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American Perceptions of European Weakness: US Elite Discourse on Europe's Role in the World

Andrew Byrne

Over the last ten years, the EU has made notable strides in developing a role in global affairs. It has executed over 30 joint security and defense operations, implemented significant institutional changes in CFSP and CSDP and more European troops have served in missions either led by, or in close cooperation with the US in the last fifteen years, than in the 55 years after World War Two combined. Yet in spite of all this, the US foreign policy community's perceptions of European influence and resolve are negative, and getting worse. The sources analyzed for this paper exhibit a dominant narrative, running across several cleavages, that presents European influence in global affairs as increasingly weak on several counts: political, economic and military. Evaluations of Europe's 'soft power' capabilities are few and far between, the focus being on a realist discourse of traditional power capabilities. This paper analyses why, in spite of notable changes in Europe's engagement with global problems, policy makers in Europe's most important ally remain at best skeptical about any significant European foreign policy role in the coming years. It will assess arguments based on cognitive processes in reputation-formation in international politics, exploring to what extent we should expect these perceptions to accurately reflect changes in global influence or whether cognitive biases play a role in how foreign policy makers come to understand their allies.

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