A new Geography of European Power?

Authored by: James Rogers


Print publication date:  August  2012
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415588287
eBook ISBN: 9780203098417
Adobe ISBN: 9781136226953


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The naval historian and geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan understood the utility of military power perhaps better than anyone before or since. In an article called ‘The Place of Force in International Relations’ – penned two years before his death in 1914 – he claimed: ‘Force is never more operative then when it is known to exist but is not brandished’ (1912: 31). 1 If Mahan’s point was valid then, it is perhaps even more pertinent now. The rise of new powers around the world has contributed to the emergence of an increasingly volatile and multipolar international system. Making the use of force progressively more dangerous and politically challenging, this phenomenon is merging with a new phase in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, many European governments are increasingly reluctant – perhaps even unable – to intervene militarily in foreign lands. The operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that when armed force is used actively in support of foreign policy, it can go awry; far from reaffirming strength and determination on the part of its beholder, it can actually reveal weakness and a lack of resolve. Half-hearted military operations – of the kind frequently undertaken by democratic European states – tend not to go particularly well, especially when there is little by way of a political strategy or the financial resources needed to support them. A political community’s accumulation of a military reputation, which can take decades, if not centuries, can then be rapidly squandered through a series of unsuccessful combat operations, which dent its confidence and give encouragement to its opponents or enemies. 2

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