Wednesday, September 22, 2021

European leaders consider strategic autonomy but doubts remain

Four years ago, French President Emmanuel Faron in the new constituency called on Europe to establish “autonomous action capabilities” in security issues, so that the mainland can rely on the United States to decide actions without our support.

Most European leaders laughed at Macron’s ideas as far-fetched. “The illusion of European strategic autonomy must end,” said German Defense Minister Annegrett Kramp-Karenbauer, the most recent being last year.

But after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan led by the United States, her position changed. It is time for “the EU to become a strategic player that cannot be ignored”, she announced in a commentary by the Atlantic Council of New York think tank last week.

She is not alone in rethinking the future of transatlantic security arrangements.

European opinion pages are filled with columns of politicians and security advisers, advocating that the European continent is more independent militarily and less dependent on Washington. European leaders have consistently condemned President Joe Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and complained that Washington did not fully negotiate with NATO allies.

Document-Belgian soldiers training in the Grafenwoehr training area as part of the EU 2014-02 battle group, February 21, 2014. (U.S. Army photo)

Armin Laschet, a competitor who succeeded Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany, said last month: “We are standing before an epoch-making change.”

Even traditional pro-American British politicians, such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and key partners of the United States in its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, question the reliability of the United States as a defense partner.

On Monday, he said Britain should strengthen its defense partnership with Europe in response to threats. In his speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that led to the US-led invasion on September 11, he said that in the United States, “there are overwhelming political restrictions on military intervention”, which poses a severe challenge to the United Kingdom and NATO. Afghanistan.

Strategic autonomy

However, Europe has little agreement on what strategic autonomy should mean and how it should deal with it. The 27 member states of the European Union have repeatedly clashed over their foreign policies, from their relations with Russia to whether China is an adversary or a competitor.

The leaders of China and Europe are particularly nervous about relaxing any defense relations with Washington, and still do not believe that they can rely on Western Europe in their confrontation with Russia.

Skeptics question whether Europe is really ready to spend money to become a serious independent strategic player, especially as they fight the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

NATO calls on Russia to be transparent in military exercises

According to statistics from the allied magazine NATO Review, Russia deployed 60,000 to 70,000 soldiers in Zapad-2017, but only announced 12,700 personnel

On average, EU countries’ defense spending accounts for about 1.2% of their GDP. Russia spends 4.3%, while the United States spends 3.4%.

But in a recent debate in the House of Commons, Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, said that the lesson he learned from the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is that he needs help to revive Britain’s European NATO partners and “make Make sure that we don’t depend on an ally, on a leader’s decision, but we can work together.”

Need to change?

Lawrence Friedman, an influential professor emeritus of war studies at King’s College London, suspects that the surge in discussions of European strategic autonomy is a subconscious reaction to what Amin Rashet described as the “largest NATO collapse” since the founding of NATO. alliance.

“Drawing big geopolitical conclusions from specific events is always tempting but usually unwise, no matter how dramatic and painful,” he noted in a comment London Times this week.

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He said that the core strategic alliance of the United States in Europe and even Asia has experienced many setbacks and disputes in the past.

“These alliances have been established for decades and have always existed. They have survived past disagreements and are unlikely to be put aside because the Biden administration mishandled the eventual withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan,” he added. “A post-mortem analysis of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is likely to conclude that there is no need to make any fundamental policy changes,” he added.

European interventions with little or no US military support have not gone well. In July, Macron announced that France’s anti-jihadist intervention in the turbulent Sahel region will end next year, involving more than 5,000 soldiers and initiated by his predecessor.

For many years, the French leader has tried to persuade the European allies to help shoulder more of the burden of the Sahelian fight against terrorism, but to no avail. Britain, Denmark, and Sweden provided helicopter capabilities for air mobility, but apart from some symbolic deployments, other European countries hardly appeared.

Macron almost responded to Biden’s reasons for withdrawing from Afghanistan: “We cannot ensure the safety of certain areas because some countries simply refuse to perform their duties. Otherwise, this is an endless task.” He added that France The “long-term existence” of the military “cannot replace” the nation-state that handles its own affairs.

Some diplomats said that as the impact of the withdrawal fades, the current surge in discussions on strategic autonomy will decrease. They suggest that most criticism should be seen as an alternative activity, a way of responding to the impulse to confrontation. “They feel sad about leaving [Afghanistan] But they also breathed a sigh of relief for getting rid of an eternal war they knew was impossible to win,” a European envoy based in Brussels advised VOA. He asked not to be named for this story.

Other diplomats believe that the transatlantic security ties will remain tight, but they admit that it is a disorderly withdrawal that will take some time to recover.

It will take a long time for the entire West-because this is a failure of the West, a disaster for the West, not just Britain and the United States-to recover from all this and restore our reputation,” said Kim, former British ambassador to the United States and the European Union. Darok told the BBC last month.

However, Josep Borrell, the head of EU foreign policy, said that the withdrawal provides “an opportunity for us to discuss the EU as a geopolitical participant,” he said. “But it requires unity, whether it’s big or small,” he told reporters in Brussels this week.

Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash agrees. In an interview on Tuesday, he told Euronews Broadcasting Corporation: “President Joe Biden has given reasons for what all Europeans are talking about, namely, strategic autonomy and European sovereignty.”

However, Ash, who advocates European strategic autonomy, lamented that European powers missed the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. “There are 2,500 American troops stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan. France and Britain alone have 10,000 soldiers and a rapid reaction force. Why didn’t we have a European dialogue on what we can do?”

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European leaders consider strategic autonomy but doubts remain
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