Original Article

International Politics (2011) 48, 691–706. doi:10.1057/ip.2011.28

Europe, a smart power?

Mai'a K Davis Crossa

aSchool of International Relations, University of Southern California, 3518 Trousdale Parkway, VKC 330, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA



Smart power is defined as the effective combination of both hard and soft power. The concept is increasingly used in policy and academic debates, yet a clear understanding of what it actually means is still lacking. As a result, there is little serious consideration of how smart power can contribute to long-standing debates about power in international relations. This article seeks to clarify the meaning of smart power through first analyzing its main components – hard and soft power – separately; and second bringing these components together to re-conceptualize smart power. The aim is to make smart power more analytically useful, and to outline the various ways in which hard and soft power can be combined effectively. The author considers the case of Europe to argue that it is mainly a soft power and sometimes a smart power.


soft power; smart power; Europe; European Union


The Small World of Smart Power

There is growing interest in the idea of smart power – defined as the effective combination of hard and soft power – in policy circles on both sides of the Atlantic.1 For example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made smart power a key part of her message during her Senate Confirmation hearing (Naughton, 2009), and has since mentioned it repeatedly in her diplomacy with other countries. The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC has launched a Smart Power Initiative, which has resulted in a number of meetings and publications, including the Commission on Smart Power, chaired by Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye (Armitage and Nye, 2007). On the other side of the Atlantic, the Security & Defence Agenda, a leading Brussels-based think tank, held a day-long conference at the European Parliament in 2009 to discuss European Union (EU) smart power. Shortly before that, European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn spoke at Oxford University, outlining the way forward for the EU to exercise smart power as it fulfills its goals. Smart power seems to be an emerging buzz word, but how much substance does it really have? And does the concept have any place in long-standing scholarly debates about power that have been so central to the study of international relations (IR)?

Academic interest in smart power has been somewhat lacking. This may be surprising given that a significant proportion of scholarly work in IR deals fundamentally with different forms of power. Ernest Wilson (2008) and Joseph Nye (2008, 2009a,2009b, 2011) are two of only a small handful of scholars to write about the concept directly. It is increasingly common for IR scholars to mention it in passing, but only a few have researched its implications, and even then, almost exclusively as it pertains to US power. Recent research in the field of EU studies actually contributes much to our understanding of the EU's potential to become a smart power, even if only implicitly (Leonard, 2005; Reid, 2005; Ilgen, 2006; McCormick, 2006, 2010; Laïdi, 2008; Hill, 2010; Moravcsik, 2010). Yet it still appears that the concept of smart power itself is too ambiguous and misunderstood to be useful, even though there is general agreement that this is where Europe's real strength lies. Policy experts continue to throw the term around and academics continue to give it short shrift.

I seek to clarify the meaning of smart power first by unpacking its two main components – hard and soft power – to analyze each separately. Through a review of the literature that defines the tools of power and their relationship to hard and soft power, I argue that soft power is fundamentally different from hard power in significant ways, and that this has implications for smart power. Second, I bring the two concepts of hard and soft power back together again to re-conceptualize how we conceive of smart power, and to make the concept analytically useful. Third, I consider the case of Europe, and suggest that it is mostly a soft-power actor that occasionally engages in very targeted smart power. In this respect, I will address how the current Eurozone crisis impacts European power, and argue that smart power can help resolve the crisis. I conclude that the study of smart power has much potential, and that more focused and explicit research can reveal the various ways in which the combination of hard and soft power can be maximized.


The Tools of Power

The greatest misinterpretation of smart power stems from how one defines soft and hard power separately. In Joseph Nye's 2004 book, he defines soft power as when A gets B to want what A wants (co-option), and hard power as when A gets B to do something that B would not otherwise do (coercion). He argues that the use of force or sanctions are the main resources used to coerce, while values, culture, institutions and policies are resources that can be wielded to attract or co-opt. In so doing, he somewhat conflates the tools of power (that is persuasion, military force, trade agreements and so on) with the use of power (coerce or co-opt). In other words, if a state engages in persuasion and diplomacy, this is assumed to be an exercise of soft power. By contrast, if a state uses military force to accomplish a task, this is assumed to be an exercise of hard power. Many scholars, including Nye, now recognize that the use of specific tools are not necessarily correlated with whether they are exercised in hard or soft power ways to achieve goals (Laïdi, 2008; Nye, 2011).

To illustrate this point, Janice Mattern argues that language, often thought of as a tool for soft power, can be used in a coercive way (2007). Through verbal fighting, an attacker can undermine a victim's subjectivity by closing off its options. Mattern uses the example of the phrase ‘war on terrorism’ to argue that the United States was not just retaliating against 9/11, but defending the world against terrorists (2007, p. 113). When supplemented with President George W. Bush's statement to the world that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’, the phrase ‘war on terrorism’ effectively set a verbal trap that constituted a ‘non-choice’. The message was that if you, as a state, wanted to be considered on the side of the ‘good’, you had to be in the US camp. Obviously, the implication was that any other option was equivalent to siding with the terrorists. Mattern argues that this form of verbal coercion actually made certain states like Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Turkey favor the United States in their international dealings because they needed to establish their status as ‘good’ states (2007, p. 115). Effectively, without any of the resources typically assumed to be associated with hard power, the United States was able to compel certain states to act using coercive words.

From the other direction, the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) illustrates how military power can be attractive. In cases of humanitarian intervention or peacekeeping, military power is often used as a form of soft power because people tend to want this kind of aid, even if it entails the use of force. The EU is explicit about obtaining a UN mandate before launching a CSDP military operation, and thus gaining international legitimacy for its actions. In a later work, Nye agrees with the point that the tools of power must be conceptually disaggregated from the type of power that is being exercised to achieve goals. He argues that myths of invincibility, well-run military campaigns, military-to-military cooperation, and effective training can all augment soft power, even without their hard power aspects taken into consideration (2007, p. 167).

At the same time, Nye warns that attractive military power can quickly lose its allure if principles of legitimacy or efficiency are lost in the process, such as with the example of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in Iraq (Nye, 2007, p. 168). Indeed, there is a sense in which the very existence or buildup of military power may be unattractive to some publics. Scholars who explore the idea of Europe as a normative power, like Ian Manners, argue that the more the EU militarizes, the more it will lose its normative power, regardless of the fact that such militarization strengthens the EU's ability to engage in humanitarian action (2006). This view supports the notion that on some level, military power is going to be seen as coercive and decisive. Alexander Wendt refers to this as ‘rump materialism’, the idea that at some minimal level the existence of material force is not socially constructed (Wendt, 1999, pp. 112–113). Nonetheless, the fact remains that there are still numerous and significant ways in which military power is attractive. The case of the EU makes this ever more apparent. The same type of argument can be made about some of the most innocuous forms of soft power, like public diplomacy, educational exchange and cultural diplomacy. Their purpose is to encourage engagement, two-way dialogue and listening, but they may easily cross the line into propaganda and indoctrination (Cull, 2009). For the EU, these strategies may also be used to get the upper hand in inter-regional negotiations or trade-aid agreements.

With these nuances in mind, the overarching argument remains that we cannot automatically associate the tools of power with the type of power. This specific advancement in our understanding of soft power has been under-recognized in IR theorizing more broadly, and in the policy world. What is most important is whether the tool is used to coerce or to attract to achieve foreign policy goals. Critics might argue that disaggregating the tools of power from the type of power makes power itself impossible to measure. But we must always wait until a state acts to measure its power. Power is fundamentally relational (power over whom?) and situational (power to do what?), and states are constantly using their power, providing ample opportunity to observe and understand the context in which they are likely to have more or less influence over the behavior of others. This is a basic point that sets the stage for a better understanding of smart power. And it raises many questions: Are hard and soft power just two sides of the same coin? Or, are they in some ways intrinsically different? Who perceives hard and soft power? How are various audiences impacted by the exercise of power?


Hard and Soft Power Compared

Soft power is in several ways a completely different animal than hard power, especially in the context of the post-Cold War world. Globalization has made it easier to communicate across national boundaries, develop thick transnational ties and obtain accurate, real-time information about what is happening within other states and on the other side of the globe (Keohane and Nye, 2000). Because of the quickness and transparency of transnational interactions, we no longer live in a world in which states can be boiled down to black boxes (if indeed we ever did). Most security threats are from non-state actors, either sub-national or transnational. This has changed the nature of the international system, de-prioritizing traditional militaries poised for territorial defense, and prioritizing other factors like economic interdependence, security against terrorism and related public knowledge, the internet and cyber-security, Hollywood films, and the influence of transnational networks of experts.

In this context, I advance three arguments about the nature of hard and soft power. First, soft power is now a far more expansive concept than hard power. Second, soft power can be both purposeful and non-purposeful, while hard power is only purposeful. Third, soft power has a more wide-ranging impact on third parties than hard power. All of these qualities are inter-related and have important ramifications for the exercise of smart power.

First, soft power is a more expansive concept (Nye, 2008, p. 143). This comes in the distinction between having power as a resource and exercising power as an instrument of influence (Baldwin, 2005). I contend that hard power is only recognized as such when tools of power are exercised or threatened as an instrument of coercion. Otherwise, those very resources could just as easily be used to attract or co-opt. Neo-realists, for whom hard power resources determine outcomes in IR, define these resources as ‘size of population and territory, resource endowment, economic capability, military strength, political stability and competence’ (Waltz, 1979, p. 192). But are these resources necessarily coercive without the state that possesses them actually wielding them for some end? No. The fact that India's population is expected to surpass that of China in 2026 is not regarded by most people as a threat. The efforts of the EU to build up a common military capability is not generally seen as a bid for hegemony even though member states spend more on military than the next six biggest spenders after the United States combined. The size of the Japanese economy is not regarded as a threat even though it is around the same size as China's and it holds nearly the same level of US debt. For much of the world, France's nuclear weapons mean something far more benign than Pakistan's or China's. Wendt points out that power resources must be placed in their social context to have meaning (1999). Today's social context is not the same as during World War I or the Cold War, when the power resources that neo-realists identify may have had more predictive value. States have identities and intentions that must be taken into account beyond simply the fact that they possess material resources with coercive potential. Power resources alone tell us little about what a state intends to do with them.

This leads to the second point: hard power is purposeful power. The real measure of hard power is how a state uses or threatens to use its resources to coerce. And even then, a state may not be able to successfully convert its resources into hard power (Schmidt, 2005, p. 47). As Baldwin writes, Planes loaded with nuclear bombs may be worse than useless in a situation calling for planes with conventional weapons with insufficient time to unload the nuclear weapons and reload the planes with conventional ones. (2005, p. 179)

In today's context, the neo-realist argument that the simple act of increasing one's military strength is enough to make other states fear for their own security and trigger an arms race (the so-called security dilemma) has not played out. The United States has nearly doubled its defense spending since 9/11 without any other states rising to challenge its military superiority, and it has simultaneously lost its previously unquestioned unipolar status, defying realist expectations. Part of this has stemmed from its inability to convert its military resources into fungible hard power in light of the particular threats it faces. Another part can be attributed to the weaknesses in the perceptions of US power. In fact, it can be argued that American use of military power in Iraq and Afghanistan has actually degraded its status as a hard power actor because it has shown the world that the largest military power can become overstretched and incapable of achieving the goals it sets for itself. It took 10 years to catch Osama bin Laden, and in the end even this was the result of a small contingent of special forces personally directed by President Obama. Another factor is whether or not the world perceives a leader to be strong and decisive as this often determines if the threat of hard power is credible. A leader perceived to be benevolent and benign is likely to have more soft than hard power, regardless of the material resources he has at his disposal (Nye, 2011, p. 92). Making hard power resources fungible is not a straightforward task even when its use is purposeful.

By contrast, soft power can be either purposeful or non-purposeful; a state can be attractive even without trying to exercise power over others. A country like Norway, for example, can be attractive for its high quality of life, environmental standards, strong economy, democratic values and culture (Nye, 2004, p. 112). Domestic attributes like these can serve as soft power resources without necessarily being exploited for gain vis-à-vis other states. At the same time, just like hard power, soft power can be purposefully exercised in a particular instance to co-opt others into changing their behavior or adopting favorable policies to the state wielding it. For example, it can be argued that the United States co-opted the United Kingdom to join it in the 2003 Iraq War, drawing upon its longstanding relationship, shared norms and personal ties between George Bush and Tony Blair. The implication is that a state's resources that can potentially contribute to soft power are generally much more prevalent than those that can be used for hard power.

The third property of soft power that distinguishes it from hard power relates to third-party implications. After all, there are implications for the exercise of power beyond those audiences being directly targeted. Third parties can perceive the exercise of soft power either positively or negatively. For example, China engages with African nations to attract them to support Chinese interests at the UN. But since any exercise of power has different audiences beyond the one it targets, while many Africans find Chinese gestures attractive, many Europeans find them unattractive. Even if state A is trying to target state B specifically, states C, D, and E also form their own perceptions about state A. This is true whether state A seeks to co-opt or to coerce state B. States that are not targets of coercion may actually find the action to be attractive. For example, when the EU sanctions Iran or freezes the bank accounts of Syrian leaders, many other countries applaud it, and the EU gains legitimacy in the eyes of others. In effect, the exercise of either hard or soft power has direct soft power implications, whether positive or negative, all over the world. The information revolution certainly enables this. Political leaders are constantly aware that even narrow, targeted attempts to influence are being observed by third parties.

Most of the time, these third party implications tend to themselves be a manifestation of soft power (be it attraction or repulsion). This is where a great deal of the soft power exercised in the world actually exists. In certain circumstances, however, there can be third-party implications that themselves operate as an exercise of hard power. For example, European military action in Libya could serve as a warning to other dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, thereby coercing them to change their behavior. Nevertheless, while these hard power third-party implications can only occur as a result of hard power primary action, there are soft-power third-party implications for virtually everything. All actions, be they an exercise of hard or soft power, have soft power implications for third parties.

In addition to the factors that distinguish hard and soft power from each other, there are at least two key similarities. First, states compete for hard and soft power. As the example above illustrates, China and the EU compete for influence over Africa. China offers mutually beneficial trade deals with Africa that bear no conditionality. The EU has numerous aid and trade programs that help improve African countries' democratic institutions, stability, human rights, health, and quality of life. The Eastern Partnership, which involves closer engagement between the EU and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, has led to competition from Russia to achieve more influence in this region than the EU. Russia is a major supplier of energy and other goods to the Eastern Partnership countries, and draws upon long-standing historical ties and geographic proximity. The EU offers access to its markets, lessons in best practices, help with good governance, and so on. In both cases, Russia, China, and the EU compete in both soft and hard power terms.

Second, both hard and soft power have negative and positive aspects. Soft power can lead to attraction or repulsion, depending on the audience. Hard power can be viewed as a carrot or a stick. An actor can be coerced because it wants access to a new market (carrot) or because it fears a trade embargo (stick).


Hard and Soft Power Combined

Despite the fact that the coexistence of hard and soft power had long been observable before Nye coined the term ‘soft power’, smart power still waits on the sidelines of academic debates. This is likely because the definition of smart power – an effective combination of both soft and hard power – is analytically useless. As effectiveness is wrapped into the original definition, we cannot immediately use the concept to assess the degree to which smart power works. ‘Smart’ is only an adjective describing an outcome, and provides no hint as to the process or the alternatives. And how do we indicate the degree of success in a particular case of smart power? There is much to be gained from rethinking smart power, and I propose a redefinition here.

A simple step in enhancing the utility of smart power is to take effectiveness out of the definition. Smart power can be redefined as the strategic and simultaneous use of coercion and co-option.2 This enables scholars to differentiate between an actor's attempts to use smart power and the end result, which can be effective, ineffective or somewhere in between. This allows us to consider such questions as: What goes into the composition of smart power? Are particular tools for power better combined than others? Is smart power more likely to be effective when hard and soft power are developed separately or in tandem? Under what conditions are actors more likely to use smart power and when is it more likely to be effective? By separating effectiveness from the idea of smart power, a potentially important and distinctive research agenda emerges that addresses these questions.

Another step in enhancing the utility of smart power is to recognize the diverse ways in which hard and soft power can be combined, which builds upon the above analysis of the tools of power (see Table 1). This is the added value of the concept of smart power. It opens up potential research agendas to consideration of both forms of power in tandem, rather than separately. For example, smart power might entail long-term attraction alongside short-term use of coercion when necessary. Long-term soft power could involve cultivating legitimate and efficient domestic institutions, maintaining a rapid reaction military force on standby, or projecting elements of domestic culture that have universal appeal. It may also come about through consistent outreach to foreign publics through public diplomacy efforts, such as support for cultural programs, educational exchanges and tourism campaigns.

Another way to achieve smart power might be to employ both soft and hard power approaches in every episode of influence. For example, using your military to protect or fight on behalf of allies, such as the United States does for Japan and Taiwan. Or, training militaries to do a broad range of activities, such as security civilian populations, training foreign militaries and engaging in humanitarian assistance (Nye, 2011). As alluded to above, even the most positive forms of hard power often have soft power implications for third parties, which in combination can result in effective smart power. A state could also remind foreign publics of its ability to coerce over the long term, but rely mostly on soft power when it needs particular results. There is likely an interaction effect in the use of both, which has so far not been explored in the IR literature.

Finally, how do we determine whether these various combinations are more or less effective? Given that the tools of power are numerous and context-specific, it is perhaps helpful to touch upon the case of the EU and suggest some ways in which it might be researched further.


European Power: Soft and Sometimes Smart

Thus far, I have mainly referred to state-based power as a kind of shorthand for understanding the distinctions between soft and hard power. Of course, many non-state actors possess the ability to influence, and the EU is chief among them. In evaluating European smart power, two key questions arise. To what extent does the EU have the resources to exercise smart power? And is the EU maximizing the effectiveness of its smart power or punching below its weight, and why? If the EU uses its power resources to achieve its goals in both hard and soft power ways, it may be characterized as a smart power actor. But if it is underutilizing these tools, either in terms of hard or soft power, it may not be fulfilling its potential as a major actor in the international system. At the same time, it is important to consider which type of power is most appropriate in a given context to achieve a particular goal. For example, the use of hard power may undermine rather than strengthen soft power, and smart power may only be effective in certain instances.

To address the first question, there are numerous and well-known sources of European soft power. Its domestic, multi-level institutions and policies are generally attractive to the outside world. It has a strong tradition of providing welfare for its citizens, protecting civil liberties, and being willing to reform rules and laws. Europeans citizens trust EU institutions (48 per cent) more than they trust their own national governments (34 per cent) (Risse, 2010, p. 232). The EU is the biggest donor of foreign aid, and it has engaged in 24 CSDP operations around the world to promote stability, reform institutions and prevent human rights abuses, among other things. These operations may still be limited in scope and impact, but nonetheless, contribute to the overall attraction of the EU as a humanitarian actor, at the same time as they sometimes constitute hard power on-the-ground. The new European External Action Service (EEAS) is one of the largest diplomatic services, with 136 embassies around the world, and demonstrates the political will of Europeans to strengthen their common foreign policy. The EEAS may still be at the starting gate, but it signifies a clear commitment to multilateralism, peaceful conflict resolution and communication.

Moreover, the EU serves as a model for others because of its historical path from the bloody violence of the first half of the twentieth century to the achievement of a permanent peace on the continent. Its achievements in terms of integration and enlargement have inspired other experiments in regional cooperation from Africa to Latin America to Southeast Asia. Just by its very existence, the EU has attracted others to its cause. Its success in this respect is underlined by the recent UN vote approving its status as an actor equal to states in the Assembly, among other things.

In terms of more purposeful elements of soft power, the EU has a proven record in normative power terms. Laïdi defines the EU's normative power as, ‘its capacity to produce and set up at the global level a system of norms as broad-sweeping as possible to organize the world, discipline the interplay of its actors, [and] introduce predictability in their behavior’ (2008, p. 35). Some of the EU's strongest areas of influence derive from its attempts to persuade others and shape the nature of the international system. Laïdi identifies the central norms that the EU espouses: an emphasis on institutions in spreading norms and providing good governance, a global approach to tackling global problems, and long-term cooperation and interdependence to transcend anarchy. In this respect, Laïdi argues that the EU has actually surpassed the United States as a norm-setter (2008, p. 65).

Of course, the EU has its own share of flaws when it comes to soft power. Over the past 2 years, the worldwide financial crisis has caused many observers to question the viability of the euro, and to debate whether Europeans made a mistake in adopting it in the first place. However, this is a crisis of perceptions more than anything else because there was no real reason for problems in Greek's small economy, representing just 2 per cent of the Eurozone's GDP, to threaten European power as a whole to the extent that the media has portrayed it. At a speech in Frankfurt on 19 October 2011, former French leader Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was right to blame speculative trading from outside of the Eurozone, as was former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt who described the market reaction as ‘psychopathic.’ Schmidt put it this way: ‘This talk of a crisis of the euro is merely hot air emanated by journalists and politicians’ (Rettman, 2011). Indeed, it seems every time in the past 2 years that Eurozone leaders have come up with a new, far-ranging plan to integrate further and re-build confidence in the euro, there is only a short lull before the media finds a way to turn the news around and spur on further crisis. This was clearly visible in the wake of the 27 October 2011 EU deal to write down Greek debt by 50 per cent, increase the European Financial Stability Facility to 1 trillion euros and implement comprehensive policy responses. Bad news sells and speculators capitalize on it. The fact that Europe has been such a victim of this points to a kind of weakness in its soft power.

But the Eurozone crisis is only one in a series of legitimacy crises that Europe has had to overcome, and so it is important to put all of this into context. In 2005, the controversy over the Constitutional Treaty tarnished the EU's image. Critics argued that a failure to pass the treaty signified the failure of the European project. And in 2003, European disagreement over the Iraq war and accusations of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ Europe made headlines. Similar examples abound throughout its history, many triggering ‘end of Europe’ rhetoric in one way or another. But the EU has not only endured, it has responded to each crisis with more resolve for further integration. The biggest challenge the EU faces in this respect is that negative external perceptions of these crises are usually overblown, while the EU's numerous achievements often go unnoticed. This indicates that even though the EU is a significant soft power actor, it is not as effective as it could be because perceptions of its success are generally worse than the reality. Indeed, with respect to the current Eurozone crisis, the media has focused unabashedly on drawing out the disagreements among the French, German, Italian and British leadership, but hardly ever mentions the fact that at no point has any president, chancellor or prime minister ever backed down from full support of the euro and the continued integrity of the Eurozone. While it is true that the blame for the escalation of the crisis cannot be entirely attributed to media portrayals and flaws in the market system, this is clearly a case in which more soft power, and even smart power, as I discuss below, would help buffer such negative perceptions. Ultimately, this crisis is likely to follow the path of the others, representing a blow to Europe's perceived power in the short run, but actually serving to strengthen its coherence and resolve to integrate over the longer run.

In terms of hard power, Laïdi argues that Europe has two instruments it can wield: ‘conditional access to its market and conditional access to its institutional system through the process of accession’ (2008, p. 24). Indeed, one of the strongest sources of EU hard power is offering the carrot of EU membership in exchange for adopting the entire body of EU laws and norms, as well as its offer of aid. Other instances of hard power are relatively targeted and light, such as when the EU includes conditionality in trade or aid agreements and when it sanctions countries that violate human rights. These are clear, purposeful decisions to coerce using carrots or sticks. But in all of these instances, the EU avoids exercising hard power without soft power. In general, the EU appears to be following a model of long-term soft power with the occasional use of short-term hard power. For example, the EU has combined its normative power (its capacity to set up global norms) with hard power in specific circumstances, like when a third country exercises the death penalty and the EU's high representative publically condemns it as immoral (that is Mattern's verbal fighting), or when the EU insists that a UN vote is needed before it will use its force capabilities. Further research can establish the extent to which this hypothesis bears out by comparing episodes of coercion against the backdrop of the EU's ongoing soft power reserves, and paying careful attention to how third audiences respond.

While a cursory glance at the European case would seem to suggest that the EU is weak on the hard power side, it is important to take into account the differences between how democracies and non-democracies exercise smart power. As Nye argues, it is typically better to rely on soft power in democratic societies because hard power is more difficult to exercise effectively and morally (Nye, 2008, p. 30). In Europe, engaging in external coercion sits uncomfortably with many leaders, and thus is a last resort. However, the recent case of Libya does show that in dealing with actors that continue to defy international norms, a good dose of hard power exercised alongside soft power would enable the EU to maximize its influence. If the operation in Libya had been an EU action with a united Europe behind it, this would have been a great smart power achievement – normative power combined with the use of force.

The EU's use of smart power is typically reserved for specific instances in the areas of sanctions, diplomacy, market access, membership, aid and trade. As an actor on the world's stage, the EU would have more influence if member states were able to readily agree on when to use hard power. The EU does face more of a challenge when it comes to responding to crises involving the potential use of military force because the norms surrounding the use of force are different from one member state to another. But lack of consensus on the use of force, in particular, may not always be a shortcoming for European power. I would argue that the EU gains much legitimacy from its status as a pluralistic actor, and the use of force typically requires multilateral legitimacy to avoid undermining soft power. The European case is particularly revealing in that it is clearly a strong soft-power actor that aims to develop the capacity for coercion, but only in the name of the norms it espouses. Thus, Europe has great potential to be an effective smart power actor as it is less likely to undermine soft power in the process.

As EU member states largely agree on the norms and goals that can be achieved through soft power means, determining which norms and goals are appropriate to pursue through smart power is where the policy debate should begin. This does not just pertain to the use of force – again, military power is not the only form of hard power and it is in fact often used as soft power – but also to the policy areas that member states care most about, such as environmental protection, human rights, democratization and development. With its vast experience in helping to democratize and build institutions in Central and Eastern Europe, the EU might have played a far more productive role during the Arab Spring if it had been able to decide on how to respond. The EU is fundamentally a normative power, and this includes norms of when it is appropriate to coerce through sanctions, threatening, bargaining, shaming, denying access, using hard rhetoric and so on. Indeed, the answer to the current Eurozone crisis likely lies in the exercise of European smart power. I would suggest that perceptions have tended to favor Europe when leaders have correctly lashed out against those critical of the Eurozone, using hard rhetoric (such as in response to IMF Director Christine Lagarde's call for European bank re-capitalization), shaming the media (such as after newspapers had falsely reported that France would lose its AAA rating) and denying access (such as in recent European efforts to limit speculation on commodities and ban agencies from rating countries). In a crisis that rests so heavily on perceptions, more confidence and less self-criticism are necessary. Effectively bringing hard power into the mix would be a clear signal of Europe's strength in this case. More generally, if EU leaders agreed on a kind of blueprint for smart power, these tools might be more readily available the next time Europe has the opportunity to act with strong leadership and to prevent crises from growing out of proportion.

At the same time, it must be recognized that the exercise of smart power is not always a good thing. Depending on the context, soft power is often enough. Thus, for the EU to maximize its influence, it must be smart (literally) about when it is appropriate to use smart power instead of just soft power. In this sense, both Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the EU, and Herman van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, have important roles to play in bringing member states together to debate the appropriate means and use of smart power. The high representative should be the external face of smart power, while the president must help in finding internal consensus through his agenda-setting responsibilities. At the moment, neither is paying enough attention to the question of how to exercise smart power in a meaningful way.



The direct study of smart power as a key IR concept is certainly in its nascent stage. Yet, there are many reasons why it should be an obvious next step in the study of power. One of the main shortcomings of the research program at this stage is the ambiguity surrounding the definitions of soft, hard and smart power. Future research in this area should recognize that the tools of power are not associated with any one type, and that soft and hard power are not two sides of the same coin. Soft power is far more encompassing, and rests on a greater diversity of tools that states have at their disposal. Yet, all actors at one point or another will want to have the capacity for coercion, and there is a gap in the literature when it comes to understanding the circumstances under which adding hard power to the soft power mix is most effective. Research into this question can begin to offer such explanations as to whether there is an interaction effect in the use of hard and soft power, whether hard power legitimizes soft power, or whether the two have a zero-sum relationship. The world of smart power at this point may be small, but the question of how states combine hard and soft power, and the properties that define effectiveness, are certainly fruitful avenues for research. Moreover, such findings would be valuable to the policy world, especially considering the high level of interest in smart power that is already present, and the challenges that will certainly follow as the EU continues its path towards further integration.



1 S. Nossel first coined the term (2004).

2 As an aside, the use of the label ‘smart power’ is arbitrary – it could just as easily be called ‘hybrid power’ or something else – but I contend that that there is value in trying to create bridges to the policy world and to policy language.



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About the Author

Mai’a K. Davis Cross is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California. She is the author of two books: Security Integration in Europe: How Knowledge-based Networks are Transforming the European Union (University of Michigan Press, 2011) and The European Diplomatic Corps: Diplomats and International Cooperation from Westphalia to Maastricht (Palgrave, 2007).

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