Europe - an emerging power
At this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, the buzz was about
Asia's growing power. One Asian analyst argued that by 2050, there will
be three world powers: the United States, China, and India. He did not
mention Europe, but underestimating Europe's power is a mistake.
Yes, Europe currently punches below its weight. It is fragmented,
peaceful, and normative in a world of hard power, but part of the world
is not about military power.
The use of force among advanced industrial democracies is virtually
unthinkable. In their relations with each other, such countries are all
from Venus, to paraphrase Robert Kagan, and here Europe's focus on law
and institutions is an asset.
As for other parts of the world, a recent Pew poll found that many
Europeans would like Europe to play a larger role, but to balance
American military power would require a doubling or tripling of defence
spending, and few Europeans are interested in such an increase.
Nevertheless, a smart strategy for Europe will require greater
investments in hard power.
The picture for Europe, however, is not as bleak as pessimists
assume. Power is the ability to get the outcomes one wants, and the
resources that produce such behaviour depend upon the context. In
functional terms, power is distributed like a three-dimensional chess
On the top board are military relations among states, with the US the
world's only superpower with global reach. Here the world is uni-polar.
On the middle board are economic relations, where the world is
already multi-polar. Here, Europe acts as a union, and other countries
like Japan and China play big roles.
The US cannot reach a trade agreement or settle anti-trust cases
without the approval of the EU. Or, to take another example, Europe was
able to lead the drive to remove Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank.
The bottom chessboard includes transnational relations outside the
control of governments - everything from drugs to infectious diseases to
climate change to terrorism. On this board, power is chaotically
distributed among non-state actors, and it makes no sense to call this
world either uni-polar or multipolar.
Here, close civilian cooperation is important, for which Europe is
well endowed. European countries' success in overcoming centuries of
animosity, and the development of a large internal market, has given
them a great deal of soft power.
At the Cold War's end, East European countries did not try to form
local alliances, as they did in the 1920s, but looked toward Brussels to
secure their future. Similarly, countries like Turkey and Ukraine have
adjusted their policies in response to their attraction to Europe.
Recently, the US National Intelligence Council published four widely
different scenarios for the world in 2020: Davos World, in which
economic globalisation continues, but with a more Asian face; Pax
Americana, where the US continues to dominate the global order; New
Caliphate, where Islamic religious identity challenges the dominance of
western norms; and Cycle of Fear, in which non-state forces create
shocks to security that produce Orwellian societies.
Like any exercises in futurology, such scenarios have their limits,
but they help us ask which three or four major political factors will
help shape the outcome.
The first is the rise of Asia. The big question will be China and its
internal evolution. China has lifted 400 million people out of poverty
since 1990, but another 400 million still live on less than $2 per day.
Unlike India, China has not solved the problem of political
If China replaces its eroded communism with nationalism or ensures
social cohesion, the result could be a more aggressive foreign policy
and unwillingness to deal with issues like climate change. Or it may
deal with its problems and become a "responsible stakeholder" in world
Europe can contribute significantly to China's integration into
global norms and institutions. In general, Europe and the US have more
to fear from a weak China than they do from a wealthy China.
Political Islam and how it develops will be the second factor. The
struggle against extreme Islamist terrorism is not a "clash of
civilizations", but a civil war within Islam. A radical minority is
using violence to impose a simplified and ideological version on a
mainstream with more diverse views.
While the largest number of Muslims live in Asia, they are influenced
by the heart of this struggle in the Middle East, an area that has
lagged behind the rest of the world in globalisation, openness,
institutions, and democratisation. Here Europe's economic might and soft
power have a lot to contribute.
More open trade, economic growth, education, development of civil
society institutions, and gradual increases in political participation
might help strengthen the mainstream over time, as could the way Muslims
are treated in Europe and the US. Equally important will be whether
Western policies toward the Middle East satisfy mainstream Muslims or
reinforce the radicals' narrative of a war against Islam.
The third major determinant of which scenario prevails will be
American power and how it is used. The US will remain the most powerful
country in 2020, but, paradoxically, the strongest state since the days
of Rome will be unable to protect its citizens acting alone.
American military might is not adequate to deal with threats such as
global pandemics, climate change, terrorism, and international crime.
These issues require cooperation in the provision of global public goods
and the soft power of attracting support.
No part of the world shares more values or has a greater capacity to
influence American attitudes and power than does Europe. That suggests
that the fourth political determinant of the future will be the
evolution of European policies and power.
The writer is a professor at Harvard and author of The Powers to Lead