Why they say that "It would be unlikely that the EU would have developed sufficient “strategic autonomy” to distance itself from a US strategy"?

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    Is it possible to quote a bit larger part of the work that contains the phrase and also maybe to summarize it? What is it about? That is all valuable context. Commented May 11 at 13:28
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    Is this strictly about military strategy or is it also economic? It's worth noting that the EU tried mingling economically with Russia and failed. And EU and US are far too interconnected in both cultures and economy to not also cooperate in military, and the US has been setting the tone with all 3. So this question needs clarification.
    – user42328
    Commented May 11 at 22:44
  • Is there any particular reason you rolled back my edit? Your current version is grammatically incorrect, as well as being unclear about who "they" are.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented May 13 at 15:27

3 Answers 3


The quote is in the context of handling the Russian threat.

Many but not all EU member states are NATO member states. The EU has taken modest steps towards a joint military and security policy, but this is not designed to fully duplicate NATO (which would be wasteful) or to replace NATO (which would be dangerous for stability). The EU can coordinate stabilization missions, it cannot fight a major war.

Within NATO, the United States are clearly the leading military power. There is a convention that the NATO Secretary General is always non-American, but only because SACEUR is always an US general. There are two nuclear powers among the European NATO members, France within the EU and the UK outside since Brexit.

Without the NATO framework, the EU members would be an uncoordinated collection of regional and smaller powers.

  • How / why would "replacing NATO" be "dangerous for stability"? (Assuming we are talking about replacing NATO with an EU army).
    – sfxedit
    Commented May 11 at 16:15
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    @sfxedit, there would be a three-way arms race/deterrence situation in the North Atlantic area, instead of a two-way race.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 11 at 16:41
TLDR: Europe-without-USA is lacking much of the "secret sauce" that enables effective modern combined arms warfare.

Straying away from focusing on the current crisis of the day in Ukraine...

Yes, on paper, if you tally up the numbers of tanks and aircraft and men, NATO/Europe isn't too obviously deficient in numbers and it seems Europe ought to be able to go alone. Especially as they train, and operate, well together.

So, why is that less true in practice?

Leadership and will.

Militarily European states would likely have no huge problems coordinating and fighting a war to say defend the Baltics against Russia. They might struggle to win it, and politically they might even choose (unlikely) to chicken out, but they wouldn't struggle to come to a decision and act on it.

With something less directly menacing, say the need for a major expeditionary force in Iran? (never mind the reason) You probably need the US to take the lead and push through the idea, politically. On their own, France, Germany and the UK would bicker for months with it.

Numbers and projection capability

While the aggregate numbers aren't half bad, the actual capacity to project force outside of Europe is rather low. Europe (not NATO, but remember NATO is largely European forces except for the US) would struggle to field more than few brigades on very short notice and a few divisions on longer notice.

Likewise, those big aggregate numbers "hide" the fact that the forces are fragmented. It is more difficult to spare and coordinate 100 tanks from 200 tanks in 10 countries, than it is to spare and coordinate 100 tanks from 200 in one country.

Lacking enablers

The key problem however isn't in the above. It is back to actual military equipment and the lack of specialized gear and capabilities.

Though Europe fields a lot of obvious, kinetic, ingredients for modern warfare (jets! tanks! men!), it sorely lacks stuff that is less obvious but no less necessary to fight a modern war. I'll rattle some off from memory, but then just quote a recent study (esp. as the "enablers issue" has been known about for decades and Europe has tried to close the capacity gap for a while, with differing levels of success).

  • heavy airlift capacity. Europe often has to "borrow" US assets to move stuff around.

  • sealift capacity.

  • air tankers to refuel aircraft

  • satellite intelligence

  • air defence suppression assets like the F16 Wild Weasels. Clearing enemy zones of SAM defences is critical to achieving any kind of operational freedom over a battlefield, as Russia has been figuring out.

  • AWACS and air controller capacity (the JSTAR, IIRC, does AWACS-style guidance for ground combat).

  • credible heavyweight aircraft carriers (the French De Gaulle ain't too bad, but there is only one and it is often under maintenance. And the two Brits don't have any capability to launch regular aircraft, only VTOL like the F35 and helicopters, which creates a range and endurance issue).

  • ...

It's a long list, and while some of it has been somewhat alleviated, it is clear that Europe would not fight nearly as effectively as it raw numbers would seem to imply.

(April 17, 2023) CSIS - Europe’s Missing Piece: The Case for Air Domain Enablers

(this looks just at the air components aspects of the issue)

As European countries increase their defense spending after Russia’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine, much attention has been paid to big-ticket military systems such as F-35s, tanks, and air and missile defense systems. This brief ventures off the beaten path to examine an under-explored but no less essential cross section of European military hardware: critical enabling capabilities in the air domain. These include strategic and tactical airlift; airborne tactical command and control (C2) and operational C2; air-to-air refueling; airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); and electromagnetic warfare and suppression of enemy air defenses. These capabilities allow next-generation fighters like F-35s to operate effectively. At the moment, however, European air enabling capabilities are lacking.

Now, to pick just some isolated quotes (because it is a long list).

Nine years later, in 2011, NATO was again called to conduct an air campaign, this time in Libya. But the promises of 2002 had not been fulfilled: again, it was revealed that European allies could not act without the United States providing key air enabling capabilities. After another 10 years, in August 2021, Europe’s limitations were exposed yet again, as European countries relied on the United States to evacuate their citizens from Afghanistan.[4]

In spite of appearances, however, Europe has made some progress over the past decade in closing this gap. Air enablers have become an area of tangible European defense cooperation, with NATO, the European Union, and their member states all working together. Nevertheless, European NATO allies and partners still do not possess sufficient air enabling capabilities for the security environment they face. Russia’s experience in Ukraine demonstrates that it is not only a country’s modern and sophisticated aerial capabilities that win fights, but the enablers that allow them to get to there, tell them where to go when they arrive, and minimize their exposure to enemy fire. Reports that, for example, Russia has held back from using its most sophisticated airborne systems because of their justifiable fear of Ukrainian air defense capabilities show that even with advanced fighter aircraft the inability to support those aircraft in the air can lead to mission failure.[5]


Aerial Refueling: Relevant aircraft here include the A330 MRTT and A400M, as well as the A310 MRTT (a multirole aircraft for tactical lift), the KC-767, variants of the KC-130, and France’s specially modified C-135FR Stratotankers. Altogether, Europe has 156 such aircraft. The A330 MRTT and A400M aircraft have been counted twice, both in this category and under strategic lift.[33] Without counting those multirole aircraft, there are only 27 dedicated refueling aircraft. Image


Electromagnetic Warfare (EW) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD): European air forces conduct EW primarily via the use of radar jammers and anti-radiation missiles. These are used for SEAD tasks as well, so they will be considered together. European capabilities are severely lacking here.[37] Only two countries field some variant of the AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM): Germany and Italy.[38] Both plan to retire their Tornado aircraft that are capable of shooting the HARM as early as 2025.[39] The United Kingdom retired its anti-radiation missile-capable Tornados in 2019.[40]


Despite these forthcoming capabilities, nearly every area mentioned here represents a capability gap. As Figure 1 shows, Europe lags well behind the United States in several areas. The differences in terms of airborne C2 (roughly 35 relevant European platforms compared to over 120 U.S. aircraft) and air-to-air refueling (about 150 to almost 450) are particularly stark. The disparity in aerial ISR assets is also notable: Europe has a few dozen relevant aircraft to 150 for the United States, and roughly 200 UAVs to over 900 for the United States.

Now, some may think that this is too finicky and too glum. But if anything, the war in Ukraine has shown how much Russia, which also downplayed some of these assets in favor of manly tip-of-the-spear gear is suffering from that lack.

  • they don't have a good air defense suppression story, so their tactical air force has mostly been kept out, unless it accepts high losses in specific battles

  • they have fewer (and probably less capable) AWACS, got a number of them shot down and now are probably feeling pressure.


But at least Russia can identify those shortcomings and work on them, in a unitary, if corrupt and inefficient fashion. But Europe will struggle to combine its efforts on those low-volume, low-prestige, high-need items. Buying 3 AWACs here (of one model) and 3 AWACs here (of another model) and then repeating that in 5 more countries, 2 of which want to get into the AWACS-building business, is not the same as buying 20 AWACS (which Russia can do if it chooses to). And then you need to repeat that with the next asset class.

Europe has never quite managed to centralize purchasing and manufacturing in the past, but not doing so is, if anything, (that's my guess) more problematic with low-volume, not-obvious, specialized gear than it is with higher volume stuff like tanks and jets.

Ammo stocks and lack of ramp up capability

No one's come out looking too clever from Ukraine (Ukrainians aside). NATO's long forgotten how ammo-depleting a prolonged high-intensity war is. I am not sure what US stockpiles are like, but the general consensus seems to be that UK/French stocks would be gone in a matter of weeks, if used at Ukrainian rates. Guess drip-bombing insurgents hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan obscured that fact.

A good deal of European big-ticket weapon systems are relatively recent, but part of low-volume, now-stopped production runs. They will not be getting replaced in a timely fashion if lost in combat.

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    A lot of truth in this. From the point of view of a Finnish taxpayer, it is easier to sell to me that we need to buy x fighter jets, y tanks and whatnot. But, trying to convince me that we absolutely need 1/4 of an AWAC is a taller order! The EU, for its shortcomings, might be a better level for the purposes of collecting/pooling funds required to fill such needs, but that would, indeed, create too much structure that is better kept under NATO. Commented May 11 at 21:32
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    (cont'd) The budgetary decisions within European NATO are made by the individual governments. Similar problems would arise in the US, if, say, people of Colorado would get to vote how many AWACs they need. California would still muster a sizable navy, but anyway. Commented May 11 at 21:33
  • It's more difficult to sell me a rusty tank than a new TV. Since TV is made in China, which is more powerful and more economic. And Russian tanks are better stay in Russia. But then why wage the war in Ukraine, if Russian tanks stay in their garage?
    – troyan
    Commented May 13 at 6:32
  • Given how much pressure is put on Russians who do stay in Russia, to disrupt about everything they could possibly do for a living
    – troyan
    Commented May 13 at 7:19

While EU and USA policies towards Russia are somewhat coordinated, this is not necessary because the USA has some big influence over the EU, or the EU has some big influence over the USA. As your linked source says

There are sufficient overlapping areas of interest, though, to allow for a coherent transatlantic policy to emerge

So, the policy has emerged. There are four widely accepted assumptions about Russia that both EU and USA are absolutely not happy with, and this keeps the actions largely in sync:

  • Russia's grand strategy is still driven by ideology, not economic interest.
  • Russia seeks to reconstruct the former Soviet Empire in roughly the same borders.
  • Russia seeks to restore some bygone world order, maybe something around the post-WWII "Yalta system".
  • V. Putin is a strategist, not an opportunist. He knows what he is doing and so far is successful with the plan.

These four assumptions are called "myths" in the linked source. However, I find many facts supporting them, and I do not see many arguments in the linked source to support the claims these four assumptions are not grounded.

  • This question about Grand strategy or high strategy is a state's strategy of how means (military and nonmilitary) can be used to advance and achieve national interests in the long-term. It is unlikely that EU countries have the same national interests as the US or there would be no need for distinction between their strategies. If the strategy in question treats both Russia and China as competitors, who need to be slowed down, why the EU don't see itself as a competitor to the US who needs to be slowed down as well? For EU adapting US strategy would be suicidal to their economy and culture
    – troyan
    Commented May 13 at 5:18
  • Especially given that US grand strategy is known to be global leadership/domination, it is unlikely that it is in the EU interests to be dominated by foreign force, no natter how big it is
    – troyan
    Commented May 13 at 5:48
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    It is in the interests of EU to have Russia friendly, democratic and economically successful, then it would be not a threat. USA may potentially have other preferences so the positions could finally diverge, like it was at the times when the Nord Streams were being built, USA was against in 2019 dw.com/en/whats-behind-americas-nord-stream-objections/…. But current situation is such that actions appear as being in sync.
    – Stančikas
    Commented May 13 at 7:24

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