European leaders reflect on strategic autonomy but doubts persist | Voice of America

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Four years ago, the newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron called on Europe to strengthen “the capacity to act autonomously” in security matters so that the continent is less dependent on the United States and can decide to act without American support.

Most European leaders have ridiculed Macron’s idea as far-fetched. “The illusions of European strategic autonomy must end,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last year.

But following the US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan, his stance changed. It is time to make “the European Union a strategic player to be reckoned with,” she said last week in a comment for the Atlantic Council, a New York-based think tank.

It is not the only one to rethink the future of the transatlantic security system.

Europe’s opinion pages are replete with columns of politicians and security advisers arguing for the continent to become more militarily independent and less dependent on Washington. European leaders have decried President Joe Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and complain that Washington has not consulted sufficiently with NATO allies.

FILE – Belgian soldiers train in the Grafenwoehr training area, as part of the 2014-02 European Union Battle Group, February 21, 2014 (US Army photo)

Armin Laschet, a candidate for Angela Merkel’s succession to German Chancellor, said last month: “We are facing a change of times.

Even traditionally pro-American British politicians like Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and key partner of the United States during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, argue question the reliability of the United States as a defense partner.

On Monday, he said Britain should strengthen its defense partnership with Europe to tackle the threats. In the United States, there is “now an overwhelming political constraint on military interventions,” posing a serious challenge for Britain and NATO, he said, in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the United States. terrorist attacks of September 11 which precipitated the invasion led by the United States. from Afghanistan.

Strategic autonomy

However, there is little agreement in Europe on what strategic autonomy should mean and what Europe should do with it. The 27 EU member states have clashed repeatedly over foreign policy, from relations with Russia to whether China is an adversary or a competitor.

Central European leaders are particularly worried about loosening any defense ties with Washington and are still not convinced that they could count on Western Europeans in a confrontation with Russia.

And skeptics wonder if Europe is really ready to spend what it takes to become a serious autonomous strategic player, especially as it is grappling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

NATO calls on Russia to be transparent in its military exercises

According to a count from NATO Review, an allied magazine, Russia deployed between 60,000 and 70,000 troops in Zapad-2017 but only declared 12,700 people.

On average, European Union countries spend around 1.2% of their GDP on defense. Russia spends 4.3% while the United States spends 3.4%.

But during a recent debate in the House of Commons, Tom Tugendhat, Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the lesson he learned from the withdrawal from Afghanistan was the need to ‘help reinvigorate Britain’s European NATO partners and’ make sure that we don’t depend on one ally, on the decision of one leader, but that we can work together.

Are changes needed?

Lawrence Freedman, the influential professor emeritus of war studies at King’s College London, suspects, however, that the wave of discussions over European strategic autonomy is a knee-jerk reaction to what Armin Laschet has described as “the greatest NATO debacle ”since the founding of the Alliance.

“It is always tempting but generally unwise to draw broad geopolitical conclusions from specific events, however dramatic and distressing they are,” he noted in a commentary for London time this week.

The main strategic alliances of the United States in Europe and even in Asia have withstood many setbacks and disputes in the past, he said.

“These alliances have been built over decades and remain in place. They have survived past disagreements and are unlikely to be put aside because the Biden administration mismanaged the final withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, ”he added. “The autopsies on the withdrawal from Afghanistan will most likely conclude that there is no need for fundamental political changes,” he added.

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European interventions with little or no US military support have not gone well. In July, Macron announced that France’s anti-jihadist intervention in the volatile Sahel region, involving more than 5,000 troops and launched by his ruling predecessor, will end next year.

The French leader has tried for years to persuade European allies to help shoulder more of the burden of counterterrorism in the Sahel, but to no avail. Britain, Denmark and Sweden have provided helicopter capabilities for air mobility, but few other European countries, other than a few token deployments, have emerged.

In almost a pre-echo of the reasons for Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Macron said: “We cannot secure some areas because some states are simply refusing to take office. Otherwise, it’s a never-ending task. He added that the “long-term presence” of French troops “cannot substitute” for nation states that run their own affairs.

Some diplomats suggest that the current wave of talks over strategic autonomy will lessen as the shock of withdrawal wears off. They suggest that much of the criticism should be seen as a displacement activity, a way of dealing with antagonistic impulses. “They feel bad to leave [Afghanistan] but they are also relieved to have come out of an eternal war which they know could not be won, ”suggested to VOA a European envoy in Brussels. He asked not to be identified for this story.

Other diplomats believe transatlantic security ties will remain tight, but it will take some time to recover from what they admit to be a messy withdrawal.

It will take a long time for the West as a whole – because this is a Western failure, a Western disaster, it is not just the UK and the US – to recover from all of this, to recover our reputation, ”Kim said. Darroch, a former British ambassador to the United States and the EU, told the BBC last month.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, however, said the withdrawal offered us “an opportunity to discuss the European Union as a geopolitical actor,” he said. “But it will require unity, in small things and in big things,” he told reporters in Brussels this week.

Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash agrees. In an interview on Tuesday, he told broadcaster Euronews: “President Joe Biden has pleaded for what all Europeans are talking about, namely strategic autonomy and European sovereignty.”

However, Ash, a defender of European strategic autonomy, lamented that the European powers had missed the opportunity to show what they could do. “There were 2,500 American soldiers to stabilize Afghanistan. France and Great Britain alone have 10,000 men and a rapid reaction force. Why haven’t we had a European conversation about what we could have done about it? “

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