Myth 9: Europe is weak on the global stage, lacking international power.

ShareFACT: Europe has achieved some impressive foreign policy accomplishments that force us to reevaluate of how we define “power” in the 21st century. America’s aggressive brand of unilateralism and military “hard power” has suffered unexpected setbacks in recent years. But Europe’s “smart power,” which is based on multilateral diplomacy and regional networks of investment, trade, and Marshall Plan–like foreign aid, has produced more concrete results than its critics will admit.

For starters, this velvet diplomacy has been instrumental in bringing greater peace, democracy, and prosperity to the former communist dictatorships of eastern and central Europe, as well as to neighbors such as Turkey, Ukraine, and others in its periphery. All told, this “Eurosphere” links two billion people — one-third of the world, including many Arab countries — to the European Union and its way of doing things. Europe’s smart power also shows the right temperament for slowly nudging Russia, China, the Middle East, and other hot spots toward rapprochement with the West.

Contrary to its reputation as a military weakling that “punches below its weight,” Europe has the second largest military budget in the world after the United States (larger than China’s), with two countries possessing nuclear weapons (France and Britain), over two million European soldiers in uniform (more than the U.S.), and many boots on the ground in peacekeeping missions and hot spots around the globe in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kosovo, Bosnia, the Congo, and elsewhere.

But Europe’s real strength is that the European Union has had lots of practice at forging consensus among dozens of players, and that gives it a skill set that is more effective than America’s hard power at bringing large segments of the world together over the many challenges we collectively face. Indeed, the top analyst in the U.S. intelligence community wrote in September 2008 that U.S. superiority in military power will “be the least significant” asset in the era that is unfolding. In an emerging, multipolar world, Europe is transforming our very notions of “effective power” by combining economic might with a patient and pragmatic foreign policy that has achieved results.

– Steven Hill, guest blogger

Ed. comments:

You can see all the posts in this series here.

Steven Hill is the author of “Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age” ( He’s visiting Seattle and Bellingham this week:

  • Monday March 15 at 11 a.m., interview on the Dave Ross Show, KIRO 97.3 FM
  • Monday March 15 at 7 p.m., presenting at the University of Washington Communications Building
  • Tuesday March 16 at 7:30 pm: presenting at Town Hall Seattle (tickets here)
  • Wednesday March 17, 7:00 p.m.: presenting at Village Books, Bellingham
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