Europe Needs the US, Says German Defense Minister, Rejecting Macron’s 'Strategic Autonomy' Call

By James Carstensen | November 18, 2020 | 4:57pm EST
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer inspects army recruits in Berlin. (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer inspects army recruits in Berlin. (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin ( – Germany’s Defense Minister has criticized a call by French President Emmanuel Macron for European strategic autonomy, saying that Europe needs America and throwing her support behind Germany increasing its defense spending in line with NATO commitments.

In a keynote speech on security policy on Tuesday, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said it was an “illusion” to think Europe could go it alone on security, without the U.S. and NATO.

“The idea of Europe’s strategic autonomy goes too far if it fosters the illusion that we can guarantee security, stability and prosperity in Europe without NATO and without the U.S.,” she said.

“Without America’s nuclear and conventional capabilities, Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves. Those are the plain facts.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer succeeded Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2018 as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), and was viewed as a strong contender as future chancellor, but early this year ruled herself out of running for the post in 2021 federal elections.

While agreeing with Macron that Europe should build its capacity to take action independently in cases where “interests between the U.S. and Europe differ,” Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that that was “completely different” from replacing America completely.

“We want Europe to be a strong partner for the United States, on an equal footing, and not a protégé in need of help,” she said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested three areas where Germany could contribute to that end – providing a clear commitment to participate in NATO’s nuclear deterrence, forming a common strategy with the U.S. towards China, and increasing defense spending in line with NATO commitments. (Germany has yet to reach the NATO-agreed target of devoting two percent of its national gross domestic product on defense.)

Europe relies almost completely on the U.S. for defense against ballistic missiles, and the Americans also supply the majority of deterrent nuclear weapons. As a non nuclear-weapons state and one struggling with aging military equipment, Germany relies heavily on the protection of the U.S.

Macron has long championed the idea of “strategic autonomy,” or “E.U. sovereignty,” arguing the bloc should operate independently on the world stage, in both defense and industry.

“We Europeans are continuing to build our own autonomy, just as the U.S. and China are doing for themselves,” Macron said in an interview with a journal published by a French think tank.

His comments came ahead of a closed-door meeting Monday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, focused on security issues in the Middle East.

Macron said that a projected Biden administration could provide an opportunity for a closer transatlantic relationship, but stressed differences remain.

“We are not the United States of America,” he said. "We have an attachment to social democracy, to more equality, our reactions are not the same.”

Asked about the differences between the views voiced by Macron and Kramp-Karrenbauer, German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert did not say whether Merkel sides with her defense minister or Macron, but did say that Germany does “share with France the desire to be even more capable of acting independently as Europeans.”

“Europe must assume even more responsibility for our own security, for our own neighborhood,” Seibert said, but added that Germany and Europe “must tackle the major challenges of our time together with the U.S. if we want to meet them effectively.”

The E.U. has not formally commented on the issue, although a recent report identifies “achieving strategic autonomy” as one of its key objectives.

Stefan Lehne, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said in an op-ed that while a Biden administration would likely view an alliance with the E.U. as a major asset, it may also increase pressure on the E.U. to align with Washington in areas such as trade, and foreign and security policy.

Such alignment would not come easy, particularly with regard to China, he argued, noting that it was the E.U.’s second most important economic partner (after the U.S.)

“E.U. member states maintain diverse economic ties with China and therefore find it difficult to agree on a common approach to China’s rise. Additional U.S. pressure could deepen these divisions further.”

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