning threats into reality.

Europe’s lack of seriousness about defence 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of any military threat and suggests that the need to project power and influence internationally is somehow irrelevant, outdated, or even distasteful in the modern age. Europe’s new High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy - and the other new leaders of the EU - need not resort to gunboat diplomacy to resolve every political dispute, but they do need to understand how armed forces work as instruments of statecraft.

 

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