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«THE EUROPEAN SUPERPOWER - John McCormick Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series Vol.5 No. 8 April 2005 This publication is sponsored by the EU ...»

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Robert Schuman


- John McCormick

Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series

Vol.5 No. 8

April 2005

This publication is sponsored by the EU Commission.

The Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series

The Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series is produced by the Jean Monnet Chair of the

University of Miami, in cooperation with the Miami European Union Center.

These monographic papers analyze ongoing developments within the European Union as well as recent trends which influence the EU’s relationship with the rest of the world. Broad themes

include, but are not limited to:

♦ EU Enlargement ♦ The Evolution of the Constitutional Process ♦ The EU as a Global Player ♦ Comparative Regionalisms ♦ The Trans-Atlantic Agenda ♦ EU-Latin American Relations ♦ Economic issues ♦ Governance ♦ The EU and its Citizens ♦ EU Law As the process of European integration evolves further, the Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Papers is intended to provide current analyses on a wide range of issues relevant to the EU. The overall purpose of the monographic papers is to contribute to a better understanding of the unique nature of the EU and the significance of its role in the world.

Jean Monnet Chair Staff:

Miami European Union Center University of Miami Joaquín Roy (Director) 1000 Memorial Drive Aimee Kanner (Editor) 101 Ferré Building Roberto Domínguez (Research Assistant) Coral Gables, FL 33124-2231 Nuray Ibryamova (Research Assistant) Phone: 305-284-3266 Markus Thiel (Research Assistant) Fax: (305) 284 4406 Wendy Grenade (Associate Editor) E-Mail: jroy@miami.edu Eloisa Vladescu (Editorial Assistant) Web: www.miami.edu/eucenter


John McCormick∗ The Jean Monnet Chair University of Miami Miami, Florida April 2005 ∗ John McCormick is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Indianapolis University campus of Indiana University and a former Visiting Professor at the Center for European Studies at Exeter University in Britain. His teaching and research interests focus on environmental policy and the politics of the European Union. His recent publications include Comparative Politics in Transition, The European Union: Politics and Policies and Understanding the European Union.


Introduction It has become almost conventional in the American political and academic establishments to describe the United States as the world’s last remaining superpower. Much of the recent scholarly literature is founded on the assumption of an American hegemony, with the claim that there is no other actor capable of challenging US power, either today or for the indefinite future.

Ikenberry, for example, argues that the pre-eminence of American power is unprecedented in modern history: “We live in a one-superpower world, and there is no serious competitor in sight”.1 For Wohlforth, the unipolar system is durable, with no state likely for decades “to be in a position to take on the United States in any of the underlying elements of power”.2 Elsewhere, he asserts that there are no signs of attempts from other actors to counterbalance the United States.3 For former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the United States is the first, last and only global superpower.4 The media in the United States appear to have accepted the lone superpower thesis5, as – by and large – have the American people.

However, there is an opposing school of thought that suggests that US power is declining, in line with the prediction of balance-of-power theory that the end of the cold war would bring a decline in the Atlantic alliance, and a reassertion of European power. The potential for decline was noted by Paul Kennedy in 19876, while in 1993 Christopher Layne was writing of the “unipolar moment”, arguing that American hegemony was an interlude that would quickly give way to multipolarity, in part because history has shown that the dominance of a single power creates an environment that is conducive to the emergence of new powers.7 As Kenneth Waltz has argued, “overwhelming power repels and leads other states to balance against it”.8 Meanwhile, Charles Kupchan, while noting that the peace and prosperity of the late 1990s rested on American power, was arguing in 1998 that America’s preponderance and its will to underwrite international order would not last indefinitely, and that its global influence would decline as other large countries emerged and became ”less enamored of following America’s lead”.9 1 G. John Ikenberry, “Introduction” in G. John Ikenberry (Ed), America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), p. 1.

2 William C. Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World”, in International Security 24:1 (Summer 1999), p.8.

3 William C. Wohlforth, “US Strategy in a Unipolar World”, in G. John Ikenberry (Ed), America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).

4 Quoted by Samuel Huntington, “The Lonely Superpower”, in Foreign Affairs, 78:2 (March/April 1999).

5 With a few exceptions. See, for example, “EU in position to be the world’s next superpower” in Chicago Tribune, 6 January 2002, and “Europe now seen as new superpower” in The Washington Times, 19 October 2003.

6 Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987).

7 Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Arise”, in International Security, Vol.

17, No. 4 (Spring 1993), pp. 5-51.

8 Kenneth N. Waltz, “America as a Model for the World? A Foreign Policy Perspective”, in PS, December 1991, p.


9 Charles A. Kupchan, “After Pax Americana: Benign Power, Regional Integration, and the Sources of a Stable Multipolarity”, in International Security, 23:2 (Fall 1998), pp. 40-79.

1 Related to these arguments, a third school of thought now holds that the European Union (EU) is asserting itself on the international stage, and has begun to look much like a superpower itself. Thus Haseler writes of “Europe’s hour”, suggesting that it is “well along the road to becoming the world’s second superpower”.10 Citing mainly economic indicators, Reid argues that the rise of Europe has meant the end of American global supremacy.11 Such arguments have reached a new crescendo since the fallout over Iraq, which saw the most serious transatlantic disagreement in decades. They have typically been limited, conditional, and cautionary, suggesting that while the EU has made great strides, it has too many internal divisions to assert itself as a united global actor. Risse, for example, notes that while the EU matches the US in economic power, it lacks the willingness to match it in military power.12 Similarly, former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig comments that “passives” such as Europe have been “afraid to use military force” in response to terrorism.13 The general conclusion is that the EU lacks the military capability to qualify as a superpower.

This paper is an attempt to interpret the meaning of recent changes in the transatlantic relationship, tying them to the ongoing debates about global power. It offers three cross-cutting

sets of arguments:

• First, we need to move beyond the cold war association of “superpower” with military power alone, and we must bring economic, social, political and diplomatic factors into the equation. Once this is done, it becomes clear that the idea of American hegemony, and of a unipolar international system, is open to question.

• Second, critical changes have taken place in the international system that have bolstered the relative power and significance of the EU. The most critical of these has been the decline of American leadership and influence. Most tellingly, there is reason to question the much-vaunted military dominance of the United States. The US has the training and the technology to achieve its objectives quickly, but its political leaders often find themselves unable to win the peace. Vietnam and Iraq have clearly shown that overwhelming military force cannot always defeat determined opposition. More broadly, US credibility is declining because the American values and priorities are increasingly at odds with those in much of the rest of the world. The United States has become something of a rogue state.

• Finally, there have been developments internal to the EU. With the single market program all but complete, the EU has expanded to take in 25 member states and a population of more than 450 million, making it the biggest capitalist market in the world.

Most of its wealthiest members have adopted a single currency that has taken its place alongside the US dollar as one of the world’s two most important international 10 Stephen Haseler, Super-State: The New Europe and Its Challenge to America (London: I. B.Taurus, 2004).


T R Reid, The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy (New York:

Penguin, 2004).

12 Thomas Risse, “US Power in a Liberal Security Community”, in G. John Ikenberry (ed) America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).

13 Alexander Haig, “The Promise and Peril of Our Times”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 25 November 2003, at http://www.fpri.org.

–  –  –

This combination of events has allowed the EU to assert itself in the global arena, and to become not just a new kind of civilian superpower (exerting economic, political, and diplomatic influence), but has also generated greater pressure for the EU to expand its military capabilities.

Indeed, it might be argued that the EU must assert itself, in order both to promote and protect the values for which its stands, to support European interests in the world, and to balance the role of the United States by offering an alternative set of definitions of global problems, and prescriptions for dealing with those problems.

The decline of American power

The post-war world brought a new kind of global actor into the international system: the superpower. Only the United States and the Soviet Union were accorded the new label, which was typically understood to mean the ability to project power globally, and to enjoy a high level of autonomy and self-sufficiency. Unlike the old imperial powers such as Britain, Spain, and France, or modern regional powers such as China or India, a superpower has interests all over the world, and the ability to directly influence and protect those interests.

Because the cold war was in large part a competition for ideological influence backed up by military power, and because the USSR was clearly not a global economic actor, the term “superpower” was conventionally associated with military power. Indeed, it still is, and when most Americans talk of the United States as the last remaining superpower, they usually couch their conversation in terms of US military prowess. Conversely, the assertion that the EU does not yet rank as a superpower rests mainly on the absence of a combined European military force that could match, counterbalance, or even complement US military force. However, there is reason to question US military capabilities. True, the United States spends far more on defence each year than any other country. True, it has an enormous military arsenal at its disposal. True, its military technology is the most advanced in the world. And true, one of the defining features of the contemporary world is the size and the power of the US military. However, the effect of that power, and the status of the United States as global hegemon, has been compromised by at least four key developments.

First, there has been a change in the nature of international relations, where peaceful diplomacy is increasingly preferred over the use of military force. There was little question during the cold war that the United States and the Soviet Union had the nuclear capability to destroy each other and much of the rest of the world, and thus posed an overwhelming threat that gave each an unprecedented ability either to achieve their political goals, or at least to cancel the goals of the other. But in the post-cold war world, in which there are no longer any major state powers actively using weapons of mass destruction as a means of containment, the nature of power has changed. Military capability remains an important measure, to be sure, but it has its limitations. And in the age of globalization, real ongoing influence in the world must be 3 measured more in terms of the dominance of multinational corporations in the global trading system, the strength and influence of currencies and banking systems, budget deficits and trade balances, and the availability of resources for foreign direct investment. Violence as a tool of international relations has been largely discredited, to be replaced by a broader preference for the

use of diplomatic, moral and even cultural influence, and of the “soft power” described by Nye:

the ability to lead by example, to co-opt rather than to coerce, and to shape the preferences of others.14 Second, the United States faces domestic problems that weaken its ability to project its power internationally. Not least of these is its continued failure to control government spending.

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