Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by U.S. Mission to NATO Chargé d’Affaires ad Interim Richard A. Holtzapple, Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 21, 2021. Austin was attending the NATO defense ministerial where leaders conducted their first in-person defense ministerial since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
What’s Really Standing in the Way of European Strategic Autonomy

The NATO defense ministers who met yesterday and today in Brussels had a long list of issues to discuss, from the alliance’s role in confronting a rising China to its plans for countering a resurgent Russia. But NATO is also confronting more fundamental questions about its identity that have taken on greater resonance in recent months. Prominent among those questions is what Europe can and should do for itself to provide for its security and defense.

The idea of European strategic autonomy, or reduced dependence on the United States for security, is currently associated with French President Emmanuel Macron, one of its most vocal advocates these days. Although the concept dates back to France’s 1994 defense white paper, interest in it has been revived lately because of developments that have left Europeans uncertain about Washington’s reliability

This became particularly evident during the presidency of Donald Trump, who openly derided NATO. That prompted Macron to warn that Europeans would “no longer be in control of [their] destiny” unless they got serious about defending themselves. Trump’s February 2020 agreement with the Taliban—which included a reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 within 135 days and the removal of the rest, allied and coalition forces included, over the next 14 months—also perturbed Europeans, who felt their views on the timeline seemed not to matter. 

Despite high expectations, things didn’t change following the election of President Joe Biden. On April 14, he announced he would follow through on Trump’s agreement, pledging to bring U.S. troops home by Sept. 11. He later moved that deadline up to the end of August. Following the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August, the final weeks of the evacuation proved chaotic, prompting prominent European leaders to characterize it as NATO’s “greatest debacle” and complain about insufficient consultationJosep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called it “a wake-up call” for Europe, which he said must “invest more in its security capabilities and develop the ability to think and act in strategic terms.” 

Read the full article in World Politics Review.

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