The EU’s “strategic autonomy” dilemma has become more prominent

  The Ukrainian crisis has drastically deteriorated the security and geostrategic situation in Europe, posing a brutal reality test to the EU’s “strategic autonomy” process. We can see that on the one hand, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has strengthened the EU’s willingness to seek “strategic autonomy” and accelerated the EU’s steps to promote “strategic autonomy”. The two are contradictory, and the knot is difficult to unravel.
The EU’s willingness to seek “strategic autonomy” is growing stronger

  The Ukraine crisis has made the EU and its member states deeply feel the necessity and urgency of enhancing “strategic autonomy”, forcing many European countries to adjust their defense policies. On February 28, the fourth day after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, German Chancellor Scholz announced that the country’s annual defense budget will account for more than 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP), and 100 billion euros will be allocated. Special funds are used to upgrade armaments. Similarly, Denmark and Sweden also plan to increase the share of GDP in military spending to 2%. France, Belgium, Romania, Italy, Spain, Poland, Norway and other countries have also pledged to increase defense spending.
  It is worth noting that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has settled the question of the choice of a new generation of German fighter jets that has been pending for many years. The country announced on March 25 that it will purchase 35 US-made F-35 fighter jets to replace 45 old French “Rafales”. fighter. This decision is regarded as Germany’s “transition plan”, which can not only urgently enhance the “deterrence” of Russia, but also consolidate the “nuclear sharing” relationship between Germany and the United States, without affecting Germany’s participation in the research and development of the European “Future Air Combat System” project. In early April, the German government approved the procurement of armed drones from Israel, and the “Arrow-3” anti-missile system procurement plan was also put on the agenda.
  In fact, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has become a catalyst for the EU to strengthen its common security and defense construction. In mid-to-early March, the leaders of the 27 EU countries adopted the Versailles Declaration, determined to strengthen Europe’s defense capabilities, promote energy independence and promote economic growth. In late March, the EU approved the “Strategic Compass for Security and Defence” action plan, which took one and a half years from inception to finalization and draws a blueprint for the EU’s security and defense work in the next five to ten years, including the establishment by 2025. A 5,000-strong rapid response force, strengthening the defense system in new combat areas including space and ocean, etc., are also determined to increase investment in military equipment and high-tech weapon research and development, and strengthen military cooperation with allies and partners.
  After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the cohesion within the EU has increased significantly. Faced with the threat of war, the EU and its member states have made a series of united responses to Russia, including imposing economic and political sanctions, closing its airspace, and blocking Russian media, with an extraordinary speed. However, the sanctions imposed by the EU and its member states against Russia are not as strong as those of the United States, and France and Germany have been trying to ease the situation in Ukraine through diplomatic means, so as to avoid blindly following the United States and completely anger the Putin government, showing the other side of defending the EU’s foreign policy autonomy. Doing so will help strengthen EU member states’ “European identity” and the EU’s “strategic autonomy”.
EU no closer to ‘strategic autonomy’

  However, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also made the EU feel more and more “powerless” to promote “strategic autonomy”.
  First, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has brought structural changes to the European security order, seriously shaking the defense and economic foundations that underpin the EU’s “strategic autonomy”. The EU is rapidly decoupling from Russia in terms of strategy, economy and energy, and mutual sanctions continue to increase, making the economic recovery in Europe, which urgently needs to get rid of the new crown epidemic, even more sluggish.
  Second, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine directly strengthens the political and military alliance between Europe and the United States in the Atlantic Ocean, and enhances the control of the United States over Europe. Clearly, the escalating Ukraine crisis is not a good time to decouple the EU from the US strategy. For the EU, the current military alliance with the United States can better deal with the crisis. However, the stronger the EU’s dependence on the US military and security, the lower the objective ability of its member states to strengthen security and defense autonomy, and the more passive the EU will be when the interests of the US and Europe do not match. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has strengthened NATO’s “sense of presence”. In addition to NATO’s strengthening of troop deployment in eastern Europe, Finland and Sweden, the two Nordic EU countries that have long pursued a non-aligned policy, have basically decided to join NATO, thus further enhancing the US and NATO’s presence in Europe. Dominance in the security landscape undermines the EU’s strategic independence.
  Third, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has exposed the EU’s weakness in diplomacy, military defense and economic control. The diplomatic mediation carried out by Europe before the outbreak of the conflict failed to take effect, and the intensive diplomacy carried out during the crisis failed to ease the situation. This shows that in the context of the game between the United States and Russia, the EU is in a passive position and it is difficult to achieve security self-determination. The sanctions of “killing a thousand enemies and destroying eight hundred” have increasingly caused the EU to suffer a backlash in terms of economic and social development. The deepening energy crisis, rising raw material prices, high inflation, and rising living costs are shaking the EU’s economic and social foundation for achieving “strategic autonomy”.
  Fourth, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict poses a severe institutional challenge to the EU. The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is closely related to the wanton eastward expansion of NATO and the EU, and it has strengthened the willingness of countries in the frontier zone of the geopolitical game between Russia and the West to join NATO and the EU. Georgia originally planned to apply for membership in 2024, but its Prime Minister formally signed the application for membership on March 3 this year ahead of schedule. In addition, the EU also plans to launch two Balkan countries Albania, North Macedonia’s accession negotiations. On the issue of Ukraine’s rapid accession to the EU, most of the Central and Eastern European and Baltic countries express their support and distance themselves from other EU member states. In terms of sanctions against Russia, Hungary opposes cutting off energy cooperation with Russia, and is prepared to pay for Gazprom in rubles at Russia’s request, which will undoubtedly weaken the effectiveness of the EU’s “united front” against Russia. There have always been differences within the EU on common security and defense issues. Most Central and Eastern European and Nordic countries prefer to rely on NATO as a security umbrella, and believe that the promotion of EU defense integration by Germany and France is a means for the two countries to enhance their leadership over the EU. The many differences among member states have led the EU to fall back into an institutional predicament: the more member states, the greater the divergence of values ​​and interests, the more difficult it is to agree on goals, and the greater the resistance to advancing “strategic autonomy”.

On April 25, 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin visited Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Can we start a new game in a changing situation?

  Michel, President of the European Council, once said: Europe should be an “official player” in the world instead of being reduced to an “arena”. Today, the EU has become a “player” forced to be involved in the geopolitical battle, and it still cannot escape the fate of becoming an “arena” in the geopolitical game between the United States and Russia. American historian Timothy Snyder said in an interview with German TV 2 in mid-April that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will determine the future of Europe. The current situation in Russia and Ukraine is complex and full of uncertainties, mainly including the following scenarios: first, Russia wins; second, Ukraine wins; third, it falls into a protracted war; fourth, it is resolved through diplomatic channels; fifth, the war spreads to other European countries; sixth, political changes in Russia.
  If Scenarios 1, 3, and 5 appear, Russia and the EU are likely to solidify a confrontational state, or even break out into a hot war, thereby further strengthening the transatlantic partnership. Block and long. If Scenarios 2, 4, and 6 come true, the urgency of the EU and its member states to rely on the US and NATO for military security will decrease. The EU’s willingness to build “strategic autonomy” continues to grow in order to rebuild and maintain peace on the European continent and to enhance the EU’s action. Although different scenarios will have different impacts on the EU’s “strategic autonomy” process, none of them will shake the EU’s goal of pursuing “strategic autonomy”. In the long run, the EU will vigorously promote defense integration under the leadership of France and Germany.
  Improving the EU’s military and economic capabilities, preventing over-reliance on the US, and actively coordinating differences within the EU are the only way for the EU to achieve “strategic autonomy.” The European common defense has made EU member states grumpy because it involves national sovereignty, but it is obviously not as violent as Russia’s “special military operation” on European national security. As for how to balance the relationship between European defense autonomy and NATO defense, how to convince Eastern European countries that the common European defense can guarantee their security better than NATO, how to rapidly improve the EU’s military defense capabilities and solve the EU’s defense budget shortage, and how to reshape post-war Europe Russia’s relations and the construction of a balanced and sustainable new European security order are destined to be full of thorns on the road to the EU’s “strategic autonomy” in the future.
  Although the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has plunged the EU into a crisis of security, energy, food, and refugees, it is still an opportunity. The EU is taking the opportunity to break through the bottleneck encountered in the construction of its “strategic autonomy” – speeding up the process of militarization, and at the same time attracting countries that are willing to join the EU, further compressing Russia’s security space. Germany is breaking the taboo in the name of maintaining peace in Europe – building up armaments and trying to get rid of its “economic giant, military dwarf” dilemma. French President Emmanuel Macron has been more active in highlighting France’s leadership in the EU through good offices diplomacy. Some countries in Central and Eastern Europe followed the United States in order to resist the “military threat” from Russia and enhance their negotiating position with the EU. If the EU can take the opportunity to weaken Russia’s influence on the European continent, and gradually reduce its security dependence on the United States and NATO to achieve “security self-determination”, “defense independence” and “energy independence”, and promote unity in the face of adversity, it may not be able to change the situation. New innings in the middle.