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How realistic is European strategic autonomy?
#55: With Max Bergmann, Justyna Gotkowska, Célia Belin
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Europe’s security depends on the United States. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there’s been a more intense debate about the future of European defence. Some policymakers argue that Europe has to improve its ability to act without Washington. Others believe Europe should focus on being a more effective partner to the United States. Much of the debate centres around feasibility. We asked three experts whether European strategic autonomy is realistic.
“It’s very realistic. Europe is rich. It has an economy equivalent in size as the US and China. Acquiring the equipment and expending a bit of effort to enable Europe to act in the world (albeit in a limited manner) without the United States is not a huge stretch. Europe, in fact, has made some progress in acquiring collectively critical enabling capabilities like air transport and refueling. None of this is threatening to the United States or the transatlantic alliance and should be encouraged. A less dependent Europe will become a more valued partner for the US.”
“European strategic autonomy understood as the EU taking responsibility for collective defence is an unrealistic perspective. The EU has neither structures nor military capabilities to turn into a full fledged defence alliance. It would take years to create the structures and processes needed. Moreover, without the US Europeans are militarily not able to conduct collective defence operations against a Russian attack of a scale that we face in Ukraine. Therefore I don’t see European strategic autonomy in defence as feasible, but I see the need for Europeans to engage more within NATO, to enhance military capabilities, arms industries and defence spending.”
“The question is not whether European strategic autonomy is realistic or not, but whether we really have a choice – the French believe it is inevitable. It can either happen because Europe wants to, has prepared its economy, equipped itself to defend its territory and put in place the mechanisms to make collective decisions. Or it can happen because Europe is outcompeted in a world of competition and predation, unable to defend itself, prey to the decisions emanating from Washington. A year into the Ukraine war, the French vision is a hard sell. So, in the short-term unrealistic but possibly inevitable.”
Why European Defense Still Depends on America. Foreign Affairs, Max Bergmann and Sophia Besch
Macron and Europe: the French vision for strategic autonomy. European Council on Foreign Relations, Célia Belin et al.
European Strategic Autonomy: Views from Paris, Berlin, and Warsaw. Center for a New American Security, Andrea Kendall-Taylor et al.
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