International Politics

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 574–595

The power of war: Why Europe needs it

  • Peter van Ham
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/ip.2010.31

Cite this article as:
van Ham, P. Int Polit (2010) 47: 574. doi:10.1057/ip.2010.31


The European Union likes to portray itself as a postmodern entity that does not require war to establish itself as a political player. This breaks a pattern, as war and violence have historically played a major part in state formation and shaping the national interest. Europe’s public disavowal of power gained political prominence after Robert Kagan’s influential essay Power and Weakness. Kagan’s depiction of Europe as a postmodern Kantian space was not unjustified, but his conclusion that a more military-capable Europe would close the transatlantic power gap, and hence make US–European cooperation easier, remains controversial. Robert Cooper nuanced Kagan’s point by claiming that ‘Europe may have chosen to neglect power politics because it is militarily weak; but it is also true that it is militarily weak because it has chosen to abandon power politics’. Commentators have frequently summarized this ‘chicken-and-egg’ dilemma by quipping that ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, or, alternatively, ‘when all you have is a pen, every problem looks like a treaty’. What may at first glance sound like a silly, somewhat trivial, debate is actually a profound and fundamental question about the relationship between military power and foreign policy in general, and between war and identity in particular.


warEUKaganCooperpowerLisbon Treaty

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter van Ham
    • 1
  1. 1.Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’The HagueThe Netherlands