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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a press conference, Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrive at a press conference, Berlin, Nov. 7, 2019 (dpa photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka via AP Images).

Europe Wants ‘Strategic Autonomy,’ but That’s Much Easier Said Than Done

Monday, Nov. 25, 2019

When NATO leaders meet next week in London, one phrase will be on everybody’s lips: European strategic autonomy. While the ambiguous concept is open to competing interpretations, its general thrust is clear. It connotes a growing aspiration among many countries in Europe to set their own global priorities and act independently in security and foreign policy, and to possess sufficient material and institutional capabilities to implement these decisions, with partners of their own choosing. The notion is at the heart of President Emmanuel Macron’s vision of a “sovereign” Europe, and of the ambitions of the incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to create a “geopolitical commission.”

Strategic autonomy has obvious appeal to Europeans at a time of fraying trans-Atlantic bonds and deepening great-power competition. Aspiring to self-reliance is one thing, however. Achieving it will require much more from the European Union. The heterogeneous bloc will have to develop a coherent strategic culture and come to some agreement on a shared assessment of threats—and on how the EU should pursue its interests and promote its values internationally. Europeans must also reassure the United States that any new EU military capabilities will complement rather than undermine NATO. ...

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