It may appear at times that the U.S. can call on a bottomless pit of military stores to supply Ukraine. Increasingly, however, western allies are balking at taking any more equipment out of their inventories to support the eastern European country’s war against Russia.
It’s an untidy, uncomfortable aspect of alliance politics that was acknowledged publicly on Friday by the secretary general of NATO.
“Some allies are now raising the issue of whether these stocks are depleted too much,” Jens Stoltenberg said after his meeting in Brussels with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (He did not name the allies in question.)
Germany has been particularly vocal about the impact the war in Ukraine has had on its military stores. The country’s defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, has been quoted on several occasions over the last two months saying that the Bundeswehr’s weapons reserve is getting low and “clearly at this point … we have reached our limit.”
Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand made a similar point last spring and acknowledged the dilemma again this summer during an interview with CBC Radio’s The House.
“It is not sufficient for us to continue to draw down on the supplies of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Anand said on Aug. 5.
Earlier in the summer, the federal government found a way to divert to Ukraine a planned shipment of armoured support vehicles destined for the Canadian Army. The Department of National Defence acknowledged recently that the vehicles have yet to be delivered — two months after they were pledged at the NATO conference in Madrid.
The answer to allies’ supply bottlenecks, Stoltenberg said Friday, is to convince defence contractors to ramp up production to both meet the inventory needs of NATO nations and provide a steady stream of fresh equipment to Ukraine.
“Therefore, we are now in close contact with the defence industry,” Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO defence planners were identifying contractors’ capabilities “to ensure that we are now ramping up production, that we are replenishing the stocks” and meeting Ukraine’s needs.
‘Dig deeper,’ says Stoltenberg
“My first message to allies is that we welcome the unprecedented support,” Stoltenberg said. “We are calling for even more support and we urge them to dig deeper into the inventories, into their stocks, to continue to provide the supplies that Ukraine needs immediately.”
That message — about getting the defence industry onside — is a drum Anand (a former procurement minister) has been beating behind closed doors since the first meeting of the so-called Contact Group, a loose collection of up to 50 nations willing to supply arms and munitions to Ukraine. (That’s according to two defence sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.)
The latest meeting of the Contact Group, convened by the U.S., took place Thursday in Ramstein, Germany.
The deepening reluctance on the part of allies to part with existing equipment, and their existing shortages, have been enough to prompt Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to plan a special appeal.
Reuters reported on Friday that Zelenskyy is set to speak to U.S. arms makers and military leaders on Sept. 21 to issue an appeal for more weapons. The news agency reported he is scheduled to speak by video link before a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association in Austin, Texas — his first-ever speech to the U.S. defence industry.
The defence sources said that convincing arms-makers to ramp up production and open new lines has been an uphill battle because the giant multinational corporations are looking for contract guarantees and stability.
In her interview with CBC News last month, Anand would not comment on her closed-door discussions with allies but spoke about the urgent need to open and improve lines of communication with weapons-makers.
“We need to continue to communicate with industry to stress the moral imperative of ramping up and to make sure that they are partnering with us where necessary,” she said.
On Friday, both Stoltenberg and Blinken warned that the war in Ukraine will continue for months to come and Europe must be prepared for it.
Blinken is scheduled to meet Saturday with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. He said he plans to tell her that allied support “continues to make a decisive difference on the battlefield” — where Ukraine has lately gone from holding ground to retaking territory from Russia.