Is Europe’s Defence Agenda Changing?

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On February 12th, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a poignant message concerning European defense policy during his address at the groundbreaking ceremony for Rheinmetall’s new munitions factory. With a solemn tone, Scholz articulated a sobering reality: “Europe does not live in times of peace”.[1] Scholz’s address underscored the critical importance of bolstering Europe’s defense capabilities through a substantial increase in armament production. Transitioning from traditional manufacturing to “mass production” of armaments is essential for equipping European nations with the means to effectively deter potential aggressors and safeguard regional stability.

Indeed, as the world becomes increasingly unstable, unpredictable, and multipolarized, European leaders are beginning to awaken to the imperative of taking concerted action to safeguard regional and global security interests. Recent conflicts such as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have served as stark reminders of the volatility and complexity of the contemporary security landscape, highlighting the pressing need for European nations to prioritize bolstering their strategic autonomy.

The unpredictability and shifting dynamics in global politics have forced Europeans to confront the reality that they can no longer rely solely on traditional security alliances, particularly with the United States. With the upcoming U.S. elections, the looming specter of Trump’s potential return to office raises concerns among European leaders about the continuity of U.S. foreign policy and the potential for an inward-looking focus that prioritizes domestic issues over international commitments. Trump’s rhetoric, such as his infamous statement suggesting that he would encourage Russia to act as it pleased against NATO countries failing to meet defense spending targets,[2] has served as a wake-up call for the EU, highlighting the urgent need for Europe to become more independent in the defense realm and forge greater unity in addressing security challenges.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz responded to Trump’s remarks without directly naming him, emphasizing the importance of upholding NATO’s mutual defense obligations. Standing alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Scholz asserted that any attempt to undermine NATO’s guarantee of mutual assistance is irresponsible and dangerous. He stressed the alliance’s commitment to collective security, stating, “The promise of protection applies unreservedly — all for one, one for all”.[3]

The uncertainty surrounding U.S. aid to Ukraine, exacerbated by threats of cuts from Trump, poses an uncertainty about Europe’s future stability in terms of security. Despite the Senate’s passage of a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine,[4] the approval by the House is in doubt, further emphasizing the volatility and unpredictability of external support.

What is now becoming clear for leaders in the continent is that European security cannot rely entirely on foreign powers. As addressed by European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, there is an imperative for the European Union to enhance its defense capabilities and readiness to address threats independently, particularly in the absence of consistent support from the United States.[5] Discussions surrounding Europe’s strategic autonomy must transition from theoretical debates to practical actions, ensuring the region’s ability to navigate potential challenges independently.

For years, the prevailing approach among European nations has been one of outsourcing security to the United States, coupled with a tendency to defer strategic thinking to external actors rather than formulating independent assessments and objectives. This reliance on external powers has been so entrenched that the very concept of “strategic autonomy” is met with skepticism and resistance, with some viewing it as a move towards dependency rather than true independence, as many European nations have adopted the interests of their allies without independently defining their own strategic priorities and goals.

Nonetheless, as EU strives to bolster its security independence and foster closer cooperation among member states, it faces a host of practical challenges that demand pragmatic solutions. A key obstacle lies in the EU’s decision-making process, which typically requires unanimous agreement among member states for significant security-related decisions. While this approach reflects the EU’s commitment to consensus-building, it can hinder swift and decisive action, particularly in response to rapidly evolving security threats. The dynamic nature of contemporary security challenges necessitates agile decision-making processes.

Moreover, internally, the European Union faces significant divisions that hinder the establishment of a cohesive security strategy. Hungary, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, stands out as a notable example. Orban’s administration has consistently pursued policies that diverge from the consensus within the EU, particularly in its approach to relations with Russia. This pro-Russian stance adopted by Budapest has created fractures within the union, complicating efforts to establish a unified security policy.

Additionally, the presence of significant conservative governments within the European Union contributes to the complexity of internal dynamics. These governments tend to prioritize national sovereignty and are often skeptical about the centralization of power in Brussels. They advocate for policies that emphasize national interests over EU-wide initiatives, leading to further tensions within the Union regarding decision-making processes and agenda directions.

Despite these significant challenges, there is a growing recognition that Europe must assert itself and take control of its security destiny. It seems that Europe is finally waking up to the need for independent action and strategic autonomy. This entails the ability to independently assess threats, define strategic objectives, and make autonomous decisions on how to address them. Moving forward, European nations must embrace a more proactive and assertive approach to security, one that is grounded in independent strategic thinking and a clear understanding of Europe’s unique security challenges.

[1] “Germany’s Scholz Calls for Urgent ‘Mass Production’ Of European Arms”, France 24,, (Accessed: 15.02.2024).

[2] “Trump Says He Would Encourage Russia to ‘Do Whatever the Hell They Want’ To Any NATO Country That Doesn’t Pay Enough”, CNN,, (Accessed: 15.02.2024).

[3] “Germany’s Scholz Fires Back at Trump”, Politico,, (Accessed: 15.02.2024).

[4] “US Senate Passes Aid Bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan but Prospects Uncertain in House”, France 24,, (Accessed: 15.02.2024).

[5] “Europe Must Spend More on Defense, Metsola Says”, Politico,, (Accessed: 15.02.2024).

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