The War in Ukraine, the Strategic Compass, and the Debate Over EU Strategic Autonomy


By Robert G. Bell


Putin’s February 24th decision to order a brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine significantly influenced the final geopolitical assessments and policy guidelines codified in the EU’s new Strategic Compass.  From its launch two years ago, this important defence and security “white paper” had had to contend with varying perspectives within Europe as to what degree of “strategic autonomy” the EU should seek in terms of its relationship to the United States and, by extension, NATO.  The war in Ukraine has strongly unified NATO and reprioritised its core task of collective defence.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the Strategic Compass approved by the European Council on May 25th emphasizes that the EU’s future efforts on security and defence should complement, but not seek to supplant, NATO’s principal responsibility for the territorial defence of Europe. That said, a rising tide lifts all ships, and several promising flagship initiatives within the EU’s own programme of security and defence enhancements can be expected to benefit from the increased financial resources and heightened “geopolitical awareness” prompted by Russia’s abhorrent aggression.


Strategic Compass In Focus: The Strategic Compass was adopted shortly following Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory; a clear signal reaffirming the need for an EU security doctrine. European defence is stepping out of a theoretical realm into an operational one, raising questions which our contributors attempt to answer. As the post-World War II liberal order is challenged, the repercussions are not limited to Europe but also reach the Indo-Pacific. We publish four policy briefs shedding light on issues of collective self-defence, EU solidarity and the evolving relationship between the EU and NATO.