Europe’s pursuit of strategic autonomy amid global realignment

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Europe

The geopolitical landscape of Europe has been in flux since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, leading to a significant reassessment of the European Union’s (EU) reliance on and alignment with the United States. Historically, Europe has been an integral part of the US alliance system, a relationship solidified during the Cold War and continued post-World War II. However, recent events and strategic missteps have prompted a growing number of European countries to reflect on the wisdom of “blindly following the US”.

A notable shift has been seen in the strategic positioning of major European powers such as France and Germany. The two nations, often regarded as the driving forces of the EU, have been vocal advocates for European sovereignty. In May, during a state visit to Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz co-authored an article titled “We Must Strengthen European Sovereignty.” This publication underscored their commitment to deepening EU cooperation and bolstering economic competitiveness. Their call to action was clear: Europe must fortify its own interests in response to the evolving geopolitical landscape.

This push for sovereignty is not merely rhetorical. France and Germany are actively pursuing policies aimed at enhancing the EU’s autonomy in economic and industrial domains. By reducing dependency on external powers and improving internal collaboration, these nations aim to create a resilient European bloc capable of navigating the complexities of global politics with greater independence.

Beyond internal policies, European countries are also demonstrating a more independent stance on international issues. This is evident in the varying responses to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Norway, Spain, and Ireland, for example, have taken steps to recognize the Palestinian state. This move signifies a departure from the traditionally pro-Israel stance and underscores a shift towards supporting the two-state solution. Such actions highlight a growing trend within Europe to formulate foreign policies based on principles of international fairness and justice, rather than simply aligning with US positions.

These developments suggest a broader realization within Europe that aligning policies strictly with US interests does not always serve Europe’s legitimate and reasonable interests. Instead, there is a growing consensus that Europe’s internal and external strategies should be grounded in its own geopolitical, economic, and security needs. This approach is seen as essential for Europe to enhance its international influence and maintain its normative power on the global stage.

Europe’s reflection on its relationship with the US is not without cause. The continent has endured significant costs due to its long-standing alignment with US policies. From being a battleground during the Cold War to facing the repercussions of US-driven conflicts in Eurasia and the Middle East, Europe has paid a heavy price for its security dependence on the US.

The Trump administration’s “America First” policy was a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in this dependence. The administration’s overt prioritization of American interests, often at the expense of its allies, served as a wake-up call for Europe. The abrupt policy shifts and unilateral decisions by the US underscored the risks of over-reliance on a single external power for security and strategic direction. This period of uncertainty and the resultant geopolitical shocks provided a strong impetus for the concept of “European sovereignty”, championed by leaders like Macron.

Despite the current US administration’s rhetoric of valuing alliances, the fundamental approach of using Europe as a tool for maintaining US hegemony remains largely unchanged. Instances such as the US’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, which has seen America profiting from the conflict, and the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, which adversely affects European industries, illustrate this point. These actions have driven home the lesson that Europe must strengthen its own capabilities and protect its interests to avoid being a pawn in US geopolitical strategies.

Looking forward, the EU faces the challenge of navigating its relationship with the US amidst the potential resurgence of the “America First” policy, especially with upcoming US elections. However, there is a growing recognition within Europe that strategic autonomy is essential. Strengthening economic, political, and military capabilities is seen as critical to breaking the cycle of dependency and ensuring that Europe’s decisions are made in its own best interests.

The quest for European strategic autonomy is fraught with challenges. The ongoing Ukraine crisis has reinforced the perception among some European countries that the US and NATO are indispensable to their security. This perception limits the EU’s ability to develop an independent military power and achieve true decision-making autonomy.

Nevertheless, there are signs of progress. The EU is gradually making strides towards greater independence in its policies. This includes diversifying energy sources to reduce dependence on Russian gas and enhancing defense capabilities through initiatives like the European Defence Fund. These steps, while incremental, are crucial for building a more autonomous and resilient Europe.

Europe’s reflection on its relationship with the US is a complex and evolving process, driven by painful experiences and rational contemplation. The push for European sovereignty, independent stances on global issues, and lessons learned from past dependencies all point towards a future where Europe is more self-reliant and strategically autonomous. While challenges remain, the trend is clear: Europe is gradually moving away from “blindly following the US” and towards a path that prioritizes its own legitimate interests and values. This shift is essential for Europe to maintain its relevance and influence in a multipolar world, adapting to the changing times and emerging stronger as a unified and independent entity.

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