The Strongmen

European Encounters with Sovereign Power

Hans Kribbe

£25.00  |  $
ISBN 9781788212755
£25.00  |  $
ISBN 9781788212762
256 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  17 September 2020


"A powerful, provocative and polished statement of the central predicament that Europe faces in a world that increasingly pivots around strength. For those who dare to face reality, [it is] a remorseless analysis of how the world is changing – and how Europe must change with it." – Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, 2014–19

"This is a bold, erudite and original historical and comparative study of the logic of embodied sovereign power. Kribbe forensically examines the style of politics practiced by strongmen like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, and warns that Europe needs to understand and engage with the phenomenon. This harsh blast of reality looks at the world as it is rather than what defenders of 'rules-based' order would like it to be. The sophisticated analysis draws no simplistic conclusions but has some profound policy implications." – Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics, University of Kent

"Kribbe's masterly work offers an intriguing account of the new reality of power diplomacy and a lucid and rigorous analysis of how the new wave of authoritarian leaders is shaping the current international (dis)order. This honest and frank assessment of Europe's vulnerabilities is a most timely wake-up call and a plea for an urgent switch of mindset. Kribbe's message is clear and unmistakable: Europe needs to live up to the challenge of the strongmen's world." – Pierre Vimont, French Ambassador to the United States, 2007–10 and Secretary General of the EU’s diplomatic service, 2010–15

"Intelligent and elegant prose on a critical issue of contemporary politics, in a book with narrative pace and real depth." – Luuk van Middelaar, author of The Passage to Europe and Alarums & Excursions

"A timely book which reminds us that the victory of liberal democracies in the Cold War was ephemeral. Liberal democrats need to demonstrate their own fortitude and prove that the strongman who disregards international norms ... will not be able to succeed."  – Alexander Downer, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1996–2007


Seven decades after the liberation of Europe, the strongmen of global politics are back. With a style and strategy of leadership that is anathema to liberal democratic norms and practices, the strongman challenges the principles of consensus and collaboration, willingly tears up trade agreements, invades territory and seeks to provoke and disrupt the status quo in order to achieve advantage.

In this fascinating study of strongman power, Hans Kribbe draws on a range of political ideas to provide insight into the strongman’s seemingly irrational and idiosyncratic behaviour to better understand how he (it is always “he”) wields power and to what end.

Although the strongman’s behaviour confounds and frustrates his counterparts abroad, Kribbe’s analysis offers hope that it can be understood, anticipated and even neutralized. The implication of Kribbe’s study is unequivocal: with the world’s largest economies, as well as strategic neighbouring states controlled by strongmen, Europe must learn to speak their language if it is to beat them at their own game.


1. Introduction: the allure of strength

Part I The strongman
2. Saviour: in the clutches of time
3. Lord: in the shadow of the state
4. Performer: the mise en scène of power
5. Duellist: the fellowship of foes

Intermezzo: metagames

Part II Encounters
6. Putin: recognizing forbidden space
7. Erdogan: drawing borders
8. Xi: defying the celestial empire
9. Trump: cracking the strongman code
10. Epilogue: initiations into power

Author Information

Hans Kribbe has a PhD in political theory from the London School of Economics. He has worked as a speech writer and special adviser to European Commissioners responsible for the single market, taxation and competition policy. He was a senior partner at a European government advisory firm in Brussels where, until 2015, he advised Vladimir Putin’s press and communications team at the Kremlin.

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