- Significant Financial Aid: Ukraine received over 240 billion euros in aid from February 2022 to October 2023, marking a significant commitment from Western allies.
- Strategic Rearmament of Europe: The aid to Ukraine is part of a broader strategy for the modernization of European defense capabilities, highlighted by the EU’s increased defense budget and the Joint Weapon Purchase Plan.
- Impact on Individual EU Member States: The rearmament process has led to significant military modernization in various EU member states, with countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Finland enhancing their military capabilities.
- Increased NATO Alignment and Spending: The rearmament efforts have aligned European countries more closely with NATO standards, particularly in terms of meeting the 2% GDP defense expenditure target.
- Bilateral Benefits for Ukraine and the EU: The military support to Ukraine also serves as an impetus for European arms modernization, offering Ukraine access to modernized weaponry and joint training opportunities with NATO forces.
- Long-term Regional Security Implications: This shift in defense strategy and spending patterns has significant implications for the balance of power in Europe and the long-term security and defense outlook of the region.
In the wake of the full-scale invasion that unfolded in February 2022, Ukraine bore witness to an unprecedented display of unity from Western nations. The Western allies, bound together by a common imperative to assist Ukraine in withstanding the treacherous Russian onrush, realized that mere expressions of concern and condemnation were insufficient. The alliance recognized the necessity of taking decisive action, signaling to Russia that its illegal aggression would not go unanswered. Notably, this marked a historic moment for the European Union as, for the first time, it delivered lethal weapons through its institutions to a nation embroiled in an active military confrontation.
During the period spanning from February 2022 to October 2023, Ukraine received a staggering estimated total of over 240 billion euros in aid. This financial support not only underscored the solidarity of the Western allies but also demonstrated their commitment to providing substantial resources to a nation facing the challenges of an ongoing conflict.
The United States of America, Great Britain, and Germany emerged as the foremost contributors in terms of financial equivalent for military aid. However, when considering the GDP percentage value of the weapons and equipment extended to Ukraine, the front-runners include Norway, Lithuania, and Estonia. The aid packages encompass cutting-edge weapon systems and vehicles, exemplified by the provision of advanced assets such as Leopard 2 tanks, M2 Bradleys, HIMARS, and other sophisticated military hardware. These contributions signify a strategic dedication to equipping Ukraine with state-of-the-art resources to effectively counter the ongoing challenges.
Adding to this support, as of December 2023, The Netherlands has taken a decisive step by initiating preparations for the delivery of the first 18 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. “The delivery of F-16s is one of the most important elements of the agreements made on military support for Ukraine. Besides an export permit, several other criteria must also still be met before delivery can take place, including requirements for personnel and infrastructure. This decision confirms the Netherlands’ undiminished commitment to providing Ukraine with the support it needs to respond to the ongoing Russian aggression,” as was stated by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Nevertheless, a question arises from the aforementioned data: how will the West sustain its requisite levels of defense amidst such extensive spending on military aid? The ongoing discourse indicates that providing military assistance to Ukraine is not solely a testament to these countries’ commitment to a future marked by safety and security, free from international law violations and terrorism. It also underscores a broader strategic push towards embarking on a highly modernized rearmament path.
This paper seeks to delve into the key features and underlying concepts that illuminate how arming Ukraine proves to be advantageous to the European Union on a larger scale. Beyond the immediate objective of supporting Ukraine’s defense, it aims to elucidate the broader implications and strategic considerations that underscore the region’s commitment to fostering a secure and modernized defense apparatus.
Capability Development Plan Assessment
To begin with, it is imperative to highlight the overarching concept that forms the foundation for this thesis. A crucial thing to note, beyond the realm of conspiracy theories, there is minimal evidence to suggest that the Western nations are supplying weapons to Ukraine with any ulterior motive beyond the direct objective of offering assistance in response to the imminent Russian military threats.
The act of donating or supplying weaponry to Ukraine has introduced fresh challenges for several European countries, prompting them to address critical issues related to their arsenal storage. Many of these nations find themselves in a position where significant portions of their military inventory have been depleted, necessitating their involvement in new agreements to procure superior and modernized equipment. This strategic decision has been accompanied by substantial increases in defense budgets across various European nations. According to statements from the European Defense Agency, the majority of EU countries have undergone notable expansions in their defense budgets in 2022: “At a record €240 billion, 2022 European defense spending again increased by 6% on the previous year, marking the eighth year of consecutive growth.” The infographics provided below illustrate these increases, highlighting the collective commitment of European nations to fortifying their military capabilities in the face of evolving geopolitical threats and challenges.
One of the key guiding documents in the realm of defense for EU officials is the “EU Capability Development Plan” brochure. The primary objective of this document is “to increase coherence between Member States’ defense planning and to encourage European cooperation by jointly considering future operational needs and defining common EU Capability Development Priorities.” This comprehensive guide has undergone several iterations, with earlier versions in 2008, 2014, and 2018, culminating in the most recent version agreed upon in 2023.
The latest iteration outlines 22 EU defense policy priorities, encompassing 14 priorities across five military areas and 8 priorities related to strategic enablers and multipliers. Notably, the recommendations emphasize the imperative for integrated air and missile defense, the modernization of battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, as well as the development of effective means to counter drones. A noteworthy observation drawn from this report is that the full-scale war against Ukraine has underscored the urgent necessity to enhance the military mobility of forces within the EU and beyond. This realization further justifies the reported new EU record of 270 billion euros spent on the defense budget in 2023, highlighting the region’s commitment to addressing emerging security challenges and fortifying its defense capabilities.
Joint Weapon Purchase Plan
In response to the imperative for modernizing weapon arsenals, the European Union has devised an innovative and collective approach — the Joint Weapon Purchase Plan. This strategic initiative, born out of the pressing need for modernization, represents a concerted effort to address contemporary security challenges.
A significant milestone in this endeavor occurred on 9 May 2023, when Members of the European Parliament reached a consensus to expedite legislation aimed at enhancing EU production capabilities for ammunition and missiles. This legislative framework, named the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), reflects the EU’s commitment to bolstering its industrial capacity. In a decisive move, the Parliament endorsed plans on 13 July 2023 to allocate €500 million in financing. This financial injection is intended to facilitate the scaling up of EU industry capacity, enabling increased deliveries to Ukraine and assisting member states in replenishing their ammunition and missile stocks.
Following extensive negotiations, the total allocated amount for the Joint Weapon Purchase Plan was ultimately capped at €300 million. Michael Gahler, a member of the European Parliament, emphasized that this funding will play a pivotal role in replenishing the stocks of EU member states, fostering increased interoperability among armed forces, bolstering the defense industry, and reaffirming unwavering support for Ukraine.
Currently, the joint purchase plan is actively underway, with a specific focus on 155-millimeter artillery shells. The ambitious objective is to facilitate the delivery of one million artillery shells to Ukraine within the span of 12 months.
The evolution of Europe’s defense architecture has reached a significant milestone, reflecting a substantial leap forward for the collective European Union and its institutions since the introduction of Berlin Plus in 2002. In a notable development, the European Commission is set to play a pivotal role by providing financing for joint procurement initiatives. This marks a groundbreaking move as it represents the first time the European Commission is directly contributing financial support to such collaborative endeavors.
What benefits accrue individually to EU member states, particularly those with more limited defense budgets but actively supporting Ukraine? Beyond the advantage of cost-sharing within the Joint Weapon Purchase Plan, backing Ukraine has provided certain EU members with a significant impetus for the modernization of their arsenals. Numerous instances highlight the proactive adaptations undertaken by Eastern European and Balkan countries in response to this evolving security challenge.
Poland stands out as one of the most steadfast allies, currently demonstrating a proactive commitment to the modernization of its military capabilities. In December 2022, the implementation of a previously established agreement with South Korea commenced. This strategic pact facilitated the delivery of 24 K9 self-propelled howitzers and 10 K2 “Black Panther” tanks to Poland, marking a significant milestone. The K2 tanks are widely recognized as some of the most advanced main battle tanks globally.
Reflecting on this noteworthy development, President Andrzej Duda remarked, “Today, this state-of-the-art weaponry, a pinnacle of modernity for the Polish Army, has become a reality, solidifying its place in the equipment inventory of the Polish Armed Forces.”
The future trajectory of the aforementioned deal has become uncertain following the election of the new Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, on December 13, 2023. Since November of the previous year, Seoul has conveyed apprehensions concerning the financial aspects of the agreement. These concerns stem from the escalating political turbulence in Poland, a phenomenon inherently associated with substantial changes in government leadership. Efforts persist in maintaining a constructive dialogue between the two nations to ensure faithful adherence to all contracts previously signed, even amid the transition to a new government.
The Czech Republic has demonstrated a proactive approach to the significant modernization of its aircraft fleet. In September 2023, the Czech government finalized an agreement with the United States, focusing on the acquisition of advanced F-35 fighter jets. This historic accord stands as the largest defense contract ever signed by the Czech government, underscoring the nation’s commitment to bolstering its military capabilities through cutting-edge technology and strategic alliances. Moreover, since 2022, the Czech Republic has actively engaged Ukrainian defense and weaponry production professionals in its defense enterprises. Tomáš Kopečný, the Deputy Defense Minister of the country, previously articulated, “…the arrangement would be beneficial for both sides since Czech arms factories are facing a shortage of skilled employees. For example, the Tatra company from the Czechoslovak Group holding is in need of five hundred people.” The collaborative efforts led to the signing of an agreement on the establishment of a defense cluster with the Agency for Intergovernmental Defense Cooperation (AMOS) of the Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic. This initiative involves key Ukrainian and Czech defense enterprises, alongside international donors, in the joint implementation of cooperative endeavors.
Bulgaria has expressed a strong commitment to rearmament and arsenal modernization while actively participating in providing assistance to Ukraine. Despite Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Kornelia Ninova’s denial of direct weapon supply, Bulgaria has indirectly exported at least $1 billion in arms to Ukraine through undisclosed channels. On December 8th, 2023, approval was granted for a new shipment of anti-aircraft missiles.
Since 2022, Bulgaria has forged strategic engagements with Lockheed Martin, a prominent American arms production giant. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has entered into a contract with Lockheed Martin to manufacture a second batch of F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft for Bulgaria. The contract notification, published on September 14, authorizes the production of eight F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft, supplementing the eight already under a pre-existing contract. This initiative marks a significant step in Bulgaria’s pursuit of advanced military capabilities and underscores its collaborative efforts with key international players in the defense industry.
A multitude of examples drawn from the experiences of various European countries collectively reinforces a central theme: Europe is steadfastly embarking on a path of systematic rearmament, a trajectory that gained momentum with the commencement of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This trend is far from coincidental. By actively supporting Ukraine, allied nations are unequivocally acknowledging the threat posed by Russia to global stability and the call to be armed and ready for any outcome. This collective response underscores the will to address and counteract the challenges emanating from Russia’s actions on the global stage.
New NATO members broadening opportunities
New NATO candidates and members have also embarked on a journey of substantial military arsenal reforms. Since its ascension to the Alliance, Sweden has demonstrated its preparedness to become a fully integrated part of NATO. Given its maritime capabilities, Sweden is currently placing significant emphasis on the development of its naval fleet. Initial strides in this direction have already been made, with the country signing a contract with MBDA for the supply of Common Anti-Air Modular Missiles, underscoring its dedication to enhancing its defense capabilities and aligning with NATO standards. Eric Beranger, CEO of MBDA, said: “CAMM will provide Sweden and the Royal Swedish Navy with a formidable air defense capability that gives the country a strong new contribution to NATO together with other allied Sea Ceptor users like the Royal Navy from the United Kingdom. We’re proud also to be continuing our long history of partnership with Sweden and Swedish industry, including Saab.” Additionally, Sweden is actively partaking in stationing its troops on territories bordering Russia to further deter the aggressor from committing to spreading threats and havoc.
Finland, in turn, is working on shedding remnants of its former military association with Russia. The country has taken a significant step by entering into a US$346 million agreement with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Systems (RAS). This deal entails the procurement of the David’s Sling surface-to-air missile (SAM), serving as a notable replacement for its Russian-origin Buk SAM systems.
A new step towards a stronger Europe?
Analyzing the rearmament process in Europe reveals several noteworthy conclusions. The surge in military spending across Central and Western European countries, amounting to $345 billion in 2022, marks the highest level since the end of the Cold War. This increase is significantly influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, serving as a pivotal catalyst for trends in military expenditure.
Supplying aid to Ukraine emerges as a bilaterally beneficial endeavor, acting as a substantial impetus for European arms modernization and the expansion of arsenals. Beyond the immediate support to Ukraine, this initiative also compels Western Allies to adhere to the 2% GDP expenditure standard set by NATO. While the majority of NATO members fell short of this requirement in 2014, the landscape has evolved favorably by 2023, presenting improved prospects for these countries to meet and potentially exceed their defense expenditure targets.
The broader impact of the rearmament process extends beyond immediate geopolitical concerns, influencing defense spending patterns, fostering cooperation, and aligning countries with NATO standards. The dynamic nature of military expenditure changes, coupled with the commitment to strengthening defense capabilities, reflects a comprehensive response to emerging security challenges in the European theater.
The European rearmament effort carries profound significance for Ukraine, particularly in the aspect of weapon and vehicle supply, which represents a vital catalyst in advancing Ukrainian victory. As Europe actively undergoes rearmament, Ukraine gains a valuable opportunity to access modernized weaponry through European channels, fostering an essential augmentation of its military capabilities. Whether structured through long-term or short-term contracts, this collaborative approach opens avenues for Ukraine to integrate advanced weaponry into its defense infrastructure. Furthermore, the infusion of new arsenals creates prospects for joint training operations, fostering collaboration between NATO forces and the Ukrainian military. The provision of training by allied forces not only enhances Ukraine’s defense proficiency but also contributes to the professional development of military personnel. Significantly, bilateral cooperation is currently unfolding, exemplified by the ruling majority in the Bulgarian parliament’s agreement to provide Ukraine with Bulgarian airspace for F-16 aircraft training. This showcases the mutually beneficial nature of cooperation, reinforcing the shared commitment to security and defense between NATO allies, and Ukraine.
The European desire to boost its military strength assumes critical importance in the context of the nowadays unpredictable geopolitical landscape. The aftermath of Russia’s assault on Ukraine exposes the vulnerability of what is commonly referred to as stability, revealing that Europe was not entirely prepared to confront the escalating bellicosity originating from Russia since the 1990s. The ongoing rearmament processes represent a pivotal stride toward fortifying Europe’s security in the face of evolving threats.
Overall, the aspiration to rearmament signifies an essential step towards ensuring a secure and confident future for European nations, enabling them to defend against potential challenges while upholding democratic values. Furthermore, it provides Europe with an opportunity to enhance its independence from the United States’ defense efforts, injecting vitality into the NATO alliance. This strategic move is important, given the unpredictable nature of future geopolitical developments, emphasizing the necessity for Europe to bolster its defense capabilities and fortify its resilience in the pursuit of enduring stability.
 As part of the framework for cooperation adopted on 17 March 2003, the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements provide the basis for NATO-EU cooperation in crisis management in the context of EU-led military operations that make use of NATO’s collective assets and capabilities, including command arrangements and assistance in operational planning. In effect, they allow the Alliance to support EU-led operations in which NATO as a whole is not engaged.
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