In a move to prevent Russia from expanding its war beyond Ukraine, NATO is accelerating efforts to stockpile equipment along the alliance’s eastern edge and designate tens of thousands of forces that can rush to allies’ aid on short notice. The alliance’s challenge will be to convince individual countries to contribute soldiers, training, better infrastructure, extensive amounts of pricey weapons, equipment and ammunition to assist with the increased military presence. NATO needs to source not only more weapons, but high levels of ammunition for the alliance’s new plans which may require 100,000 soldiers prepared to move within 10 days, drawn from Poland, Norway and the Baltic states. There is a risk that not all NATO allies will live up to their promises to contribute to the alliance’s new plans, because countries are already worried about their own munitions stockpiles and Ukraine has an acute need for more shells and weapons from allies.
The challenge that NATO faces is not new, and experts fear that it could become a persistent problem for the Western alliance as Russia’s conflict continues into a second year. While the US and EU are sourcing more weapons quickly, the restocking process will inevitably take time. Military leaders will submit updated regional defense plans this spring that intend to help redefine how the alliance protects its 1 billion citizens. Officials have floated the idea of up to 300,000 NATO forces needed to help make the new model work against a realistic Russia, meaning lots of coordinating and cajoling is required.
The main issue is procurement, which is seen as potentially the most difficult thing because moving so quickly requires lots of people, equipment, and training, and lots of money. Some militaries will have to up their recruitment efforts, numerous Allies will have to increase defense spending, and everyone will have to buy more weapons. Countries, if they can even find companies to produce quality bullets quickly, must also stockpile munitions in adequate amounts. There is a contentious debate over defense investments, given that NATO leaders pledged in 2014 to aim to spend 2% of their economic output on defense within a decade. At the Vilnius summit in July, the leaders will have to decide on a new target.
Some Allies have already acknowledged that meeting NATO’s needs will take far more investment. While Berlin has a much-touted €100 billion modernization fund for upgrading Germany’s military, not a single cent of the money has been spent so far. Underpinning the readiness issue is a contentious debate over defense investments. A second issue is the contribution balance. Officials and experts expect the majority of high-readiness troops to come from European allies, but European capitals will need to step up as Washington contemplates how to address challenges from China.