NATO is racing to arm its Russian borders. Can it find the weapons? – POLITICO

NATO is racing to arm its Russian borders. Can it find the weapons? – POLITICO

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BRUSSELS — Add NATO military planners to the list of those worried about having enough shells.

To come moon, the alliance will accelerate efforts to stockpile equipment along the alliance’s eastern flank and deploy tens of thousands of forces that could rush to the aid of allies at short notice — a move intended to prevent Russia from expanding of its war beyond Ukraine.

To do that, however, NATO must convince individual countries to contribute various elements: Soldiers, training, better infrastructure – and, above all, vast amounts of expensive weapons, equipment and ammunition.

With countries already worried about their own stockpiles of ammunition and Ukraine in dire need of more shells and weapons from allies, there is a risk that not all NATO allies will fulfill their promises to contribute to new alliance plans.

“If nobody hosts a potluck and tells everyone what to bring, everyone will bring potato chips because potato chips are cheap, easy to get,” said James J. Townsend Jr., a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy.

“Countries,” he added, “would rather bring in potato chips.”

It’s a challenge NATO has faced in the past, and one that experts fear could become an ongoing problem for the Western alliance as the war with Russia drags into its second year. As the US and EU make plans to acquire more weapons – quickly – the restocking process will inevitably take time.

That could run into NATO’s intentions. Military leaders this spring will submit updated regional defense plans intended to help redefine how the alliance protects its 1 billion citizens.

The numbers will be large, with officials floating the idea of ​​up to 300,000 NATO forces needed to help make the new model work. That means a lot of coordinating and cajoling.

“I think you need forces to counter a realistic Russia,” said a senior NATO military official, emphasizing the need for significantly “more troops” and especially more forces in “readiness.”

A push for ‘readiness’

There are several levels of “readiness.”

The first tier – which could consist of around 100,000 soldiers ready to move within 10 days – could be drawn from Poland, Norway and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), said Heinrich Brauß, a former assistant secretary general of NATO for defense policy. and forceful planning. It could also include multinational battle groups that the alliance has already set up on the eastern side.

Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army Europe in Orzysz, Poland | Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

A second tier of troops will support those soldiers, ready to deploy from countries like Germany in between 10 and 30 days.

But the process can be tricky. Why? Because moving so quickly, even given a month, requires a lot of people, equipment and training — and a lot of money.

Some militaries need to step up their recruiting efforts. Many allies need to increase defense spending. And everyone has to buy more weapons, ammunition and equipment.

Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army Europe, said that “readiness” is “basically, do you have all the things you have to do for the mission assigned to a unit of a certain size?”

“An artillery battalion has to fire X number of rounds per year for planning purposes to maintain its level of efficiency,” he said. A tank battalion has to hit targets, react to different situations and “show skill in moving, day and night, hitting moving targets.”

“It’s all very difficult,” he said, pointing to the need for training ranges and ammunition, as well as maintaining skill as personnel change over time. “Obviously it takes time and it’s expensive.”

And that’s if countries can even find companies that can produce high-quality ammunition quickly.

“We tend to try to stockpile ammunition on the cheap … it’s grossly inadequate,” said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security. “I think the problems of our NATO allies are even worse because many of them often rely on the US as a kind of backstop.”

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said that the allies have increased production work in recent months – and that the alliance is working on new requirements for ammunition stockpiles.

But he also admitted the problem.

“The current rate of consumption compared to the current rate of production of ammunition,” he said in early March, “is not sustainable.”

The big test

Once NATO’s military plans are finalized, capitals will be asked to weigh — and ultimately produce — troops, planes, ships and tanks for various parts of the blueprints.

A test for NATO will come this summer when the leaders of the alliance’s 30 member nations meet in Lithuania.

German soldiers give direction to the M983 HEMTT mounted with a Patriot launcher in Zamosc, Poland | Omar Marques via Getty Images

“We are asking the countries – based on the findings we have in our three regional plans – what we need to make these plans … implementable,” said the senior NATO military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning.

“I think the hardest thing,” the official added, “is the acquisition.”

Some allies have already recognized that meeting NATO’s needs will require more investment.

“More speed is needed, whether in terms of material, personnel or infrastructure,” German Colonel André Wüstner, head of the independent Armed Forces Association, said the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

The German military, for example, carries out assigned missions, he said, “but that’s nothing compared to what we have to contribute to NATO in the future.”

And while Berlin now has a €100 billion modernization fund to upgrade Germany’s military, not a single cent of the money has been spent so far, German Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces Eva Högl said in the first part of this week.

Strengthening the readiness issue is a contentious debate in defense investments.

In 2014, NATO leaders pledged a goal of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense within a decade. At the Vilnius summit in July, leaders had to decide on a new target.

“Two percent as floor” seems to be the “center of gravity” in the debate at the moment, said a senior NATO official, while warning that “2 percent will not be enough for everyone.”

The second issue is the balance of contribution. Officials and experts expect most of the troops on high alert to come from European allies. But it means European capitals will have to step up as Washington figures out how to address challenges from China.

The response will show whether NATO is serious about matching its ambitions.

“It’s hard to make sure you stay at the top of your military game in peacetime when there’s no threat,” said Townsend, the former US official. NATO, he said, is “in the middle” of a stress test.

“We all say the right things,” he added. “But will we go through the the end of the day and do the right thing? Or will we try to get away with bringing potato chips to the potluck? The jury is out.”