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Hedging by Default: The Limits of EU "Strategic Autonomy" in a Binary World Order

For some time, international relations has trended in the direction of an American and Chinese dominated binary world order. While the Trump administration has been an accelerator not a cause of this trend between 2016 and 2020, not coincidentally the post 2016 era has also seen key EU figures move to develop a strategy of greater "strategic autonomy". This interest in strategic autonomy was, in no small part, a reflection of growing European distrust in the reliability of both China and, increasingly, the USA. The paper shows, in contrast to the Cold War era during which the EU was unambiguously aligned, how the EU now appears to have embarked on a hedging strategy, albeit implemented more by default than design. In its desire to defend its core interests the EU appears to lean to one side or the other on an issue by issue basis in at least seven key policy domains identified in the paper. This approach is seen to be the outcome of its dual desire to articulate the values of its much touted “Geopolitical Commission" at the same time as it tries to continue its traditional institutional commitment to multilateralism. The paper concludes that the ambiguity present in this endeavour to straddle the realist-liberal fence only serves to expose the limitations of the strategy.

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Hedging by Default

About the authors

Richard Higgott is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick, Senior Researcher in the Brussels School of Governance, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of Siena.

Simon Reich is Professor of Global Affairs and Political Science at Rutgers University Newark and Chercheur Associé, Le Centre d’Études et Recherches Internationales (CERI), Sciences Po (Paris).