NATO is rushing to arm its Russian borders. Can he find the weapons? – POLITICS

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

In the coming month, the alliance will accelerate efforts to stockpile equipment along the eastern edge of the alliance and designate tens of thousands of forces that can rush to the aid of allies on short notice – a move intended to prevent Russia to extend its war beyond Ukraine.

For this to happen, however, NATO must convince individual countries to provide various elements: soldiers, training, better infrastructure – and, most notably, significant quantities of expensive arms, equipment and ammunition. .

With countries already worrying about their own ammunition stockpiles and Ukraine urgently needing more shells and weapons from its allies, there is a risk that all of the country’s allies NATO are not keeping their promises to contribute to the new alliance plans.

“If there isn’t someone organizing the potluck and telling everyone what to bring, then everyone would bring potato chips because potato chips are cheap, easy to get” , said James J. Townsend Jr., former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe. and NATO policy.

“Nations,” he added, “would rather bring crisps.”

It’s a challenge NATO has faced in the past, and experts fear it could become a lingering problem for the Western alliance as Russia’s war drags on into a second year. As the US and EU plan to procure more weapons – quickly – the resupply process will inevitably take time.

This could run counter to NATO’s aspirations. This spring, military leaders will submit updated regional defense plans intended to help redefine how the alliance protects its 1 billion citizens.

The numbers will be big, with officials pushing the idea of ​​up to 300,000 NATO troops needed to help make the new model work. That means a lot of coordination and cajoling.

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

A boost for the “preparation”

There are several levels of “readiness”.

The first tier – which could be around 100,000 troops ready to move within 10 days – could come from Poland, Norway and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), said Heinrich Brauß, former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy. and force planning. It may also include multinational battle groups that the alliance has already established on the eastern flank.

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

A second tier of troops would then support these soldiers, ready to deploy from countries like Germany within 10 to 30 days.

But the process could get tricky. For what? Because moving so quickly, even in a month, requires a lot of personnel, equipment and training, and a lot of money.

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

Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army Europe, said “readiness” means “essentially, do you have everything you are supposed to have to accomplish the mission assigned to a unit of a particular size? »

“An artillery battalion should fire X number of rounds per year for planning purposes to maintain its level of proficiency,” he said. A tank battalion must hit targets, react to different situations and “demonstrate proficiency on the move, day and night, hitting moving targets”.

“It’s very difficult,” he said, stressing the need for firing ranges and training ammunition, as well as maintaining skills as personnel change over time. “That obviously takes time and it’s also expensive.”

And that’s if countries can even find companies to quickly produce quality balls.

“We’ve tended to try to stockpile ammunition on the cheap…it’s just totally inadequate,” said Stacie Pettyjohn, defense program director at the Center for a New American Security. “I think the problems our allies have in NATO are even more acute because a lot of them often rely on the United States as a sort of safety net.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that allies have stepped up production work in recent months – and that the alliance is working on new ammunition stockpile requirements.

But he also recognized the problem.

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

The big test

Once NATO’s military plans are complete, capitals will be asked to weigh in – and possibly make available troops, planes, ships and tanks for different parts of the plans.

A test for NATO will take place this summer when the leaders of the 30 member countries of the alliance meet in Lithuania.

German soldiers instruct the M983 HEMTT equipped with a Patriot launcher in Zamosc, Poland | Omar Marques via Getty Images

“We are asking nations – based on the conclusions we have on our three regional plans – what we need to make these plans … executable,” said the senior NATO military official, who spoke as anonymously to discuss sensitive planning.

“I think the hardest thing,” the manager added, “is sourcing.”

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

“We need more speed, whether in terms of material, personnel or infrastructure,” German Colonel André Wüstner, head of the Independent Armed Forces Association, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The German army, for example, carries out the missions assigned to it, he said, “but this is nothing compared to what we will have to bring to NATO in the future”.

And while Berlin now has a 100 billion euro modernization fund to modernize the German military, not a penny of the money has been spent so far, said Germany’s parliamentary commissioner for foreign affairs. armed forces Eva Högl earlier this week.

The question of readiness is based on a contentious debate on defense investments.

In 2014, NATO leaders pledged to aim to devote 2% of their economic output to defense within a decade. At the Vilnius summit in July, leaders will have to decide on a new objective.

“Two percent as a floor” seems to be the “centre of gravity” of the debate right now, a senior NATO official said, while warning that “2 percent wouldn’t be enough for everyone.”

A second problem is the balance of dues. Officials and experts expect the majority of high-readiness troops to come from European allies. But it means European capitals will have to step up their efforts as Washington mulls over how to tackle China’s challenges.

The answer will show whether NATO is serious about living up to 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 are we going to move on to the end of the day and do what it takes? Or will we try to get away with bringing chips to the potluck? The jury is out.


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