In This Review

Export Empire: German Soft Power in Southeastern Europe, 1890–1945
Export Empire: German Soft Power in Southeastern Europe, 1890–1945
By Stephen G. Gross
Cambridge University Press, 2016, 398 pp

From the British Empire a century ago to China today, powerful countries have often employed economic and cultural influence to bind smaller states in dependent relationships. Gross shows how German businessmen and academics in the Weimar and Nazi periods used development projects, trade fairs, scholarly research, and educational exchanges to help entrench Germany’s role as the primary trade partner for many of its neighbors, establish itself as a development model, and fix its position atop central Europe’s hierarchy of states. Gross stretches the terms “informal imperialism” and “soft power” to encompass this type of behavior, which immediately evokes images of Nazi imperialism. Yet his most telling conclusion is that Germany’s informal influence during the interwar period had more in common with today’s relations among the United States, European countries, and smaller states than with Adolf Hitler’s military grasp for Lebensraum (living space) and a formal empire. In many ways, Hitler’s counterproductive military expansion and ethnic cleansing reversed the interwar policy of mutually beneficial inducement and persuasion. This book offers an interesting historical perspective on the active trade and investment policies of great powers today.