Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

All Grown Up - European Union on the Path to Strategic Autonomy

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

All Grown Up - European Union on the Path to Strategic Autonomy

Article excerpt

The European Union is on the verge of making the most consequential decision in its modern history - the move towards strategic autonomy declared for the first time in the European Union Global Strategy issued in July 2016. European strategic autonomy was defined as being necessary "to promote the common interests of [EU] citizens, as well as [EU] principles and values."1 No further details were provided by Europe's leaders, but in essence, strategic autonomy involves two things. First, it means autonomy in military capabilities and second, strategic autonomy should provide for better common defense of European countries. The former is achieved through Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO]. The latter will subsequently result from deeper cooperation.

The American presidential election in 2016 contributed to the increasing velocity of the trajectory already outlined. The election had the most significant impact on Europe since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected and ultimately led the country until the end of the Cold War. Today's situation is different. The bipolar world order has been replaced by a multipolar globalized playing field with rules and an order in which the United States plays the role of guarantor. President Donald Trump introduced a new set of policies that were generally disconnected from those pursued by the string of previous presidents. After his first year in office, we can argue that the desire to maintain the power pattern fell on deaf ears, hence Europe has been slowly adapting to the version of remoteness coming from the United States. It is the most recent example of Europeans strengthening defense and security in order to protect the continent. It is true that not even Donald Trump can singlehandedly push Europe into pursuing its strategic autonomy pledge, but his victory was a catalyst for the process.

Three events preceded the now intense PESCO conversations. First, the Russian invasion of Crimea confirmed that the European Union should still be prepared for conventional conflict. The second event was the Brexit vote, and the subsequent invoking of Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union [ToEU]. The UK vocally opposed any steps to closer cooperation, so Brexit gave the EU a free pass to begin new defense engagements. The third event, the election of Donald Trump, was the last straw in the debate. All these events, apart from the last, occurred once the EU Global Strategy had been adopted and all three took place long after PESCO had been set out in the ToEU. Even before the election in the United States, Europe had set out on the path to becoming a global leader. Therefore, the debate did not start with the events occurring from 2014 to 2016. The debate only took off, because it was ascribed greater importance. Russia's revanchist policies in Eastern Europe and the possible impacts of the UK's departure from the EU have been well-researched. Given recent developments, it is important to focus on strategic autonomy from the prism of current US-EU relations, one year after the US election.

A lot has been written on the US relationship with NATO, and the Trump administration failed to satisfactorily answer concerns regarding the US commitment to common defense. But the current US relationship with the European Union remains unfamiliar territory as it is too complicated for the US president and many Americans to understand the complexity of the EU's decision making procedures and power distribution. Trump's election and his "America First" proclamation sent Europe a signal as to the new dynamics of US-EU relations. The European Union has responded swiftly to the new international environment and the new role America wanted to play in the world. This article will focus on how European countries are adapting to the new environment and their goal of achieving closer defense cooperation and strategic autonomy.

Trump in office and the EU

Whether due to the rise of anti-globalism, identity politics or the continuing revenge directed at corporate and political elites, Donald Trump won the most Electoral College votes and was elected president of the United States. …

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