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The U.S. attitude toward the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) has been marked by considerable ambivalence. The United States has had difficulty deciding whether ESDP is NATO's companion or competitor. In principle, the United States wants, and needs, a strong European partner to help manage the new security threats, most of which emanate from beyond Europe's borders. At the same time, Washington has not wanted to see ESDP evolve in a way that would undermine NATO and has reacted strongly to any attempt by the EU to develop an autonomous capability not closely linked to NATO. However, in the last several years, U.S. attitudes towards ESDP have begun to shift in a more positive direction. U.S. officials have begun to recognize that the EU, with its emphasis on civilian capabilities, has important assets to offer in managing conflict even if it cannot contribute much to dealing with conflicts at the high end of the conflict spectrum. The United States has also begun to recognize that the threat to NATO posed by ESDP is nowhere near as strong as many U.S. critics tended to think. Rather than being rivals, NATO and ESDP complement one another.

Originally published in: What ambitions for European defence in 2020? pp. 45-54, edited by Alvaro de Vasconcelos.

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