A recent wave of scholarly literature has argued forcibly that the European Union’s European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) represents an attempt on the part of the EU to “balance” against the United States. According to such analyses, the EU is reacting to American global preeminence by building up its military capacities to enhance its own ability to play a significant, autonomous role in international affairs. This article takes issue with such claims. It points, first, to significant theoretical and methodological shortcomings inherent in the work of the “soft balancers.” Second, and more fundamentally, it subjects this work to careful empirical scrutiny and illustrates how the soft balancers have fundamentally misunderstood ESDP. Finally, it illustrates how such misinterpretations result from a failure to appreciate the profound impact that institutional structures wield over substantive outcomes in international security affairs.