The European Strategic Autonomy & Its effects on the military fields

Europeans are becoming increasingly convinced that the United States and Britain are seeking a phase contrary to the‭ “‬Marshall Plan‭,” ‬the economic project that the United States allocated to rebuilding Europe after World War II‭. ‬In other words‭, ‬they are sacrificing the rest of Europe in an attempt to limit the expected‭ “‬civilizational decline‭” ‬of the non-Anglo-Saxon Westen Europe‭. ‬These policies became evident in 2016‭ ‬when the British voted in favour of leaving the European Union‭.‬

This American tendency to disregard European interests has affected the usual military and security coordination between the United States and the European Union‭. ‬For example‭, ‬at the beginning of 2021‭, ‬Charles Michel‭, ‬President of the European Council‭, ‬stated that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan reinforced the idea of‭ “‬European Strategic Autonomy‭” ‬among European countries‭. ‬

This context was manifested in the Berlin Coalition Agreement of 2021‭, ‬which stated‭, “‬We want more strategic autonomy for Europe‭. … ‬Our goal is an independent European Union functioning as a strong player in a world characterized by uncertainty and systematic competition‭.”‬

The incident of Australia cancelling a contract to purchase 12‭ ‬French submarines in favour of the United States was seen as a‭ “‬stab in the back‭” ‬and a‭ “‬breach of trust‭,” ‬according to French diplomats who expressed their anger and disappointment‭, ‬not only with the cancellation of the deal but also with the manner in which it was handled by the US ally and its Anglo-Saxon partners‭ (‬Australia and Britain‭). ‬

EU leaders expressed their solidarity with France and indicated that the United States had lost trust in the NATO alliance‭, ‬highlighting the concept of European Strategic Autonomy‭.‬

Other incidents have recently brought the concept of strategic autonomy to the forefront of European debate‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬the United States did not share information with its European partners confirming an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine‭. ‬This led to the resignation of French military intelligence chief General Eric Vidaud‭, ‬as he was unable to timely warn the French administration due to the United States‭’ ‬failure to share relevant information‭.‬

The Russian-Ukrainian war‭, ‬the escalating confrontation between the United States and China‭, ‬and their impact on Europe have encouraged the pursuit of European strategic autonomy in shaping security and economic interests‭, ‬away from the current policies and orientations of the United States‭, ‬from which Europe usually suffers the most‭.‬

In other words‭, ‬some European countries‭, ‬led by France‭, ‬believe that the United States has turned its back on Europe‭, ‬China is becoming more aggressive as a global power‭, ‬and Russia under Putin is attacking independent European countries‭. ‬

This geopolitical situation is not favourable for the European Union‭, ‬which should act and behave militarily‭, ‬politically‭, ‬and economically independently from other players in international politics‭. ‬

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed this sentiment on several occasions‭, ‬most notably after his recent visit to China with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen‭, ‬where he stated‭, “‬Europe should not act as a follower of the United States‭, ‬and it should not involve itself in crises that do not concern it‭,” ‬clearly referring to the Taiwan crisis between China and the United States‭. ‬Additionally‭, ‬European Council President Charles Michel announced that EU leaders are inclined towards Macron‭’‬s approach regarding strategic autonomy from Washington‭. ‬On the military level‭, ‬strategic autonomy aims to achieve the reliable‭ ‬use of military force by the European Union‭, ‬ensuring peace and security within and beyond its borders‭, ‬even in remote areas‭. ‬This includes the Union’s ability to respond to crises and conflicts within or adjacent to its territory‭, ‬even when the United States is unable or unwilling to address these issues‭. ‬With the increasing discussions and actions within Europe regarding strategic autonomy‭, ‬Republican Senator Marco Rubio from Florida threatened to leave Europe to deal with the Ukrainian crisis on its own‭ ‬and focus on the Taiwan issue‭.‬

Meanwhile‭, ‬Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi conducted a European tour from May 8‭ ‬to 12‭, ‬2023‭, ‬including Germany‭, ‬France‭, ‬and Norway‭, ‬upon the invitation of his counterparts in the three countries‭. ‬As a result of the visit‭, ‬China expressed support for Europe’s strategic autonomy‭. ‬Thus it is undoubtedly in China’s interest to draw Europe away from Washington‭. ‬This study aims to analyze and shed light on the effects of the desired‭ “‬European Strategic Autonomy‭” ‬on military domains‭:‬

The impact of the desired‭ “‬European Strategic Autonomy‭” ‬on the military domains

Several studies emphasize the necessity of establishing European strategic autonomy on the military level based on the following‭ ‬principles‭:‬

1‭. ‬Foreign policy based on alliances‭.‬

2‭. ‬European industrial and technological base‭.‬

3‭. ‬The ability to deploy military forces abroad‭.‬

4‭. ‬Recognition among EU member states that they cannot defend themselves individually‭, ‬and therefore each country must be a driving force for military and industrial cooperation with other Union countries‭.‬

In this context‭, ‬the European Defence Agency highlighted three main challenges hindering effective European strategic autonomy within the European defence system‭:‬

1‭. ‬Insufficient defence spending‭.‬

2‭. ‬Deficiencies in the defence manufacturing sector‭.‬

3‭. ‬Equipment shortfalls‭.‬

To overcome these challenges‭, ‬the agency proposed a set of measures regarding equipment shortfalls‭, ‬including‭:‬

1‭. ‬Renewing military inventories‭.‬

2‭. ‬Replacing outdated systems inherited from the Soviet era‭.‬

3‭. ‬Enhancing air and missile defence systems‭.‬

4‭. ‬Rapidly establishing a defence procurement facilitation team‭.‬

5‭. ‬Proposing short-term coordination tools for joint defence procurement‭.‬

To strengthen European industrial capabilities in the defence sector‭, ‬the agency proposes‭:‬

1‭. ‬Establishing a comprehensive European defence investment program‭.‬

2‭. ‬Developing detailed maps of current and required capabilities‭.‬

3‭. ‬Ensuring access to critical raw materials for manufacturing‭.‬

4‭. ‬Ensuring availability of necessary skills for manufacturing‭.‬

5‭. ‬Making necessary changes in research and innovation to enhance synergy between the civilian and defence sectors‭.‬

6‭. ‬Supporting biotechnology and industrial capabilities through strategic projects‭.‬

7‭. ‬Increasing budgets for manufacturing and military mobility‭.‬

In recent years‭, ‬the European military strategy has witnessed the establishment of new working tools‭, ‬the most important of which were detailed in Al Jundi Journal’s issue of July 2023‭, ‬including Permanent Structured Cooperation‭ (‬PESCO‭), ‬the European Defence Fund‭ (‬EDF‭), ‬the European Intervention Initiative‭ (‬EII‭), ‬the European Peace Facility‭ (‬EFF‭), ‬and the Strategic Compass‭ (‬SC‭). ‬

These tools have transformed the concept of European defence‭, ‬which did not exist until the end of 2017‭, ‬into a reality with its‭ ‬own instruments and mechanisms capable of impacting power balances and achieving strategic autonomy for Europe‭.‬

Therefore‭, ‬in this study‭, ‬we will shed light on the important achievements initiated in the military field in the context of the‭ ‬European Union’s journey towards achieving the desired strategic autonomy‭. ‬Some of these notable achievements include‭:‬

1‭ ‬Strengthening defence investment‭:‬‭ ‬After years of budget cuts and limited cooperation among Union countries‭, ‬EU member states have started intensifying their efforts to effectively invest in building a strong common European defence‭. ‬In this regard‭, ‬the President of the European Commission‭,‬‭ ‬Ursula von der Leyen‭, ‬announced that the EU intends to increase its military spending by‭ $‬200‭ ‬billion in the coming years‭. ‬This‭ ‬comes after European military spending reached its peak in 2022‭ ‬at‭ $‬480‭ ‬billion‭, ‬a record increase in over three decades‭, ‬according to a report by SIPRI released last April‭.‬

2‭ ‬Reducing reliance on non-European forces and increasing intra-European procurement‭: ‬During the 2023‭ ‬Munich Security Conference‭, ‬French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasized the need to strengthen Europe’s security by developing European defence industry structures‭, ‬rather than relying on non-European forces‭. ‬They increasingly believe that US arms sales to Europe have come at the expense of the European defence industry base‭, ‬depriving European companies of direct market access‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬every time a European country purchases the Patriot air defence system from the American company Raytheon‭, ‬it undermines the European SAMP/T system developed by MBDA‭, ‬a French and Italian competitor to Raytheon‭. ‬Similarly‭, ‬when a European country buys the F-16‭ ‬aircraft from Lockheed Martin instead of the Swedish SAAB Gripen‭, ‬or the Abrams tank instead of the French Leclerc or the German Leopard‭. ‬In the context of reducing reliance on non-European‭ ‬forces and increasing intra-European procurement‭, ‬the Swedish defence and aerospace group‭ ‬Saab‭ ‬announced in January that it had received an order from the French army to supply AT4‭ ‬anti-tank weapon‭, ‬in a deal worth 24‭ ‬million euros‭.‬

3‭ ‬Increasing equipment consolidation within the European Union‭: ‬According to the European Commission‭, ‬Europe will save between 25‭ ‬and 100‭ ‬billion euros through equipment consolidation‭, ‬and military and industrial cooperation among European countries‭.‬

4‭ ‬Establishing an autonomous European rapid-reaction military force‭: ‬In March 2022‭, ‬the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy‭, ‬Josep Borrell‭, ‬announced that the EU would‭ ‬establish a military strategy aimed at equipping a force of 5,000‭ ‬fighters‭. ‬The EU is committed to increasing its military spending to enable autonomous interventions by 2025‭, ‬as outlined in the European Strategic Compass‭.‬

5‭ ‬Implementing collective defence procurement within the Union‭: ‬The European Commission called for collective defence procurement within the Union‭. ‬Josep Borrell‭, ‬the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy‭, ‬emphasized on multiple occasions that EU member states should jointly‭ ‬procure their weapons‭, ‬as the Union did with vaccines during the COVID-19‭ ‬pandemic and as it intends to do with gas purchases‭.‬

The EU is in the process of forming a defence procurement team‭, ‬enabling participating member states to meet their short-term needs collectively‭.‬

Additionally‭, ‬the EU aims to provide financial incentives to member states participating in this system‭. ‬The European Commission‭ ‬has proposed the creation of a defence fund worth 500‭ ‬million euros to assist EU member states in developing and jointly purchasing more weapons‭.‬

6‭ ‬Rapidly enhancing the EU’s ability to produce ammunition‭: ‬The European Commission recently adopted the Ammunition Support for Production‭ (‬ASAP‭) ‬law to support the European Union’s defence industry by increasing its production capabilities in ammunition and missiles‭. ‬

This law aims to ensure the timely availability of ammunition and missiles to European governments by monitoring‭, ‬detecting bottlenecks‭, ‬and forecasting supply chain shortages‭. ‬

In this regard‭, ‬the European Union allocated 500‭ ‬million euros and pledged new measures to urgently enhance defence industry capabilities in the EU’s ammunition production‭.‬

European officials‭, ‬including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs‭, ‬Josep Borrell‭, ‬have called for‭ ‬increasing European countries‭’ ‬production capacity to one million rounds annually as part of this project‭. ‬Mikael Johansson‭, ‬CEO‭ ‬of the Swedish defence and aerospace company Saab‭, ‬stated that the goal of one million rounds of ammunition is realistic‭, ‬and his company alone could provide 400,000‭ ‬rounds‭.‬

7‭ ‬Increasing investment in military research‭: ‬The European Defence Fund provided grants worth 1.24‭ ‬billion euros in July 2023‭ ‬as part of a major campaign to fund joint military research among member states‭. ‬This comes after decades of US domination in military innovation‭. ‬The fund has already commenced activities with two pilot programs and a budget of 7.9‭ ‬billion euros allocated over seven years starting in 2021‭.‬

One of the projects awarded the European grant is the experimental project‭ “‬EuroHAPS‭,” ‬which aims to develop devices designed to‭ ‬improve intelligence‭, ‬surveillance‭, ‬and reconnaissance missions‭, ‬under which the European Commission signed a contract worth 43‭ ‬million euros with Thales Alenia Space‭, ‬a joint venture between Thales Group and Leonardo‭, ‬the French and Italian defence industry groups‭. ‬

These devices include a stratospheric surveillance balloon capable of operating at high altitudes in the atmosphere‭, ‬enabling penetration of non-friendly borders‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬there are many defence development research projects funded by the European Union‭, ‬including solar-powered European aircraft and‭ “‬pseudo-satellites‭” ‬for gathering intelligence‭, ‬among dozens of other European-supported innovations‭. ‬These innovations encompass various modern technologies‭, ‬from unmanned aerial vehicles to artificial intelligence applications‭.‬

8‭ ‬Preparation for a‭ “‬war economy‭”: ‬In May‭, ‬European Commissioner for Internal Market and Industry Thierry Breton stated that the European Union‭ “‬must now move towards a war economy‭” ‬due to the geostrategic context that compels Europe to intensify its security and defence industries‭. ‬

He pledged one billion euros from the European Peace Facility to continue replenishing member states‭’ ‬stockpiles‭. ‬The Commission‭ ‬is ready to expedite public procurement procedures and remove challenges in the way of ammunition transfer within the unified European market‭, ‬including lifting any‭ “‬regulatory obstacles‭” ‬that may hinder timely completion‭.‬

9‭ ‬Building new partnerships and alliances‭: ‬The European Union has recently discussed the renewed partnership with its Southern Mediterranean neighbours‭, ‬proposed jointly by the European Commission as the Union’s top representative‭. ‬They emphasized that tackling the exacerbated economic‭, ‬social‭, ‬environmental‭, ‬and security challenges facing this region is a key issue for the Union’s foreign policy‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬the current Spanish presidency of the European Union seeks to increase the Union’s competitiveness and strengthen relationships with other regions‭, ‬such as Latin America and the Caribbean‭, ‬particularly in military and security aspects‭.‬

10‭ ‬Adopting the French approach as a model‭: ‬France is considered one of the European powers that can still manufacture many weapons on its own‭, ‬such as the Rafale fighter aircraft‭.‬

This plays a prominent role in achieving strategic independence‭, ‬as France does not need the United States or congressional approvals to obtain this type of technology in weapons‭, ‬nor does it need to spend large amounts on purchases‭.‬

This year‭, ‬France has shown great determination to further consolidate its military independence‭. ‬French President Emmanuel Macron revealed a massive military budget of 413‭ ‬billion euros for six years‭ (‬2024-2030‭).‬

According to the new military budget‭, ‬France’s annual military spending is expected to reach 69‭ ‬billion euros by 2030‭, ‬compared‭ ‬to only 32‭ ‬billion euros in 2017‭. ‬Paris also aims to support its stockpile of artillery ammunition‭, ‬especially of the Caesar type‭.‬

It has plans to support the ground forces with hundreds of armoured vehicles‭, ‬including 300‭ ‬Jaguar armoured vehicles by 2032‭ ‬as‭ ‬part of the‭ “‬Scorpion‭” ‬program‭.‬

Furthermore‭, ‬France intends to allocate financial resources to develop new missile launcher systems‭, ‬and the French Ministry of‭ ‬Defence will allocate part of the funds to develop third-generation nuclear submarines‭.‬

Among the plans outlined by the Ministry of Defence is the construction of a new aircraft carrier to replace the current Charles‭ ‬de Gaulle carrier‭, ‬with an estimated cost of around 10‭ ‬billion euros‭. ‬

This carrier will enter service in 2038‭ ‬and will be equipped with an additional operations centre‭, ‬not just fighter jets and helicopters‭. ‬

In addition‭, ‬France seeks to enhance its maritime capabilities to operate at depths of 6,000‭ ‬metres‭. ‬

Finally‭, ‬France aims to maintain the independence of its nuclear deterrent and invest independently‭, ‬unlike other countries like‭ ‬Italy that requested cost-sharing of the deterrent‭, ‬claiming that it could bankrupt the French economy‭.‬


The preference of some European Union countries for American armament systems remains an obstacle to achieving the desired independence‭.‬

This is primarily due to these countries‭’ ‬belief that joint European military manufacturing plans will take a long time‭, ‬which does not help them in meeting their immediate security needs‭. ‬

Secondly‭, ‬the integration of European defence systems with their military systems that are dominated by American armament systems is challenging‭.‬

This partially explains why‭:‬

1‭ ‬‭”‬European Union‭,” ‬according to an indicator published by the European Council on Foreign Relations‭, ‬enjoys a high degree of independence in the fields of economy and health‭, ‬a satisfactory degree in defence‭, ‬climate protection‭, ‬and migration‭, ‬and a poor degree in the technical field‭, ‬where it relies heavily on others‭, ‬as shown in the attached table‭:‬

2‭ ‬France is the most contributing and driving country towards strategic independence in the military field within the European Union‭, ‬followed by Germany‭, ‬Italy‭, ‬the Netherlands‭, ‬Belgium‭, ‬and then the European Union itself in sixth place‭, ‬as shown in the attached table‭:‬

In conclusion‭, ‬we can say that European strategic independence from the United States in the military sphere is becoming more apparent than ever since the end of World War II‭. ‬However‭, ‬it still faces external and internal obstacles that could undermine or‭ ‬limit it to only a few European Union countries‭, ‬such as France‭.‬●

‮« ‬ By‭: ‬Dr Wael Saleh‭  ‭(‬Expert at Trends Research‭ & ‬Advisory‭)‬

Al Jundi

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