Book review: “Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations” by Giulio M. Gallarotti



Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations: A Synthesis of Realism, Neoliberalism and Constructivism. By Giulio M. Gallarotti. Cambridge University Press, 2011. R$ 96,63 (, kindle)

Cosmopolitan power, Giulio Gallarotti argues, is a theory of power that envisions the optimization of national influence deriving from a balance among sources of power underscored within the three leading paradigms of international relations (realism, neoliberalism and constructivism). According to the author, when used on their own, none of the three theories help states optimize their power. Realists are overly obsessed with hard power, while neoliberal and constructivist scholars go too far by rejecting it.

With the exception of those deep inside the ivory tower, the argument that nations need to find a compromise between hard and soft power won't be too surprising -- in fact, virtually all nations (except for countries like Costa Rica, which does not possess an army) are already pursuing such a strategy.

In addition, his assertion that neoliberal thinkers overlook hard power seems somewhat exaggerated. Liberal scholar G. John Ikenberry, for example, calls the Post-World War II order a "distinctive blend of command and reciprocity, coercion and consent" in which the United States acts as a "liberal hegemon". While Ikenberry may indeed overestimate the attractive features of today's order and underplay the coercion that went into upholding it, he is aware that hard power played an essential part in the construction and maintenance of US hegemony. 

Gallarotti uses a series of examples of how hard and soft power can work together. The rise of free trade in Western Europe in the mid–19th century, for instance, was largely driven by admiration of the British economic miracle, and several other nations emulated London's attractive strategy, which in turn benefited Britain even more. In the same way, the United States' economic success in the 20th century -- and the confidence it generated -- contributed to other countries embracing the dollar's preeminence, greatly helping the US maintain its hegemonic position. In both cases, already powerful economic actors found their economic and political influence augmented by economic and political opportunities provided by the cultivation of soft power. Chinese foreign policy, in that sense, could be seen as a contemporary manifestation of this strategy -- in addition to strengthening its economic presence around the world, Beijing has been very successful at beginning to integrate other countries into its institutions -- such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and it is undertaking serious efforts to globalize the yuan.

Gallarotti frequently mentions the major finding of his previous book, called Power Curse, that growing hard power can -- paradoxically -- prove self-defeating and actually weaken a nation (a phenomenon he calls hard disempowerment), because a recently empowered and overly confident nation starts engaging with too many foreign policy challenges. This is indeed an important observation, particularly as China is slowly expanding its sphere of influence. In order to avoid balancing behavior out of fear, the Chinese government must assure that is neighbors regard China's rise as something that should be welcomed.

One of the major difficulties the author faces is to properly delineate the meaning of soft power, a vague and often misunderstood term. Gallarotti writes that emulation (when nations adopt the policies of soft power nations) is an especially potent manifestation of soft power. Yet the example of the Meiji Restoration complicates this statement. Western ideas and values were extremely popular and influential in Japan at the time, but they failed to align Japan to the West. Quite to the contrary, they culminated in Japan’s attack against Western powers. In the same way, Hamas’ embrace of democracy has in no way turned it into an ally of the West. That should serve as a warning to all those who argue that China's rise would be far less threatening if only the country westernized.

Finally, the author writes that in order to maintain soft power, nations must abstain from a unilateral posture in the promotion of their foreign policies. That may be true in the case of Iraq, but not necessarily so in Yugoslavia, when a small number of countries violated international law to prevent genocide. Quite to the contrary, inaction and a principled adherence to multilateralism would have reduced the West's soft power. In the same way, a unilateral military intervention to prevent the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 would have boosted any nation's soft power.

Still, the historical case studies Gallarotti provides are interesting and convincingly show that neither hard nor soft power are sufficient to understand the world if analyzed on their own. Yet it remains unclear what exactly the novelty is. All major powers embrace the need to accumulate hard power (economic and military power). Yet at the same time, no government of any larger country today believes it can neglect soft power. Hillary Clinton has been called the “soft power Secretary of State” for fully embracing the concept and India’s former Minister of External Affairs frequently used the idea to frame India’s place in the world. Even the Chinese government has made soft power a central theme of its foreign policy. Moreover, consulting firms have established soft power indexes to rank countries. Brazilian foreign policy makers have made soft power one of the trademarks of their foreign policy strategy. Even Russia, by many in the West seen as a country without any soft power, has embraced the concept. In 2014, Russia outlined a new soft-power doctrine entitled "Integrated Strategy for Expanding Russia's Humanitarian Influence in the World". The plan, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was to counter "unprecedented measures to discredit Russian politics and distort Russia's image."  Examples include humanitarian aid, such as the financing of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre, opened in 2012 in the southern Serbian city of Nis as a disaster-response center with regional reach.

In the end, cosmopolitan power remains very much similar to smart power, a concept proposed by Joseph Nye, which also seeks to combine both hard and soft power. Still, in comparison to Nye, Gallarotti fleshes out his theoretical contribution far more systematically, and the book succeeds in pointing to numerous ways to compromise and build bridges between different theoretical approaches and ways to join insights from thinkers at times thought to be at opposing ends of the theoretical spectrum. In that sense, it is a welcome call for interdisciplinary understandings of human action.

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