By Thalif Deen
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is forcing most European countries to increase defence spending, boost military capabilities and secure their territorial borders.
The attack against Ukraine, which began February 24 and has continued despite international condemnations, has resulted in thousands of civilian killings, along with the devastation of a country of 44 million people, triggering charges of war crimes.
Described as the largest country in the world, Russia has international borders with 16 sovereign states, including non-European nations.
Elias Yousif, a Research Analyst with the Washington-based Stimson Center’s Conventional Defence Program, told IDN while Washington will surely be pleased to see expanded European defence budgets, how those budgets reflect commitments to improved integration, coordination, and interoperability will be front and centre in the minds of American defence planners.
The 27-member European Union (EU), he pointed out, spent nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars on defence in 2020—a figure just shy of four times what Russia spent in the same year.
But those budgets have not translated into theatre-wide defence capabilities that are greater than, or even equal to, the sum of their parts. “More money alone will not solve that problem”, he added.
“Russia’s invasion may provide the impetus not just for more spending, but also improved coordination, interoperability, and collective strategic planning”, said Yousif, a former Deputy Director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy (CIP) where he analysed the impact of U.S. arms transfer and security assistance programs on international security, U.S. foreign policy, and global human rights practices.
Across the European Union and Britain, said a New York Times report on March 29, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reshaping spending priorities and forcing governments to prepare for threats thought to have been long buried—from a flood of European refugees to the possible use of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons by a Russian leader who may feel backed into a corner.
“The result is a sudden reshuffling of budgets as military spending, essentials like agriculture and energy, and humanitarian assistance are shoved to the front of the line, with other pressing needs like education and social services likely to be downgraded,” said the Times.
Yousif said that additionally, the United States will surely be weighing how more euros for defence will shape its security cooperation with the continent, both in terms of arms transfers and military assistance, but also in terms of operational doctrines.
To what extent, for example, will enhanced European capabilities allow the United States to redirect resources more strategically or develop operational plans that leverage comparative advantages of EU partners?
For many years NATO and other European partners have relied on various strategic and enabling capabilities provided by the United States. Whether the U.S. to feel it can reasonably shift those burdens to its European partners and direct its efforts at other parts of the continent’s defence will be something to watch for, he declared.
According to the Times, the most significant shift is in military spending.
Germany’s turnabout is the most dramatic, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s promise to raise spending above 2 percent of the country’s economic output, a level not reached in more than three decades.
“The pledge included an immediate injection of 100 billion euros — $113 billion—into the country’s notoriously threadbare armed forces. As Scholz put it in his speech last month: “We need planes that fly, ships that sail and soldiers who are optimally equipped.”
“The commitment is a watershed moment for a country that has sought to leave behind an aggressive military stance that contributed to two devastating world wars,” the Times said.
The European Union agreed this month to “increase substantially defence expenditures” and “invest further in the capabilities necessary to conduct the full range of missions.”
The pledge includes countries that have fallen below NATO’s goal to spend a minimum of 2 percent of national output as well as countries that have exceeded the threshold. (The 27 members of the European Union and the 30 NATO members overlap but are not identical.)
A French parliamentary report published in February, a week before the invasion, concluded that in the event of large-scale conventional war, like one in Ukraine, an additional $44 billion to $66 billion over 12 years would be needed to bolster France’s military machine.
President Emmanuel Macron has pledged a sharp increase in military spending—which is already $45 billion, more than 10 percent of the government’s total budget—if he wins the upcoming presidential election later this month, said the Times.
Belgium, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden—a militarily neutral country that is not a part of NATO—have also announced increases to their defence budgets.
“It’s our responsibility to take measures to protect ourselves,” Nicolae Ciucă., the Romanian prime minister was quoted as saying. No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will continue, “but we have to reassess and adapt to what might happen in the future,” he added. “We have to be prepared for the unexpected.”
Meanwhile, in a report released April 1, the U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, said defence cooperation between the U.S. and the UK is well established and the UK is considered a Tier one partner.
As such, the UK has significant military capability and seeks to augment its current capability with the latest technology available. Most technology, if acquired from the U.S., requires an ITAR license and new suppliers need to be familiar with the licensing application process.
The UK is one of the top NATO countries in terms of defence spending—even before the current crisis in Ukraine.
The UK met its spending target of 2% of its GDP in 2019, and 2020 and the UK Government announced in February 2022 its plan to invest $270 billion into the procurement of next generation military equipment over the next ten years.
This investment is expected to strengthen the UK’s digital and cyber capabilities, along with air, land, and sea capabilities, said the report.
In March 2021, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UK released three strategic guidance documents: Integrated Review (IR) of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, Defence Command Paper (DCP), and the Defence & Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS). Highlights from the reports include:
Naval: $2.5 billion invested into the Royal Navy carrier force, the UK ship building industry, and development of greater missile capability. The UK will produce eight Type 26 Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigates, five Type 31 General Purpose Frigates, and a Type 32 multi-role frigate. $265 million will be spent on the Royal Marines to enable transition from amphibious infantry into a forward-based, highly capable maritime “Future Commando Force.”
Land: The British Army will reduce its troop strength (again) from 76,500 to 72,500 by 2025 by reorganizing into seven brigade combat teams. The British Army will create a Ranger regiment similar to the U.S. Army Rangers. The Warrior tank upgrade was cancelled and replaced with the wheeled Boxer (similar to the U.S. Stryker). $4 billion will be spent on new equipment such as long-range precision fires; air defence; tactical surveillance drones; and electronic warfare and cyberspace capabilities.
Air: Investing $2.6 billion in the Future Combat Air System. The RAF retired the E-3D Sentry in 2021, and it will be replaced with three Boeing E7 Wedgetails by 2023. The UK committed to purchasing more F-35s beyond its current order of 48, but no figure was specified. The UK, unfortunately, also announced its retirement of the C130-J Hercules, which will be replaced with 22 Airbus A400-Ms.