European Strategic Autonomy and Third Countries: the Defence Industrial Dimension

on 22.01.2021

The European Union’s quest to develop strategic autonomy has already become a source of tension both in transatlantic relations and within Europe itself. Though still not precisely defined, this concept has a clear defence-industrial dimension: the EU aims to foster cooperation between its Member States on developing new defence technologies and thereby limit dependencies on imported weapons systems, which are seen as hampering the EU’s freedom to use military force in scenarios of choice. At the same time, the major defence-industrial partners of the Union consist of several non-EU members of NATO: the U.S., Canada, the UK and Norway. Weapons systems developed by companies from these countries are ubiquitous across the EU and defence-industrial links between these countries are strong and vibrant. Severing these ties could jeopardize the remarkable record of EU-NATO cooperation, which has grown at breakneck speed over the past four years and is perceived as directly reinforcing European security. Such a move could, moreover, prove self-defeating for the EU on interoperability and the bloc’s ability to develop needed technologies on its own.

The EU, consequently, should not aim to take the concept of strategic autonomy to its absolute limit but rather endorse a pragmatic approach within which defence-industrial cooperation with non-EU NATO members would be retained alongside the EU’s own initiatives. The scope of such cooperation will differ, with the U.S. poised to remain focused on bilateral programs with selected EU Member States and the UK perhaps joining some European flagship programs. Canada, meanwhile, would continue to supply vital components to the EU and Norway – due to its unique membership in the European Economic Area – could see itself largely integrated into EU defence initiatives.

This policy paper is a result of the research project “Enhanced European Opportunity Partners in the EU’s Defence and Security Initiatives: Study case of Norway”, which is funded by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

Read the full policy paper below.