Book review: The European Union and Emerging Powers in the 21st Century
Edited by Thomas Renard and Sven Biscop
Ashgate – £55.00
A few weeks ago, I received a book to review from two of my colleagues in Brussels. It is their latest edited volume published by Ashgate and currently available at the special rate of £44.00 from the Egmont Institute. As an edited volume, their book contains offerings from all the ‘usual suspects’, who have taken it upon themselves to write about European foreign, security and defence policies from a quasi-strategic perspective. They offered me a complimentary copy, on the condition that I wrote a review for this blog – my apologies if it has been a long while coming!
I must confess that I have not yet read the entire book, but I have read a fair amount of it. By and large, it is well-edited, and each contribution is well-written. It is particularly kind of Jolyon Howorth – in his provoking chapter on grand strategy – to cite a short piece I conjured up a few years ago, which called for a European Security Council to be formed. My argument was that this would help to guide European Union interaction with the outside world, much as the American and British national security councils now do, for both the United States and United Kingdom respectively. The chapters by Tomas Ries and Janis Emmanouilidis are also worth a mention.
Now, any book review would not be complete without some critique. As an edited volume, this book contains a number of perspectives, so it is hard to criticise any particular part. As with any edited volume – even good ones like this one – there are bound to be bits and pieces that a given reader will both agree and disagree with. If one theme runs throughout the book, however, it is that a multilateral order, as opposed to a multipolar world system, will take hold in the years ahead. To some extent this is a caricature on my part, but contains a colonel of truth. I’m afraid – as anyone who reads this blog will know – that I do not share this view. I believe that the world as we know it – which for the past twenty years, has been relatively secure – has emerged because of the concerted efforts of the United States and United Kingdom. These two countries have, since the end of the Second World War, been able and willing to configure a new order, by providing a relatively benign environment in which multilateral institutions, such as the European Union, have been able to flourish. The world we live in today is a product of their hegemony, which has made an indelible mark on both space and time.
Conversely, I think that, should those two countries lose their primacy, the world (and Europe) is likely to become a far coarser and more disorderly place – like a jungle, or, at the very least, like the cut-throat multipolar world of the early twentieth century. Most of the contributors from this book – for the most part – do not agree with me: they believe that the major powers will come together to find ‘common solutions’ to ‘global problems’ and that strategic competition on a global scale will be more of the exception instead of the rule.
While I think they are mistaken, I only hope they are right and that I am very wrong; or, at least, that they are correct in predicting the emergence of a multilateral world order, where the major powers – including the European Union – work together for the common good. However, the problem is: what do we do if it does not work out that way? What should Europeans do then?
My own prejudice aside, The European Union and the Emerging Powers in the 21st Century is a worthy book to acquire and read, particularly by any student of European studies. It provides an excellent snapshot of one of the pre-eminent European perspectives on the European Union’s place in the world, and from a range of authors.