Strategic autonomy. Two familiar words that are yet again in vogue in Europe but which cause confusion and, in some quarters, even alarm.
The last time strategic autonomy stirred controversy was in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraq War, but perhaps the most well-known instance followed the Balkan crisis of the 1990s.
The Franco-British Saint-Malo Summit in 1998, which paved the way for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and called for the EU to develop the capacity for autonomous military action, led the Clinton administration to warn the EU that its military autonomy should not cause any de-linking with NATO, nor duplicate existing efforts or discriminate against non-EU members.
Today, debates about strategic autonomy in Europe have mainly resurfaced because of Washington’s insistence that European governments shoulder more responsibility for defence within NATO.
The recent decision by the US to eventually renege on the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has also fuelled European distrust towards the White House. Furthermore, US and NATO misgivings about new EU security and defence initiatives such as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) have added to the controversy.
Debates about strategic autonomy are gaining traction in Europe and recent security and defence initiatives have helped outline a better understanding of what the EU means by the concept.
-- Strategic autonomy should not be seen as a binary choice which Europe either has or does not have. Autonomy should rather be seen as a spectrum reflecting favourable and unfavourable dependencies.
-- A more mature approach to burden-sharing is needed where the EU can take up a more appropriate level of strategic autonomy in security and defence without being accused of challenging the transatlantic link when it does so.
-- The EU is not yet able to move towards a higher level of autonomy in security and defence, but the Union is displaying greater responsibility for its security and defence and it is hedging against strategic uncertainties.
Click here for the full report (8 PDF pages) on the ISS website.