Military Capability a Priority for Northern EU
Northern EU states strengthen military potential amid growing threat
Amid the ongoing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the countries of Northern Europe, including the Baltic States, are continuing their active militarization through new defence programs and active procurements of new weapons and combat equipment. Being in a serious risk zone these days, they are quickly increasing their military spending and expanding their military infrastructure, capacity and readiness.
Probably the most ambitious program currently being implemented is in Germany. The German government has recently announced plans to form Europe’s largest army and to increase its military spending from 1.4% in 2020 to 2% of the national GDP (equivalent to €70 billion).
According to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, successful implementation of these plans will allow Germany to significantly strengthen the military potential of both the republic and its allies.
As Scholz said in an interview with German Stuttgarter Zeitung and Stuttgarter Nachrichten business papers, the value of planned investments is €100 billion. They will be accumulated in a special fund that will be regulated by a special legal act.
According to the German Ministry of Defence, implementation of these plans is important for the country and its Armed Forces (Bundeswehr), particularly as the Bundeswehr does not have a large stock of combat vehicles, weapons or other combat equipment. It should be noted that Germany’s military budget has been chronically underfunded since 2010, and this has had a negative effect on the military capacity of the country.
As for the spending structure, according to German Der Spiegel, about €16.6 billion will be allocated for land forces, and more than €19.3 billion for the Navy. In the latter case, most of the funds will be earmarked for massive purchase of corvettes, frigates, submarines, maritime reconnaissance aircrafts and new missile systems for warships.
However, the bulk of funding – about €40.9 billion – will go to the Air Force. These plans include the purchase of new Eurofighter jets and transport helicopters. There are also plans to replace the Tornado multi-role aircraft with modern fighters. The U.S. F-35 aircraft was initially pushed aside for political reasons but is now back on the table.
According to analysts, successful implementation of these procurement plans will probably make the German Armed Forces the most modern in Europe. The 2022 military budget has been boosted by €50.4 billion – the largest increase in almost 30 years.
Interestingly, as recently as last year, representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the "Greens" officially opposed an increase in the number of Bundeswehr from approximately 183,000 to 203,000 soldiers, which were proposed by the former German Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
However, Putin’s assault on Ukraine has resulted in an abrupt change of perspective in Germany. The plan to increase personnel numbers by 2025 (to more than 203,000 troops) is indeed going forward, and will make the German army the third largest in NATO, after the U.S. and Turkish forces. There will be challenges in this part of the plan, as the Bundeswehr recruitment has been plagued by bureaucratic mismanagement. By the end of 2020, government figures showed that 18% of positions above junior rank across the Bundeswehr were vacant.
In the meantime, Poland also plans to complete its massive re-armament and modernization in the shortest possible time. Polish authorities have approved an increase of the size of the army by 2.5 times.
According to head of the ruling Law and Justice Party, Yaroslav Kaczyński, there is an acute need due to the ever growing "Russian threat". According to him, the active Polish army plans to expand from 150,000 to 400,000 troops over the next few years.
In addition to troops, there are also big plans for the procurement of new combat equipment and weapons. In January 2020, Poland signed a contract for 32 F-35A fighter jets. Since March 2022, the Polish Ministry of Defence has signed contracts for the procurement of 500 HIMARS rocket launcher systems, 250 of the latest-version Abrams tanks (M1A2 SEPv3), and 8 Patriot anti-aircraft missiles. An additional batch of Polish-built short-range air defence missile systems (Piorun MANPADS) is also planned.
Earlier, in addition to the massive procurements planned for new weapons and combat equipment, the Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak also announced plans to deploy a NATO battle group on its territory.
In a July interview with the Polish Sieci business paper, Blaszczak said the country will also purchase 48 South Korean fighters and at least 180 K2 "Black Panther" tanks. Earlier, Polish media also reported on the country’s plans to purchase 116 Abrams tanks from the United States. According to local experts, the combat value of these tanks is at least twice as high as that of the T-72 tanks, which were transferred to Ukraine. These procurements will allow Poland to replenish its inventory after sending 240 T-72 tanks to Ukraine.
According to the minister, most of these weapons and combat equipment should be delivered next year. To shorten the timelines, they will not undergo extensive testing at industrial sites, but immediately delivered to the country’s armed forces.
It should also be noted that Poland is also planning to begin production of its own tanks for domestic and allied militaries.
Lithuania (a former Soviet state in the Baltics) has chosen to increase its military spending to 3% of its national GDP. This significant boost to its military budget was strongly proposed by President Gitanas Nauseda in advance of the NATO summit in June 2022. "We must be ready to protect our state so that any potential aggressor does not even think of testing NATO's retaliatory force", asserted Nauseda.
Lithuania’s previous military spending of 2.1% GDP in 2020 was approved to increase to 2.5% by 2030, however, these plans have been drastically revised to 3% in recent months and there is a high possibility that the initial spending targets will be completed by the end of the current year.
Part of the needed funds will be allocated from the special defence tax, which is proposed to be introduced in the country very soon.
After February 24, Lithuania sent numerous requests to NATO to establish a permanent military presence in the Baltic area. Its Ministry of Defence also wants to modernize military training grounds, which involves the implementation of 10 special projects worth €47 million. A significant part of such works will be carried out at military facilities and objects of the country near the border with Belarus.
Latvia (another former Soviet state in the Baltics) has also approved to increase its defence budget up to 2.5% of GDP by 2025. This year the republic is on track to spend probably a record sum on its defence in the last several years – €758.35 million. There is more to come, as Latvia’s Minister of Defence, Artis Pabriks, has recently said he expects to receive an additional €350 million from the state budget for the needs of his department this year.
"I think that we should not delay and wait any longer. In the armed forces of Latvia, our plans are based on a long-term perspective of development for approximately 12 years and, taking into account the way of development of the current situation, there is no time to wait 12 years", said Defence Minister Pabriks. “We are a small country next to a big bully.”
According to the Latvian Ministry of Defence, the military budget of the country will reach 2.25% of GDP next year, and 2.4% or even 2.5% by in 2024. According to state documents, these targets were initially supposed to be achieved by 2027-2030, but have been moved up significantly.
Most of these funds will be allocated in the improvement of logistics as well as ensuring additional supplies of weapons and combat equipment for the needs of the Latvian army.
According to an official Ministry of Defence spokesperson, two of the highest-priority procurement targets for 2022 will be the delivery of new unmanned systems and medium-range air defence systems.
From its perspective, the Ministry of Defence has also plans to focus on the development of mechanized capabilities of the country’s ground armed forces of the country, and strengthening of the Latvian national cyber security system. In addition, the number of troops will also be increased.
The military budget of Estonia (the third former Soviet state in the Baltics) will probably set the record, compared to other Baltic states.
In accordance with the new state defence plan, which has recently been approved by the government, the Estonian defence expenditures in the period from 2023 to 2026 will amount to €3 billion, and together with the additional funding will reach €3.8 billion.
Almost half of the budget will be tendered for the purchase of new weapons, particularly the K9 self-propelled artillery systems and anti-tank systems (Spike, Javelin). Within the next four years, the Estonian army should have multiple rocket launchers, anti-aircraft missile systems and new armoured personnel carriers.
Moreover, additional infrastructure will also be built to accommodate NATO allies at the military base in Tapa (northern Estonia). The volume of investments in the project will exceed €150 million.
Serious funding will be allocated for the strengthening of the Latvia "Kaitseliyt" militia, whose overall size is anticipated to increase to 20,000 people. An additional €813 million will be allocated to increase the salaries of military, with €278 million expected to be provided for the Latvian intelligence service. It was also decided that the number of non-regular soldiers will be increased to 4,000 per year.
In total, €254.4 million will be allocated for the purchases of new weapons and combat equipment for "Kytseliyt" in the period from 2023 to 2026.
What did Russia expect?
Looking at the solidarity of effort to increase capacity to counter any future threat by Russia to NATO countries in Northern Europe, especially if Russia manages to take Ukraine down, it’s hard to imagine that this domino-effect wasn’t anticipated by the Russian aggressor.
On 21 July 2022, the Council of the EU adopted new measures intended to “tighten existing economic sanctions targeting Russia, perfect their implementation and strengthen their effectiveness.” The “maintenance and alignment” package includes prohibitions on the purchase, import, or transfer, directly or indirectly, of gold or jewelry, if it originates in Russia or it has been exported from Russia.
It is quite possible that Putin thought all active response would be in passive sanctions, but the countries closest to Russia are realistic. They know they had better be prepared, and that such measures are necessary to withstand the "Russian threat" if necessary.
Eugene Gerden is an international writer specializing in global military and defence industries.