BRUSSELS—Days after the U.K. voted to exit the European Union, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is set to present on Tuesday a plan to broaden European defense and security cooperation, in a bid to bolster Europe’s ability to act independently.
Ms. Mogherini will present her proposals, the first Brussels effort to lay out Europe’s global strategy in more than a decade, to EU leaders at a summit. Tuesday’s Brussels meeting is the first since the U.K. on Thursday voted to exit the bloc, a process likely to take over two years.
The U.K. has long approached EU defense and security initiatives with ambivalence. While it has played a key role in crafting the bloc’s foreign policy and is a critical provider of security and military assets for specific operations, the U.K. has resisted efforts to craft a unified EU military structure. It has pushed hard for European defense resources to be channeled through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which maintains a large network of command and control headquarters.
Ms. Mogherini’s proposal, which she played a central role in crafting, seeks to strike a balance. While she underscores the importance of the EU working closely with NATO and of the EU’s close diplomatic partnership with the U.S., she sets out the building blocks for an accumulation of European “hard power” that would allow the bloc to achieve what she calls strategic autonomy.
There is no direct push for an EU army or military headquarters—both British bête noirs. However, there are ambitious calls for a buildup of shared military resources and planning and for increased spending on joint research and equipment produced by Europe’s defense industry.
“In this fragile world, soft power is not enough: We must enhance our credibility in security and defense,” reads a draft proposal viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The proposal says the EU should be able to mobilize resources rapidly to assist a member state threatened or hit by a terror attack. Security and defense operations should be able to work alongside EU border guard units and other agencies to boost border protection and maritime security and to disrupt smuggling networks.
The plan calls for additional pooling of resources and more coordinated defense investment planning and EU-wide action to bolster the bloc’s defense industry. The proposal says enhanced EU intelligence and surveillance is needed, including investments in drones and satellite communications.
NATO, the proposal says, “remains the primary framework for most member states.” However, European “security and defense efforts should enable the EU to act autonomously while also contributing to and undertaking actions in cooperation with NATO.”
The proposal says all the bloc’s instruments, including security and defense operations should be able to deploy more quickly and flexibly. That also includes the EU’s battlegroups, rapid response units which that were supposed to allow the EU to rapidly intervene in a crisis; British opposition means they have yet to be used.
The proposal also targets stronger planning and command structures. While there is no mention of an EU headquarters, the proposal does float the idea that a cluster of member states could craft more ambitious joint structures under the EU’s so-called enhanced cooperation process.
Many of these plans build on existing capabilities. The EU already has 17 military and civilian missions outside its borders, including a year-old naval operation fighting people-smuggling in the Mediterranean and other missions for building up military, police and border management resources in Africa and Europe’s east.
The bloc launched a successful maritime naval operation in 2008 that significantly reduced piracy off the Somali coast.
It has hastened the process for creating new operations during crises, and the bloc has long set goals to better coordinate its defense industry. However, the bloc has frequently fallen short of its security goals.
Ms. Mogherini’s proposal also sets out thoughts on energy, environmental and security challenges further afield.
In one section that was closely debated by member states, the proposal says ties with Russia—once considered a “strategic partner”—now represent a “key strategic challenge.” It also says a return to good ties depends on Russia respecting international law and ending its destabilization of Ukraine. But the proposal also seeks broader discussions on issues like climate change and maritime security, recognizing that the EU and its eastern neighbor are “interdependent.”
The proposal also points to emerging challenges in Asia. In reference to the dispute between China and its neighbors over islands in the South China Sea, the paper says the EU is ready to help secure freedom of navigation and will stand firm with respect to international law.
—Julian Barnes contributed to this article
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