Geopolitics and Expertise
Merje Kuus is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her research focuses on political geography and transnational policy processes. She is the author of Geopolitics Reframed: Security and Identity in Europe's Eastern Enlargement (2007) and co-editor of the Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics (2013). She has also written on security narratives, intellectuals of statecraft, the idea of Europe, and transnational diplomatic practice.
Geopolitics and Expertise
The Dead Relative : Bounding Europe in Europe
Geopolitics by Nobody
When investigating the use of geographical and geopolitical claims in the European Quarter, I often hear that such claims do not matter. For many of my interviewees – multilingual cosmopolitan foreign affairs professionals – 'geography' connotes the given, the immutable, and the limiting. Geography associates vaguely with things like regional planning – useful but unexciting – and geopolitics alludes to some of the more troubled facets of Europe's history. Some of my interlocutors appear intrigued by the concept of geopolitics, but others find it distasteful although they are too polite to say so. Even asking questions about a geographical concept, Europe in this case, is deemed an odd activity: out-of-date and slightly suspicious, like enquiring about a dead relative who passed away in unclear circumstances.
The narrative that pervades the European Quarter suggests that European integration is an anti-geopolitical project. Integration has enabled Europe's nation-states to mend their historical antagonisms and overcome the violence inherent in territorial power politics. As an idea and a political project, Europe transcends rigid borders internally and externally. Internally, inter-state tensions have been transferred from the realm of high politics into administration as the member states have pooled their sovereignty in one regulatory space in many spheres of societal life. Externally, the union is a new kind of global power that influences world affairs through norms and standards rather than zero-sum territorial politics. Integration is never one-way or complete, but it nonetheless gradually smoothes Europe's internal divisions and creates a harmonized space on a continental scale. The nation-state is not undone but national interests and knowledge claims are integrated into European networks and partnerships. As a political subject, Europe has prevailed over geopolitical power games among states and their alliances.
At the same time, Europe as an idea, an identity, and a set of values is invoked frequently as a fundamental principle of EU policy-mak ing. The union's civil servants identify strongly with 'the European process' and 'Europe' in contrast to a various 'others' 'outside' of Europe (Wodak 2009, 58). For many of them, the idea of Europe is central to their careers and their personal histories, and they see their work partly in terms of advancing a distinctly European societal model. A commission official explains: "We are defending a cultural model, neither the Japanese model nor the American model, but the social market economy, the Rhine model. And that idea is shared from the south of Spain to the north of Sweden" (quoted in Hooghe 2001, 81). When accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, Herman Van Rompuy explicitly refers to the idea of Europe as a guiding principle of EU actions: European integration, he says, is propelled not only by the sheer necessity of cooperation but also by "a sense of togetherness, and in a way speaking to us from the centuries, the idea of Europa itself" (Van Rompuy and Barroso 2012). Timothy Garton Ash (1999, 316), a prominent historian, captures the elusive presence of Europe in European political life when he remarks:
There is Europe and there is 'Europe'. There is the place, the continent, the political and economic reality, and there is Europe as an idea and an ideal, as a dream, a project, process, progress towards some visionary goal. No other continent is so obsessed with its own meaning and direction. These idealistic and teleological visions of Europe at once inform and legitimate, and are themselves i