Security and Defence

Policy briefs

Open strategic autonomy in European defence

09 Dec 2022 - 15:30
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what countries must do

Russia’s war in Ukraine has resulted in wide support for strengthening European defence capabilities. At the same time, the debate on whether to rely on NATO or to seek European strategic autonomy in the area of security and defence has withered away. There is wide recognition in Europe that both the EU and NATO are key actors in response to Russia’s armed aggression and violation of international law, agreements and norms. While the Alliance is strengthening its deterrence and defence posture, the role of the EU in security and defence is growing. Better European capabilities will allow the EU to act on its own when needed – more in particular in areas and countries outside the Union – and simultaneously support NATO to defend its territory.

Nevertheless, the question has to be asked how European defence capabilities can best be strengthened. In recent years, the European Commission has taken various initiatives to promote cross-border defence cooperation. These efforts have been further expanded after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The steps taken by Berlaymont are bold and most welcome, but the member states are in the driving seat: they continue to deliver the military forces that are needed to secure Europe’s interests. Defence policy and planning provides the basis for allocating money to investment programmes and the acquisition of military equipment. The procurement of military equipment is still primarily conducted on a national basis instead of collaboratively with European partner countries.

This Policy Brief assesses the scope for a closer coordination and synchronisation of the defence policies, planning and investment of the European countries in order to contribute to open strategic autonomy. First, the author provides an overview of the recent EU initiatives and how these relate to the efforts of the member states. Next, the question of what the member states should do to increase cross-border defence cooperation in terms of decision-making, budget cycles and defence planning will be addressed. The subsequent section assesses how the hurdles to moving from national to multinational defence planning and investment can best be overcome. The final section points to the way forward, including suggestions on the specific role that the Netherlands can play in enhancing European collaboration in defence programmes.

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