Enhancing strategic autonomy serves the interests of Europe

By Zhang Jian

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has broken the peace of Europe, which is a pernicious consequence of the containment strategy implemented by the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) toward Russia over the past decades.

As a product of the Cold War, NATO should have been dissolved when the Cold War ended. However, in order to maintain its global hegemony, the U.S. has stuck to the Cold War mentality, willfully pursued group politics, and continued to use NATO as a strategic tool for controlling Europe and containing Russia.

Europe, caught in the vortex of bloc confrontation, has become one of the main victims of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine will exert a serious impact on the European economy. In 2008, the U.S.-originated global financial crisis severely impacted Europe, plunging many European countries, especially countries in Southern Europe, not austerity due to soaring fiscal deficit and debt.

Fourteen years later, the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) against Russia and Russia’s counter-sanctions following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have again made a massive impact on the European economy.

Prices have already skyrocketed in many countries in Europe. EU’s policies on decoupling from Russia have increased its reliance on more expensive liquefied natural gas from the U.S., significantly elevated production costs of European companies, and weakened the long-term competitiveness of European industry, which will disrupt Europe’s energy transition and climate policies and once again raise the levels of fiscal deficit and debt in Europe.

The combined impacts of the Ukraine crisis and other structural factors have rendered the long-term economic prognosis for Europe rather bleak. The gaps between Europe and the U.S. in terms of both economic growth rate and size are believed to become wider.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict will escalate Europe’s political and social division. Over the past more than 10 years, Europe has been plagued by increasingly prominent social and political division and polarization besides economic slowdown, which is largely a consequence of unsatisfactory economic conditions and declining living standards.

Europe has lost 10 years to the global financial crisis. Socially and politically, the continent’s countries would suffer irreparable harm if the Russia-Ukraine conflict were to drag on for another decade.

Continuation and escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict will pose serious risks to the security of Europe. The U.S. and NATO are currently escalating confrontation with Russia. As they significantly increase military spending, the possibility of a new Iron Curtain in Europe goes straight up.

Many European countries are close neighbors of Russia. Hostility, antagonism, and confrontation between them and Russia can easily spiral up and worsen, which is detrimental to Europe’s security. This can hinder Europe’s development and cause accidents and misjudgment that lead to new conflict or even war.

The strategic goal of the U.S. is to maintain its global hegemony. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has severely damaged Europe’s economic and security interests but served the strategic intentions of the U.S.

If Europe stops getting its energy from Russia, U.S. energy, which was not competitive before, will be able to quickly take over European markets.

Besides, a large portion of the substantial increase in military expenditure in European countries will flow into the U.S. and help improve the capabilities of U.S. military enterprises to develop and produce new equipment and weapons, which eventually increases Europe’s military dependence on the U.S.

With tensions between Europe and Russia mounting, the U.S. can not only use a security guarantee as a pretext for further tightening control over Europe but realize the goal of containing Russia throughout Europe.

Affected to different degrees by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe have clearly different strategic intentions in responding to the conflict. In the long run, Europe needs to handle its relations with Russia on the basis of its own interests, carry out a more active and productive dialogue with Russia and build a new security framework that can truly help realize lasting peace and stability in Europe. Such a new security framework will also enhance Europe’s strategic autonomy to a great extent.

Europe has tried to pursue strategic autonomy for a long time, but the endeavor has been openly or secretly obstructed and opposed by the U.S.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not only brought the fact of Europe’s lack of strategic autonomy under the spotlight but further demonstrated the necessity for it to enhance strategic autonomy.

Facts have shown that hegemonism, power politics, and bloc confrontation pursued by the U.S. will only undermine Europe’s interests, and only a stable UN-centered international system that sticks to multilateralism can serve its interests.

In recent years, many farsighted personages in Europe have become keenly aware that the U.S. is not a reliable ally of Europe. While the extremely selfish “America First” policy advocated by the previous U.S. administration strained the relations between the U.S. and Europe, the current U.S. administration has only changed the wording, rather than the “America First” essence of the country’s foreign policy.

Many of Washington’s actions, including insistence on the restrictive “Buy American” provisions over the past years, the hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and the establishment of the so-called trilateral security partnership with Britain and Australia, have made Europe more alert to the “America First” policy.

Zhang Jian is Assistant President of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) and Director of the CICIR Institute of European Studies.

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