December 22, 2021No Comments

AUKUS and its Consequences for the EU: Strategic Autonomy and the Future of Transatlantic Relations

By: Eleonora Shehu and Alessandro Spada.

Image Source: https://www.asianews.it/notizie-it/Aukus,-le-paure-delle-isole-del-Pacifico-54123.html

On 15th September 2021, a trilateral security agreement, AUKUS, was announced by the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, as part of a broader US foreign policy effort in the Indo-Pacific. Although not explicitly specified in the text, the agreement seems to be directed as a wider strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Despite AUKUS being a standard security agreement and apparently harmless for the EU, it has caused the biggest diplomatic crisis in transatlantic relations since the Iraq War in 2003, as it came as a surprise package to the European Union and France in particular. As written in the text, AUKUS will contribute to build eight nuclear-powered submarines in Australia and “will focus specifically on deepening integration in defense-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, with particular emphasis on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and new undersea capabilities”. 

This partnership however, unleashed the anger of Emmanuel Macron, who called AUKUS a betrayal vis-à-vis Paris and the EU as a whole, describing it as a “stab in the back” from Australia and a “brutal and unilateral decision” from Washington by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. As a sign of protest against the signing of this agreement, on the 17th September President Macron immediately recalled his ambassadors to the U.S and Australia.

The reasons for France's discontent are numerous. The first one is that Australia unexpectedly scrapped France from a A$90bn (£48bn) submarine contract, signed with the contractor Naval Group in 2016, to purchase 12 conventional attack submarines and to replace its old six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines. Moreover, Paris was not informed by Canberra beforehand and found out about the agreement together with the rest of the world, showing a serious breach of trust between the two countries. Last, but not least, this agreement also had an unfortunate timing: AUKUS was announced to the public the same day the EU published its own strategy for the Indo-Pacific, putting the EU in a disadvantageous position compared to the other Western powers and reviving the discussions on the EU’s strategic autonomy. 

In fact, “strategic autonomy” has been taking increasingly more space in the EU discourse since the almost back-to-back events of Afghanistan first and the creation of AUKUS next. Strategic autonomy for the EU means the ability of the union to achieve its foreign policy objectives cooperating with its allies when possible, but also acting alone when it is necessary. This was made also clear in the 2021 State of the Union annual speech by the European Commission President Von der Leyen, in which she emphasized the importance of the creation of the long-overdue European Defense Union, because, as she argued, “there will be missions where NATO or the UN will not be present, but where the E.U should be” because “Europe knows better than anyone that if you don’t deal in time with the crisis abroad, the crisis comes to you”. 

Even though the submarine contract between France and Australia was a bilateral issue only with no other EU member state being affected, the AUKUS deal resulted in a serious breach of trust with deep consequences not only for France but for the EU in general: this agreement raises, first of all, serious doubts within the EU about Biden’s administration pledge to multilateralism, demonstrating de facto that this administration is still acting unilaterally, continuing to carry on what is becoming an American trait. Secondly, and most importantly, this strategic agreement relegates the EU to a secondary player position with no real say in decisions concerning the Indo-Pacific, highly contradicting what was written in Biden’s administration Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, in which it is clearly stated that in order to deal with an increasingly assertive China, the US pledged to restore and further strengthen its alliances both in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region

With that being said, both the events of Afghanistan and AUKUS have forced EU officials to seriously think about a common European defense strategy, which will come to a head with the definition of a Strategic Compass intended for adoption in March 2022. A newly found strength behind the implementation is likely to come as France will hold the EU’s rotating Presidency for the first half of 2022. France has not only been the most affected by the agreement but it has also been a strong advocate of a European defense strategy especially in the Indo-Pacific, where almost 2 million French citizens live, thus making France the biggest European player in the region

In conclusion, this diplomatic incident entails serious consequences for transatlantic relations: although a European strategic autonomy never entailed a separation from the US, it is also increasingly widespread a feeling in Europe that something is broken in our trans-Atlantic relations", says Thierry Breton, Internal Market Commissioner, who is proposing for a "pause" and a "reset" between the EU and the US.

June 3, 20211 Comment

European Security Challenges I: The footprint of power rebalancing

By Sonia Martínez and Giovanni Rasio.

European Security
"#G7Biarritz" by The White House via CreativeCommons

European Security Challenges

Currently, there exists no popular support to equip the Union with substantial military capabilities to defend itself against common threats. There is no consensus among leaders regarding European Strategic Autonomy, the key aspect of European defence planning. And if this decision is made, European leaders need to craft a common strategy. This query would entail questions such as what the risks are, who would join, or what are the next steps.

Unless the United States abruptly decided to abandon its commitment embodied in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European defence configuration is unlikely to vary. Since the beginning of the Cold War, the United States has always acted as the security guarantor of Europe. In particular, the long-standing American support for the Old Continent's defence and security has pivoted around NATO. As a full-fledged multilateral security alliance, NATO has provided an effective shield against the threats arising in Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood. The Organisation also represented the main framework through which Member States’ forces have engaged in military operations under American guidance. 

Approaches to Security

Nonetheless, as positions concerning defence diverge, propelling European self-defence would put the unity of the block under pressure. Europe should not stand solely on its feet, as transatlantic support has and will prove crucial. However, it must undoubtedly increase its defence autonomy to a great extent. According to Chancellor Merkel, the ‘task of the future’ for Europe is to take destiny into its own hands.

After a rather unipolar age, the EU should use the global power rebalancing scenario to its benefit. New challenges are compelling the US to shift its focus and resources from Europe and the Middle East towards the Indo-Pacific. This rebalancing dynamic, which partially began with the so-called Pivot to Asia during the Obama Administration, culminated with the Indo-Pacific Strategy introduced by President Trump. The attention required by the US posture in the Pacific, combined with Trump’s proneness to threatening European allies to withdrawal the American troops, have somehow pushed Washington and Europe far from each other.

The Union beyond question needs a more autonomous security approach. This is certainly the viewpoint of President Macron, who advocates for ‘European autonomy’ in defence matters, based on the principle of interoperability. This approach evokes a Union capable of delivering both soft and hard power. The German approach is comparatively different. It is based on cooperation, support, and it emphasises the importance of strong transatlantic relations. A coordinated European approach is needed to secure the continent in an unprecedented environment marked by COVID-19 and a complex setting on the East wing. 

Impact of European Security Approaches on Strategy

Given the ever-changing uncertain global outlook, observing strategic moves conducted by other global actors is paramount. After Brexit, the UK pivoting from Europe to a global strategy adds complexity to the EU’s defence strategy. In January 2021, the European Union officially lost an important partner for its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Other than holding one of the most powerful militaries in the world, the United Kingdom, together with France, has historically proved essential in nuclear deterrence and expeditionary capabilities for the European Union.

After leaving the EU, the UK aims to revive a more global dimension of its foreign policy. This would allow London to regain a leading role on the international stage. The Integrated Review 2021 offers a first glimpse of the new ‘Global Britain’, conveying that the UK will be the first European country to tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, thus inevitably shifting its focus away from a continental perspective.

Further crucial points need to be addressed in common security matters of the EU. The EU's internal and external security issues are becoming increasingly intertwined. An updated version of the 2016 EU Global Strategy and the implementation of tailored policies are required to counter potential security threats.

Moving forward

Initiatives such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PeSCo) and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) are turning points for a coordinated approach to security. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) comprises both assets and capabilities of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), dealing among others with crisis management. And yet, this task remains a vital milestone to secure Europe.

This is even more essential concerning the EU's southern and eastern neighbours. In this regard, Karrenbauer highlights the need to pay attention to the four cardinal points. The CFSP, in fact, is a model based on multilateralism that aims to demonstrate that this sort of international order functions. However, European multilateralism will not prove successful without coordination and agility. The unanimity factor implies that if member states do not arrive at a consensus other states might make a move to solely benefit themselves.

Conclusion

Member States should work together concerning security matters in the direction of strategic autonomy. The region should take on its hard power responsibility in an uncertain multipolar environment. There is an inevitable overlap between internal and external security threats. Exchanging information is crucial to achieve an effective defence strategy.

As Kramp-Karrenbauer, German Minister of Defence, wrote, Brexit exhibits the results of a European policy that feeds on sentiment instead of devising ideas for a common European future. Brexit has possibly fissured relations between the UK and the EU, as press biases indicate.

Europe needs to cooperate to bring forward a common defence framework that rises above politics. The way ahead should be a combination of more strategic autonomy and stronger transatlantic relations; while the former will be critical, the latter has proved crucial. The US rebalance of power, the pandemic and Brexit are increasing the temperature of the stove. European leaders should know that a watched pot never boils.

Here is an in-depth analysis of Russia’s motivation in the region.