The latest development that once again reminded the Europeans of the importance of more strategic autonomy was the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. European countries had no option but to pull out of Afghanistan along with the US despite their desire to keep their troops in Afghanistan in order not to let the country fall into the Taliban’s hands. Washington’s NATO allies depended on US logistics and aerial support for their military engagement in Afghanistan and then for the safe evacuation of their citizens.
Conscious “European Sovereignty” was seriously proposed by France’s President Macron for military, economic, and technological independence of Europe from the US in the late 2010s. Following his proposal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said (10 May 2018), “Europe can no longer rely on the United States to protect it,” urging the bloc to take its destiny in its own hands.
Due to series of US unilateral actions in recent years including Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) despite EU opposition, the idea of “strategic autonomy” is back in the spotlight of Europe. EU’s inability to protect its interests after US withdrawal implicitly showed the EU weaknesses and dependence on the US in the fields of foreign policy, economy, banking, and financial systems.
The possibility of the US and China trade and economic compromises in the future without considering Europe’s interests is also among concerns that forces European politicians to adopt more independent measures to secure their own interests.
During Trump presidency, opponents of the “strategic autonomy” and backers of relations between two sides of the Atlantic blamed Trump’s personality for the US measures that harmed Europe’s interests, but recent Democratic President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan despite the US allies’ will once again implicitly showed that the US priorities and interests are different from Europe’s.
Following US withdrawal from Afghanistan, many EU officials have renewed calls for an EU military force.
EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell told journalists as the bloc’s foreign and defense ministers gathered for a meeting in Slovenia on Thursday, “The need for more European defense has never been as much evident as today after the events in Afghanistan,” stressing that the EU needs to create a “rapid response force” of 5,000 soldiers.
EU military committee chairman Claudio Graziano agreed, telling reporters that “now is the time to act” by creating “a rapid reaction force” with a genuine “will to act”.
A more surprising declaration came from German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who proposed in a tweet later on Thursday that “coalitions of the willing could act after a joint decision of all” EU members.
Referring to developments in Afghanistan, European Council President Charles Michel also said Wednesday, “As a global economic and democratic power, can Europe be content with a situation where we are unable to ensure, unassisted, the evacuation of our citizens and those under threat because they have helped us. In my view, we do not need another such geopolitical event to grasp that the EU must strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world.”