EU Global Strategy: Strategic Autonomy and Globalism


One of the most important events of the Summit of Heads of State of the EU on June 28th-29th was the adoption of the new EU Global Strategy. The document, entitled "Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe - A Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign And Security Policy”, sets out the main principles of EU foreign policy as well as policy in the sphere of security. Analysts have called the document a major step towards EU independence from NATO. Is this really the case? Let's take a look.

The lack of a united foreign policy strategy was one of the main doctrinal problems of the EU since the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was established in 2009. The elaboration of a common foreign policy strategy took 7 years. Until that time, the only one document which guided the EU in this field was the “European Security Strategy” adopted in 2003.

Between the two documents, there is much continuity, but the new one is much broader and reflects the changes in the EU’s approach to the world affairs.

  1. Towards more independence from NATO

In the document from 2003, NATO was mentioned 4 times, while in the new one - 17. While the rhetoric of the old document did not insist so much on the importance of NATO for Europe, it did postulate the framework for EU-NATO cooperation, Berlin Plus :

The EU-NATO permanent arrangements, in particular Berlin Plus, enhance the operational capability of the EU and provide the framework for the strategic partnership between the two organizations in crisis management. This reflects our common determination to tackle the challenges of the new century.

The agreement signed in 2002 allowed the EU to draw on some of NATO's military assets in its own peacekeeping operations. At the end of the 1990’s, plans for creating an independent EU military body were prevented because of American reluctance to this. The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, insisted on putting forth the three famous “D’s" in EU defense policy: no duplication of what is done under NATO, no decoupling from the US and NATO, and no discrimination against non-EU members. Thus, the process of creating an independent EU army was halted. Since that day, all EU military initiatives, including the EU Military Staff, EUFOR, Eurocorps, the European Gendarmerie Force, European Maritime Force and EU Battlegroups, are subjugated to NATO's control and cannot operate effectively without NATO's intelligence and material and coordination assistance.

The new document on the EU’s global strategy postulates as a goal a return to the idea of establishing an autonomous EU military structure which could act independently from NATO:

As Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security. We must be ready and able to deter, respond to, and protect ourselves against external threats. While NATO exists to defend its members - most of which are European - from external attack, Europeans must be better equipped, trained and organised to contribute decisively to such collective efforts, as well as to act autonomously if and when necessary. An appropriate level of ambition and strategic autonomy is important for Europe's ability to foster peace and safeguard security within and beyond its borders.

Thus, the EU is returning to the aims of the St. Malo Declaration of 1998, when French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated in St. Malo that:

"The Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises".

To fulfill this ambitious mission, the EU needs to allocate more funds to security matters and create a united military structure which can overcome contradictions between the EU countries. The new EU global security strategy states:

Member States remain sovereign in their defense decisions: nevertheless, to acquire and maintain many of these capabilities, defense cooperation must become the norm. The EU will systematically encourage defense cooperation and strive to create a solid European defense industry, which is critical for Europe's autonomy of decision and action.

2. Strategic autonomy in the framework of Transatlantic partnership

A new important term employed in the new European Global Strategy is “strategic autonomy.” By this is meant independence from the United States and other actors in the field of decision-making and the implementation of decisions. Therefore, the achievement of strategic autonomy is linked to the creation of an effective military component of the EU (a de facto European Army).

Thus, the EU is moving towards strategic independence from the Atlanticist pole. The peculiarity of the moment lies in that, despite Continentalist trends, the existing European elite still consists of devoted Atlanticists. This is reflected in how much attention the new document gives to pro-NATO rhetoric as well as its commitment to the “joint Transatlantic cause.”

The strategy states:

With the US, the EU will strive for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, TTIP demonstrates the transatlantic commitment to shared values ​​and signals our willingness to pursue an ambitious rules-based trade agenda. On the broader security agenda, the US will continue to be our core partner. The EU will deepen cooperation with the US and Canada on crisis management, counter-terrorism, cyber, migration, energy and climate action.

3. Yet another distinctive feature of the Global Strategy for the European Union's foreign And security policy is the abandonment of promoting the so-called cause of “good governance.” In 2003 the EU stated:

Spreading good governance, supporting social and political reform, dealing with corruption and abuse of power, establishing the rule of law and protecting human rights are the best means of strengthening the international order.

"Good governance" is a specifically EU term, which means that the EU sees itself as exemplary of how the process of management should be organized. Its promotion means reduplicating and extending EU norms and rules to non-EU countries. Thus, the traditional realist political dichotomy of "Friend-Foe" is replaced by the "Order-Chaos" opposition, in which any space where EU norms are not adopted is seen as barbaric and chaotic that can only be well-governed in the case of the establishment of EU rules. Today we see that instead of this concept, the EU speaks more generally on the promotion of democracy and human rights than the US does.

Thus, while remaining within the framework of liberal globalism, the EU occupies a more moderate stance. At the same time, it mentions distinctive European values when it speaks against "intolerance", but fails to name such or explain how they differ from the “global” ones.

4. The EU has affirmed that it adheres to the globalist agenda, albeit preferring to use the term “multilateralism” instead of “multipolarity.” While a multipolar world presumes the creation of world order based on the balance of distinctive civilizational poles and regional unions, multilateralism strives for a united world where decisions are made jointly by major players on the base of a single system of shared values.

The EU stated the following on this matter in 2003:

An active and capable European Union would make an impact on a global scale. In doing so, it would contribute to an effective multilateral system leading to a fairer, safer and more united world.

Today, it has opted to explain the nature of multilateralism more openly:

This is necessary to promote the common interests of our citizens, as well as our principles and values. Yet we know that such priorities are best served when we are not alone. And they are best served in an international system based on rules and on multilateralism. This is no time for global policemen and lone warriors.

The document mentions Russia and China as powers which should not be ignored, while it declares that the EU will continue to combine pressure against Russia on the Ukrainian and Crimean issues with a selective engagement of issues in which Europe and Russia are interdependent.

In fact, this is a version of soft globalism opposed to the imperial ambitions of the neocons as well as the sovereigntist and realist intentions within and outside the EU, mixed with soft realism. The aim of this strategic autonomy and, at the same time, the continued embracing of the Atlanticist and globalist agenda, looks quite contradictory, but this in fact resembles strategic changes associated with the decline of US hegemony. The US cannot be the world’s policeman and the European globalist elite is aiming to take some responsibility for its security, and therefore act more delicately in its neighborhood. At the same time, liberal ideology remains dominant, which prevents the EU from assuming the role of a totally independent pole and engaging in multipolar rhetoric. Instead, it continues to promote multilateralism as a tool to salvage globalism in a time in which US dominance is crumbling.