As alliance member states work to make a difference in this war, they also seek to learn its lessons in equipping themselves for future conflicts. Much that will matter in this new kind of war is old, including the can-do industrial responsiveness of World War II. Much that matters is being re-learned, including the unending need for bureaucratic responsiveness in military procurement.
The lessons from four months of fighting provide ample guidance. Little hides for long: the Ukrainians are readily finding and killing anything that bunches up and lingers on the battlefield. Munitions matter: only massively supplied artillery is allowing the Russians any progress in Eastern Ukraine. Precision matters more: large-scale applications of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have shown how armored vehicles and rotorcraft have become more vulnerable than in past wars.
Range matters too: drones and the newly arrived HIMARS precision rockets are pushing back those Russian guns, and killing the gunners and their munitions dumps. Meanwhile, Russia is rapidly expending its weapons stocks, and Ukraine is rapidly expending those of NATO, some of whose member states now need to replenish their own supplies.
Analysts should interpret these lessons judiciously, as revealing yet another stage of a military-technical evolution already underway for decades, with important but measured changes ahead for armor and aviation. To survive all that firepower, troops may still want the protection and mobility of armored vehicles. The tank’s death has been exaggerated, as the Ukrainians are clamoring to the West for more. To contain breakthroughs and amass firepower, troops may still want the speed and reach of rotorcraft. Helicopters are still needed over the steppes, so the Americans are sending them. Even so, the numbers of armored vehicles and aircraft lost have been impressive, so adaptations are now necessary.
This dichotomy establishes a range of problems, but with a common resolution. If current armor and aircraft are at risk, military forces can devise new operating concepts, specifying and buying new systems to match. Alternatively, military forces can continue to train and equip for combined arms warfare, upgrading old systems with new subsystems to preserve their viability. However, to make a difference in a war already underway, or in the next war, once that is underway, either approach requires industrial responsiveness.
Experience dating to at least World War I indicates that designing and building wholly new tanks, aircraft, or (worse) ships takes years. For the US over the past half-century, performance has gradually worsened. Today, the Pentagon’s procurement systems “seem to struggle with new-start capabilities,” though they move more smoothly in peacetime with “block upgrades and basic platform adaptations.” The primary problems have been a lengthening in pre-contract award decision times and post-award testing of prototypes. In wartime, the Pentagon’s people have sometimes lacked the “passionate” focus needed to respond to the emergent needs of the battlefield. The consequence of their years-long delay in buying off-the-shelf Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles was thousands of casualties.
Industrial responsiveness thus requires improved procurement. In the US, the Defense Department has all the legal and regulatory structures necessary. For quickly deciding what it wants, it has its urgent and emergent requirements processes. For quickly buying what it wants, it has the so-called Middle Tier and “Other” acquisition authorities. With the MRAP, the industry delivered when asked. In Ukraine, the industry is eager to be asked again. What Defense may still lack is a focus in its workforce for utilizing these authorities to make the big requests for bold action.
Even then, the Pentagon would need budgetary reform from Congress. Buying the first thousand MRAPs required moving half a billion dollars inside the US Marine Corps, but outside the annual funding cycle. That required the attention of the service chief. Further progress eventually required the involvement of the Secretary of Defense. Such “positive arbitrariness” has worked at times and across borders, but builds no institutional capacity for future success.
Battle-grade flexibility calls for bureau budgeting, allocating funds broadly to management areas, so that risk-taking middle managers can employ administrative discretion as conditions change. The American approach, narrow and restrictive allocation through program budgeting, “does not work anywhere in the world it has been tried.” Even so, the flow of funding through the Pentagon’s planning, programming, budgeting, and execution (PPBE) processes has not changed substantially in nearly 60 years. Change is officially under consideration, through the ongoing work of the Congressionally-mandated PPBE commission.
NATO can easily win the race for better weapons faster, if government officials act with decision. Russia’s weapons industry is headed for an “all-out crisis,” if it cannot steal enough sanctioned technology from abroad. Forget its military export markets: its global reputation will not recover for a very long time. The alliance and its partners have defense industries that will continue to dominate markets around the world. Unleash their potential, and they will supply anything needed to win this and future wars.
James Hasik is a Non-resident Senior Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He is a senior research fellow at the School of Business at George Mason University.
Ukraine was, until February 24, the most important country in the world that most people couldn’t find on a map. It has now become the most important country in the world that the world is not saving. We, the West, cannot solve our own economic and ensuing political woes until we do.
Before Russia’s latest assault on Ukraine, the smaller country was, despite being the poorest in Europe per capita, an economic powerhouse with an outsized role in global supply chains. Its agricultural sector accounted for 10% of global grain exports; 12.8% of global maize and 10.5% of global wheat supplies, for example. It also produced over 45% of the world’s sunflower oil. Ukraine was a mining and industrial stronghold; it was the fourth largest iron ore exporter on earth; and the 13th largest steel exporter. It also exported significant quantities of nickel, uranium, and other minerals. It manufactured and exported chemicals, engines, heavy equipment, and more. This is not in any way an exhaustive list.
Ukraine was also critical for energy. Until 2020, approximately 90 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas flowed from Russia through Ukraine to the European Union (EU), accounting for more than half of the recent annual average of 170 bcm. Those flows are now below 40 bcm and may well be cut off entirely. Meanwhile, Russia has retaliated against the West by cutting off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, and drastically reducing them to Germany, France, Italy, Slovakia, and others. Many expect Russian supplies to Europe to stop entirely in the next few months. Germany has declared a gas crisis and others are considering similar emergency measures.
The effect of the war in and on Ukraine is, not least through these various supply chains, having a catastrophic impact on prices. Inflation, already an issue after COVID-19 shocks, is skyrocketing due to both geopolitical instability and commodity shortages caused by the invasion. In turn, these economic problems are stoking voters’ dissatisfaction with their political leadership (see recent events in Sri Lanka.)
Western governments who were unwilling to commit fully to saving Ukraine when public sentiment supported tough action, will now be held to account for the economic fallout by voters whose appetite for prioritizing Ukraine over domestic problems has now diminished.
The US Federal Reserve estimated in May that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its disastrous consequences will end up reducing 2022 global GDP by 1.5% while contributing 1.3% in 2022 to global inflation. It attributed this to “lower consumer sentiment, higher commodity prices, and tighter financial conditions.” Given how the world has been caught flatfooted on everything else about Russia’s offensive and Ukraine’s struggle, while simultaneously underestimating inflationary pressure, these figures may well be an underestimate.
In the US, inflation is currently at least 8.6%. Fuel prices have almost doubled for drivers. Food prices are up 11.9%. Housing is up 5.5%. In Europe, the situation is just as bad, if not worse. Overall inflation is also officially 8.6%, with energy prices up 41.9% and food up 8.9%. It is likely to get much worse.
Recessions are now feared if not fully expected throughout the Western world. In response, monetary authorities are increasing interest rates. The US Federal Reserve hiked the benchmark interest rate by a huge 0.75% in June and promised additional hikes in 2022 and probably 2023. The European Central Bank is raising interest rates by 0.25%, with further increases expected later in the year.
These measures are too little too late. They will take effect slowly, and some economists and market analysts say they are anyway the wrong tool for the problem. The rate increases are demand-side adjustments, whereas the problem is supply-side. The war in Ukraine is a supply chain crisis, with Russia blockading the Black Sea ports through which Ukrainian farmers export agricultural products. The energy sector too faces a supply-side problem. Germany is enacting measures to reduce consumption there, too, but in the middle of a summer heat wave in Europe, the real issue is the lack of natural gas.
In the meantime, governments are going to begin to fall as voters voice their malcontent with inflation and recession. It is not a coincidence that French President Emmanuel Macron lost his parliamentary majority in June. Even he recognized that the war is having “a profound impact on many things,” and that “it wasn’t sufficiently taken into account in France’s public debate.” In the US, where inflation is now the top issue for Americans, President Joe Biden’s approval rating has dropped to 39% in the face of the worst price increases in 40 years. Pundits universally expect Democrats to lose control of the House in the mid-term elections in November. Other governments and administrations will be tested as elections approach.
Of course, the longer the war, the worse the global economic outlook. One missed Ukrainian planting or harvesting season is a disaster, but two is a global famine. Eventually, demand-side monetary policies will tame inflation, but probably not without recessions intervening. Depending on how long the war lasts and how many months or years are needed to bring prices down, voters may have ample time to inadvertently hand Vladimir Putin victories at the ballot box by venting their economic frustrations. If the blowback is sufficiently strong and results in governments seeking to appease the Kremlin, Putin might hope for sanctions relief as part of some grand bargain at Ukraine’s expense.
There is an alternative. Western governments’ best economic response is exactly the same as their best military and political responses — to seek a supply-side solution by helping to definitively liberate Ukraine from Russian occupation. Ukrainians could then get back to farming, smelting, and mining to the benefit of the whole world.
Not only would this be significantly cheaper and more efficient than partially arming Ukraine over the course of a multi-year military stalemate, but it might even happen fast enough to save our governments before they’re voted out.
Suriya Evans-Pritchard Jayanti is an Eastern Europe energy policy expert. She served for 10 years as a US diplomat, including as the Energy Chief at the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine (2018-2020), and as international energy counsel at the US Department of Commerce (2020-2021). She is currently Managing Director of Eney, a US-Ukrainian decarbonization company.
As the war in Ukraine – now in its fifth month – becomes a grinding battle of attrition, a new geostrategic realignment along NATO’s Eastern Flank is in full view: a fault line has emerged, running north-south, from Scandinavia and the Baltics down through Poland and into Romania and Bulgaria.
In this reconfigured Europe, Poland is the hub of NATO’s effort to assist Ukraine, serving as the principal transit route for equipment and ammunition shipments to Ukraine, and providing a key route for Ukrainian grain exports to its Baltic ports, like Gdansk.
Poland is also the principal entry point for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war (estimates put the number of Ukrainians that have entered Poland at close to 3.5 million).?And in terms of sheer numbers, it is the largest European provider of equipment and ammunition to the Ukrainian military. Its shipment of at least 240 upgraded T-72 tanks and an additional 50 Krab 155mm self-propelled howitzers on top of the 18 units already provided are just the most prominent examples of the scope of Warsaw’s military assistance to its neighbor.?
But Poland’s increased prominence in NATO rests on more than its contribution to Ukraine’s war effort. It has now become the key military power on NATO’s Eastern Flank, a frontline state akin to West Germany during the Cold War.?The Polish military is being restructured and expanded into Europe’s largest land force, with a target of 400,000 troops from the current 150,000.?The country has also committed to buying large volumes of American weapons, including 32 of the F-35 fifth generation combat aircraft and 250 of the most advanced version of the M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams main battle tanks. It is also finalizing a deal to buy 500 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers.?In short, Polish rearmament dwarfs the potential of other allies along the flank.
Washington recognizes Poland’s new role as the pivot along the Eastern Flank. Last week at the NATO Madrid summit, President Biden announced that the US will establish a permanent headquarters for the US Army’s V Corps in Poland and significantly increase the number of US troops and equipment deployed there, today numbering 10,500.?The decision to move the V Corps headquarters is likely a prelude to establishing permanent US installations and eventually transitioning from rotational to permanent US deployments. Last but not least, as military mobility requirements have shifted to the north-south axis, Poland’s central position in the Baltic-to-Black Sea intermarium makes the country a central distribution hub for NATO’s entire Eastern Flank.
Historical parallels are often overused or oversimplified, but as a new iron curtain spun by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine descends across Europe, Poland is the new frontier state, critical both to continued Western military, economic, and humanitarian support to Ukraine as well as the lynchpin of the alliance’s defensive perimeter.
A midsize country in the heart of Central Europe, Poland has been thrust into the limelight by the Continent’s rapidly changing balance of power.?When it comes to sheer military power, it is punching far above its weight, positioning itself as the pivotal ally of the United States in continental Europe.?
Chels Michta is a Non-resident Fellow with the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Chels is a former CEPA Title VIII Fellow and is currently a military intelligence officer serving in the US Army.
The Roman empire had the Colosseum. The modern world has gladiatorial radio programs. I donned a rhetorical sword and shield last week and joined the fray in the Moral Maze, a flagship discussion show on the main BBC speech channel, Radio 4. The topic was Ukraine, framed with the question: “What should western countries do next?”
I arrived grumpy and left angrier. One reason, was details. The host, a BBC grandee, mangled my Ukrainian fellow contributor’s surname. She shrugged this off. I did not. Such bigwigs usually take exquisite care to pronounce French or Italian names properly. But “east European” names are just alphabet soup. Who really knows how to pronounce them? Who cares? It underlines the idea that Ukraine is distant and different.
I had only a few minutes to deal with the other protagonists’ arguments. War is bad (who knew?). We should be “careful and sensible” (remind me — who’s in favor of recklessness?). NATO is to blame for our difficulties with the Kremlin. Putin’s talk about restoring the Russian empire is merely “flamboyant” language. The phony desire for balance, as so often, trumps the search for truth, bogged down in sanctimony, myth-making, and kneejerk anti-westernism.
But the real reason for my anger was framing. I missed any sense of immediacy or urgency. It is a fair bet that a dozen or more Ukrainians were killed and maimed in the hours it took to prepare and broadcast the program. But we cannot hear their screams and we do not know their names.
Also unclear are the assumptions behind the title. What is meant by “western countries”? Is it just the big rich countries of the “old West”? Or does it include Russia’s neighbors, which are also members of the European Union and NATO? Who has the luxury of deciding what to “do next” — ie, whether to get involved or not? The implicit assumption here is outsiders are spectators, watching a fight between wild animals. They may choose to intervene (and risk getting bitten). Or not. The contest may be unfair, the outcome cruel. But it is not our fight.
I must have missed the sale of tickets for the trip to another planet, one where Russian imperialism is no longer a threat. As I have repeatedly tried to explain, we in the “old west” own this problem because we enabled it. Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, and many others warned us about the threat from Russia back in the 1990s. Westerners dismissed these warnings, because we were ignorant, arrogant, complacent, and most of all greedy. Belatedly, we did the minimum, or less, that was asked of us to deter Russia. The result is that tens of thousands of people are dead; hundreds of thousands have life-changing physical or mental injuries. Millions of lives are shattered. Even if the war stops tomorrow, Ukraine faces a generation of psychological, social, economic, and political torment, akin to the traumas faced by post-war France. And what does our commentariat do? It pontificates on a radio program.
The old motto of the 1863 uprising against Tsarist autocracy, “For Your Freedom and Ours”, has never been more relevant. On Ukraine’s fate turns the future of Belarus, of Poland, of Lithuania — and indeed of Russia. For me, schooled by thirty-plus years of experience in the region we used to call “eastern Europe” the resonance is indeed deafening. In the confines of a London radio studio, it is muffled. Yet the war’s outcome will shape Europe’s future, and — given the danger of nuclear aggression if Putin wins — the world’s. A radio program on that would be interesting.
The entry of two wealthy and well-defended Nordic states mark a genuinely transformational moment for the alliance in the High North. The decision, which still has to be confirmed by the other 30 member state parliaments, is only the latest self-harming consequence of Vladimir Putin’s largest invasion of Ukraine on February 24, coming just days after the European Union (EU) gave the country candidate status, and NATO pledged more arms.
The alliance’s expansion to include two large Baltic Sea powers changes the military map.
It will give NATO operational depth and logistic routes that it previously lacked. When Sweden and Finland were non-aligned, the main route for NATO reinforcements heading to Finnmark, the northernmost part of Norway, had to follow the single coastal road, the E6, along the Norwegian shoreland. Any Russian stand-off weaponry, or special forces, could, with limited effort, strike the E6 route and cut off Northern Norway, leaving it open to a rapid Russian advance.
This lack of operational depth and NATO’s reliance on a single route to reinforce the High North has long offered an opportunity for a Russian fait accompli attack early in any conflict with NATO.
A sustained fight to defend an area needs a land-based supply route to maintain the flow of equipment, logistics, and reinforcements, as these represent thousands of tons to be hauled into the operational area. Airborne or air transported troops can only sustain a fight over a limited time. The recent battle for Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv, where Russian airborne troops were beaten by Ukrainian ad hoc formations, shows the short duration airborne forces can sustain a fight without land-based reinforcements and a logistic tail.
The fastest way to move ground units from Germany, Denmark, and the UK to Northern Norway is through Sweden, which has several roadways leading to the far North. Meanwhile, coastal Norway has fjords, deep-cut valleys, mountainous terrain, and numerous bridges that could be destroyed and hinder NATO movement; Sweden offers a more direct route.
A Russian military planner, creating a case for assault plans on Northern Norway, previously only had to focus on the western edge defending against NATO forces arriving along the Norwegian coast. The southern flank towards Sweden and Finland was “protected” by Swedish-Finnish neutrality. So the Cold War expectation, maintained until now, was that any USSR/Russian attack on Northern Norway would strike from east to west.
All that has changed. NATO’s defense of the High North will now benefit from the alliance’s ability to rapidly pre-position air assets on Swedish and Finnish airfields if a conflict is on the horizon. The Swedish towns of Kiruna and Gällivare have civilian airports, and any airport can also be used for military purposes. There are also several airfields in Finland; Enontekiö airfield is almost on the Norwegian Finnmark border. These added airfields and assets give a stronger ability to establish air superiority in the Far North and means less reliance on a few Norwegian airports that could be disabled in the initial stages of the war.
The development of modern anti-ship missiles, with a range of hundreds of kilometers, in combination with an enhanced ability to base and use operational space in the North, also gives NATO a broad ability to prevent the Russian Northern Fleet from reaching the Atlantic Ocean to intercept the movement of US and Canadian formations to Europe.
Swedish-Finnish entry means the whole Scandinavian peninsula enjoys membership and strengthens NATO’s defense of the High North by providing logistic pathways, operational space and depth, and the ability to base air assets which would combine strengthen the deterrence posture against Russian aggression. Deterrence means a higher threshold for conflict, both for Sweden and Finland but also for NATO as a whole. It is therefore also an unquestionable defeat for Vladimir Putin.
Jan Kallberg is a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He is a former Research Scientist with the Cyber Operations Research Element (CORE) with the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. His works have appeared in Joint Forces Quarterly, Strategic Studies Quarterly, IEEE Security & Privacy, and IEEE Access. Follow him at cyberdefense.com and @Cyberdefensecom.
Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.