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So whether the EU occupies the role of hegemon in the World-Economy and whether the EU attempts to behave as an imperialist power are two different questions, and my suspicion is that the answer to the first is only yes if the answer to the second is not only no, but also demonstrably so in a way that allays old memories of colonial imperialism.

In any given part of the world, yes.

However, it is perfectly possible to rely on economic development, cultural exchange and mutual support in one part of the world, and play the Great Game in another part of the world. The premier contemporary example would be the US: American policy towards most of Europe has been based largely on projecting soft power into those countries (and hard power against their enemies), whereas Latin America and most of Sub-Saharan Africa have been subjected to much more canonical imperial strategy.

The pros and cons of these different approaches are pretty clear: Soft power is a lot more durable in the face of (relative or absolute) decline. Europe remains fanatically loyal to the US, despite having no particularly convincing geopolitical reason for this any longer. Latin America, on the other hand, is in the next best thing to open revolt against the American world order. On the other hand, soft power is a bit more subtle and requires greater finesse. While the US was still able to consistently project hard power into Latin America, their colonial tribute largely arrived on time and in the specified quantities. The European clients, on the other hand, have occasionally been more reticent about providing their tribute (usually manpower and political air cover for playing the Great Game).

My fear is that while Europe will probably continue to rely on soft power in our own immediate sphere of influence - it works well, and few are willing to argue with success - it will be tempting to take shortcuts further abroad. With all the pernicious consequences for both the locals in those places and for European political culture that aggressive imperialist strategy usually entails.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 24th, 2010 at 03:27:45 AM EST
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