The term strategic autonomy has become a major reference point in the debates on the EU as a global actor despite concerns of some Member States that worry about global decoupling signals. What explains the attractiveness and widespread use of the concept in the EU’s policy debates? This article puts forward an explanation grounded in social factors and dynamics. It uses role theory to develop a hypothesis for the proliferation of the strategic autonomy concept in the debate on EU’s global role. Based on this perceptive, the conflict between the EU’s roles as a market-, normative-, and realist power is at the heart of the emergence of the strategic autonomy discourse. Rather than forcing the EU to adapt its role as an international actor, the reference to strategic autonomy allows for ‘role ambiguity’. The article discusses this in light of the current debates on the ‘geopolitical Commission’, qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as well as in the area of defence. Whether the ambiguity – the lack of clarity and certainty the EU as a collective actor faces with regards to the enactment of its role – will prove to be constructive or destructive for its foreign policy remains still open.