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Policy brief | 11 May 2018

European Strategic Autonomy: Stop Talking, Start Planning

Defence EU NATO Transatlantic relations European Defence

The term ‘European strategic autonomy’ often triggers alarm, disagreement, and mockery. Yet as a political project it is neither ridiculous nor wrong. Europeans should be able to act jointly and more autonomously in defence of their security interests. Done well, this would strengthen, not threaten, the defence partnership with the United States. But Europe’s current lack of ability to act makes this an unachievable objective in the short term.

This new ELN policy brief argues that transatlantic security needs a new, more serious approach to European strategic autonomy for the coming decades:

  • Strategic autonomy should be envisaged as a spectrum, along which Europeans should move as their capabilities grow.
  • Strategic autonomy should not be seen as an EU project, but as a state-led, EU- supported, US-backed, Europe-wide build-up, closely aligned with NATO, the United States, and the post-Brexit UK.
  • The United States will still be the guarantor of Europe’s collective defence and an important part of Europe’s security landscape in the next decades. In the design and pursuit of any European strategic autonomy, it will clearly make sense for the United States and NATO to be closely consulted politically and engaged militarily. But a change of mindset is also needed on both sides of the Atlantic.
  • Strategic autonomy does not have to mean that we undertake all operations under the same flag. EU and NATO initiatives, as well as bilateral, multilateral, and regional ones should be envisaged as parts of one coherent project.
  • Progress towards strategic autonomy is more likely to succeed by concentrating on key building blocks for autonomy rather than by setting a specific but distant ‘headline’ goal.


Download the Policy Brief


The opinions articulated above also do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.