DAVID M. McCOURT & ANDREW GLENCROSS – Great Expectations: The EU’s Social Roles as a Great Power Manager


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Through the case of EU foreign and security policy we reconsider the concept of great power. According to common wisdom, the EU cannot be a great power, whatever the pronouncements of its top officials may be. We argue that ‘great power’ has been miscast in IR theory as a status rather than as a social role, and, consequently, that the EU can indeed be viewed as playing the great power role. Such a conceptual shift moves analytical at- tention away from questions of what the EU is – ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘great’, and so on – to what it is expected to do in international politics. We focus on the expectation that great powers engage in the management of the international system, assessing the EU as a great power manager in two senses: first, in the classical sense of ‘great power management’ of Hedley Bull – which centers on great powers’ creation of regional spheres of influence and the maintenance of the general balance of power – and second, in light of recent corrections to Bull’s approach by Alexander Astrov and others, who suggest great power management has changed toward a logic of governmentality, i.e. ‘conducting the conduct’ of lesser states.

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