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Research Report

All or Nothing?: European and British Strategic Autonomy after the Brexit

Sven Biscop
Copyright Date: Sep. 1, 2016
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 25
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 2-3)

    The Member States of the European Union (EU) must continue to deepen their military cooperation. For without cooperation, their defence efforts are just not costeffective enough. Because of fragmentation and duplication, defence expenditure, even as in some countries it is rising, does not yield enough employable capability. Meanwhile the key capability shortfalls remain unaddressed. The public does expect European governments and the EU to deal with the security challenges in and around Europe however. So does the United States (US), whose strategic focus has pivoted to China and the Pacific. Washington has made it clear in words and in deeds...

  2. (pp. 4-6)

    The first question to answer is what exactly operational strategic autonomy means: Which military tasks, in which parts of the world, do Europeans always need to be able to undertake, if necessary even without the US?

    The answer can be found dispersed throughout the EUGS. This dispersion was intentional. Including a separate chapter on defence would in its obviousness have provoked greater reticence on the part of the usual suspects. Instead therefore, the defence implications of every choice were spelt out chapter by chapter. As a result the Member States favouring a strong defence dimension actually ended up becoming quite...

  3. (pp. 7-11)

    Assuring these tasks requires “full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers”, as the EUGS states. What the EUGS does not do, is to quantify these four military tasks and the desired concurrency: How many operations, of which size, should Europeans be able to undertake simultaneously, without relying on non-European assets (as strategic autonomy demands)?

    That is what the “sectoral strategy” on defence, which the EUGS envisages, should now do, or the Strategic Implementation Plan on Security and Defence (SPIS) as the High Representative subsequently re-baptized it in a September meeting of the Political and Security Committee. What...

  4. (pp. 12-14)

    EU-NATO coordination will be of the essence. Simultaneously with the expeditionary tasks outlined in the EUGS, Europeans must ensure collective defence and deterrence under NATO’s Article 5. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, the Alliance is pushing its members to fulfil their capability commitments with renewed vigour. For sure, Europeans must step up their role, for today the credibility of Article 5 relies almost entirely on the fact that the US is a member of NATO, which is hardly a healthy situation.

    Hence NATO initiatives such as the brigade-size Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which will deploy,...

  5. (pp. 15-20)

    Once the new Headline Goal is established, capability development should be accelerated. The EUGS has surprisingly much to say about how to go about this. The overall principle is crystal-clear: “Member States will need to move towards defence cooperation as the norm”. In practice, cooperation will have to be deepened at two levels simultaneously: that of the EU, and that of clusters of Member States.

    At the EU level, the focus should be on strategic enablers, which demand the participation of a large number of Member States to make any project economically viable, in view of the large cost of...

  6. (pp. 21-21)

    If one were to start from scratch, one would never create the European security architecture that exists today, in which grand strategy, defence planning, capability development and operations take place in different constellations and in different organizations, often at the same time. The Brexit will certainly not make it any easier to make this architecture work, as one of the most important military actors voluntarily withdraws from a key part of the architecture. Be that as it may, in the current strategic environment of instability in the neighbourhood and with the US increasingly focusing on Asia, the remaining EU Member...