After the collapse of the Soviet Union, European countries drastically reduced their defense budgets, armies and arsenals. With the subsequent rise of al-Qaeda, they have focused on fighting terrorism, which requires other military investments and lighter forces, the NYT notes.
Even NATO’s long engagement in Afghanistan, the paper said, bore little resemblance to the gun- and tank-heavy ground war in Europe that almost all defense ministries thought would never happen again.
But the amount of artillery used in the fighting in Ukraine is staggering, NATO officials say, according to the newspaper. In Afghanistan, the forces of the North Atlantic Alliance could fire up to three hundred artillery rounds a day and did not have to worry about air defense. But Ukraine can fire thousands of missiles a day and remains in desperate need of air defenses against Russian missiles and Iranian-made drones.
“A day in Ukraine is a month or more in Afghanistan,” emphasized Camille Grand, a defense expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, who until recently was NATO’s deputy secretary general for defense investments.
In the summer, the Ukrainians fired six to seven thousand artillery rounds in the Donbas every day, a high-ranking NATO representative said. At that time, the Russians fired 40 to 50 thousand rounds in twenty-four hours. At the same time, the United States produces only fifteen thousand such projectiles per month, the NYT writes.
The elemental unpreparedness of the West has now, according to the American paper, launched a wild effort to supply Ukraine with what it needs, and at the same time to replenish NATO’s supplies. With both sides consuming weapons and ammunition at a rate not seen since World War II, the effort to maintain the arsenals has become a key point that could become decisive for Ukraine’s efforts, the newspaper writes. According to him, even the United States has a limited supply of weapons that the Ukrainians need.
NATO could invest in the Czech Republic
Western countries are therefore scrambling to find increasingly rare Soviet-era equipment and ammunition for Ukraine to use, including S-300 air defense missiles, T-72 tanks, and especially Soviet artillery shells, The New York Times continues. According to the periodical, the West is also trying to come up with alternative systems, albeit older ones, to replace the dwindling stockpile of expensive Javelin anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles.
According to the paper, this sends signals to the Western defense industry that longer-term contracts are in the offing, more shift workers are needed and older factory lines need to be restored. There is even talk of NATO investing in old factories in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to resume production of 152- and 122-millimeter rounds for Ukrainian artillery, the NYT points out.
According to the paper, the country faces a number of obstacles in this direction. One of them is export controls, which regulate whether weapons and ammunition sold in one country can be sent to another state. Ukraine also has to deal with a variety of different systems, both difficult to supply and maintain.
The New York Times also points out that a number of NATO member countries largely ignored the commitment to allocate two percent of GDP to defense, which the paper also calls – in light of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and the fighting in Donbass – modest. In February, when Russia launched a massive attack on Ukraine, the weapons stocks of many countries were only about half of what they should have been, a NATO official pointed out, according to the newspaper.
In total, the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance have so far provided Ukraine with weapons worth approximately 40 billion dollars (around 936 billion crowns), according to the NYT. According to another NATO official, the smaller countries have already exhausted their potential, but roughly ten – especially the larger – states can still provide more weapons.
U.S. officials insist the U.S. military has enough material to continue supplying Ukraine and defend U.S. interests elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has also proven to be adaptable. Its forces are known in NATO as “MacGyver’s army”, writes the American newspaper, referring to the TV series in which the main character improvises with everything he can get his hands on.
For example, to shell Russian positions on Snake Island, according to the NYT, the Ukrainians used French Caesar howitzers with a range of forty kilometers, which they placed on cargo riverboats and towed ten kilometers to hit the island fifty kilometers away, the newspaper claims.
He also reminds that the attacking Russians also have supply problems. They now use fewer artillery rounds, although they still have a large number, but some are old and less reliable, the paper says. According to him, Moscow is also trying to increase military production and is reportedly trying to buy missiles from North Korea and other drones from Iran.