Shockwaves: How does the War in Ukraine Impact the EU’s Grand Strategy?

No. 5 / 2023 – CSDS In-Depth Paper

Giovanni Grevi


Grand strategies define what an international actor stands for, what it wants to achieve and how. They encompass a coherent set of ideas, narratives, flagship plans and policy initiatives. Can a complex and collective political actor like the European Union (EU) craft a grand strategy? This In-Depth Paper contends that it can, it should and, to some extent, it has. However, it now needs to scale it up to match a new strategic landscape. Before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the EU devised elements of a strategic approach for Europe to stand its ground in a more competitive and contested world. The outbreak of the war has put the EU’s fledgling grand strategy under a severe stress test.

This In-Depth Paper illustrates the implications of the conflict for EU grand strategy in terms of shifting priorities, new challenges, emerging debates and critical questions that need addressing. The EU has reacted swiftly and firmly to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. However, the important steps taken so far do not yet add up to a deeper, joint assessment of how the war’s repercussions affect the purpose, priorities and cohesion of the Union. This In-Depth Paper argues that EU institutions and member states need to match their grand strategy to the scale of the challenges they face, or risk losing agency on the global stage. At this stage, the EU need not draft a grand strategy, but, at the same time, it cannot afford not to think in terms of grand strategy, and act accordingly.