In 2016, the concept of European strategic autonomy initiated by France became part of the EU’s Global Strategy doctrine to improve the bloc’s defence capabilities.
US State Department C-ounselor Derek Chollet has said that President Biden “absolutely” supports Eur-opean allies’ push for so-called strategic autonomy, an EU policy objective that stipulates the bloc’s capability to defend Europe without relying much on the US.
In an interview with Politico, Chollet made it clear that the time is ripe for EU leaders to stop paying lip-service to the necessity of developing strategic autonomy and focus instead on concrete steps.
“It’s important to get out of the theoretical realm, the think tank realm of strategic autonomy […] and to talk about pragmatic, practical solutions”, he stated.
The counselor signalled Washington’s willingness to provide the EU with guidance about the types of capabilities the bloc could start building up.
Chollet underscored that Washington wants “a stronger Europe” and that “it’s in America’s interest for Europe to be more capable militarily”. “That’s why US administrations, presidents from both parties, secretaries of defense going back the last six or seven, have all talked about the 2 percent GDP as a sort of basic good housekeeping standard for military spending”, he said, apparently referencing a defence spending goal made by Washington’s NATO allies. The remarks came after French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune urged Brussels to “strengthen [its own] capacities for reflection, strategic autonomy, and defence” when spe-aking to the news network France24 in September.
“Why would the Americans ensure our defence in [the] matter? It’s up to us to do it”, he said, stressing that Europeans have “the expertise, the financial means, and the capacity to do it in Europe”.
Beaune also lashed out at the UK, arguing that by leaving the EU, London had “returned to the American fold with an accepted form of vassalisation”. He made the comments amid France’s frustration over the newly-announced defence pact between Washington, Canberra, and London, dubbed AUKUS, which envisages providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, thereby nullifying an earlier French submarine deal. “I do not know how we can trust our Australian partners now. And this was not [just] a move against France, this undermines Europe’s trust because now it cannot have confidence in its partners”, the French secretary of state for European affairs said.
This was preceded by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Secur-ity Policy Josep Borrell arguing in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde that the importance of Europe’s strategic autonomy is indisputable.
When asked to respond to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s comment that the development of an autonomous defence system in Europe would negatively affect its own unity and that of the military alliance, Borrell says that he appreciates Stoltenberg’s concerns about the unity of Europeans, “but he [the NATO chief] is not responsible for developing a common defence and security policy of the EU”.
“Strategic autonomy is not an alternative to NATO, and NATO does not have an alternative due to the role it plays in the territorial defence of Europe”, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy argued.
In November 2018, French President Macron told the French radio station Europe 1 that France should not depend on the US and that Paris will fail to protect Europeans “unless we decide to have a true European army”. The proposal was supported by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen who said at the time that “a European army is a vision that might become a reality in generations to come”.