One dimension of strategic autonomy has been firmly decided upon since the EU created its Common Security and Defence Policy in 1999: the projection of military force outside the borders of the EU. That is also the dimension that must, and can, be acted upon in the very short term.
Autonomy is a mindset. An actor that does not think autonomously will never act autonomously, regardless of its capabilities. Five components of that mindset are essential. First, member states must see the EU is a great power, in the same league as the US, Russia, and China. Second, the EU must take the lead in stabilising its own periphery – nobody will do that for it. Third, the only meaningful level of ambition remains the Headline Goal of up to 60,000 troops.
Fourth, autonomy can only be achieved in aEuropean grouping, not by any member state alone. Finally, autonomy requires integration of national forces, not just interoperability between them. While the weak argue amongst themselves – Do we have strategic autonomy? Do we want strategic autonomy? – the strong exercise their autonomy. There is no time to waste, therefore.
Those member states that share this mindset can create a set of permanent multinational formations, with national brigades, ships, and air squadrons as building-blocks. They can do that now, so that when the EU adopts its Strategic Compass in March 2022, it can unveil a real capability initiative at the same time.
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