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Episode 89. European Rearmament (Are We Preparing for the Wrong War?)

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The war in Ukraine completely changed how Europe saw its own defence, and once again the continent is beginning to scramble to hastily rearm and modernise its defence industries. The question being asked by several analysts though, is whether Europe is rearming for the right war?


Whilst the tanks the UK, France and Germany are fast-tracking are optimal for the battlefields of Eastern Ukraine, they are of little use for future conflicts in the jungles of Mali, the foothills of the Balkans or even the beaches of Taiwan. Is Europe once again preparing to fight the last war?

 

Episode Overview:


Part 1: A Continental Landmine (3:56)

  • Neil Melvin begins our conversation noting the increased expenditure on defence budgets across Europe, commencing before the conflict in Ukraine but has rapidly escalating in the past year. We discuss the difficulty of comparing spending level from country to country as an indicator of military quality and preparedness.

  • We discuss the example of Germany as an illustration of how difficult defence procurement can be, noting the disconnect between the pull of spending on new-gen technology and the simple infrastructure and logistical capabilities that have atrophied in Europe more broadly since the end of the Cold War.

  • We note the significant remanent of Soviet-style military equipment still in use in several European nations (and put into action in Ukraine) and the need to pivot away from those in the near future. This brings up the problem of NATO equipment being significantly more expensive and the challenge of finding interoperability in Europe.

  • We conclude Part 1 unpacking the dilemma of balancing quality verses quantity in military procurement, with the recent surge in cheap drones in Ukraine and other theatres proving effective but with a high rate of attrition. This is complicated with the notion of sovereign value chains in defence procurement keeping European nations unable to unite and achieve economies of scale.

Part 2: A Customised Calamity (29:07)

  • Alex Clarkson begins Part 2 by breaking down the discrepancies between European militaries in spending and in clear strategic doctrine, using the example of Italy's military being on paper much smaller than some of its peers, but with a highly focused rationale on defending Italian territory in the Mediterranean.

  • Our conversation turns to understanding the raison d'etre of the post-Cold War German military, taking on more of a police role and becoming significantly more reactive in character, while also being affected by significant cuts during the Eurozone crisis.

  • With the military supplies sent to Ukraine from reserves kept on standby by the Warsaw Pact nearly depleted, we discuss how vulnerable Europe is to a lack of arms production in the event of a new or larger conflict emerging.

Part 3: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Some Withdrew (43:57)

  • Perun begins Part 3 with a look at how Russian military equipment has evolved over the course of the Ukrainian conflict, with economic sanctions and wartime demands causing retrofitting older reserve hardware, pivoting to domestically producible equipment, and purchasing equipment from partners such as Iran.

  • We discuss the rapid mobilisation of arms and equipment to Ukraine in the early stages of the conflict giving way to heavier Warsaw Pact-era equipment, to now the increasing NATO and US-level complex equipment, and question how sustainable this progression is.

  • We pivot to the challenge of European nations rearming to a modern standard, with Perun breaking down the twin issues of requirement and resourcing that need to be reconciled in each nation's approach. We then predict how long the quest to rearm will take, noting the long tail of funding and contracts affecting the procurement process long before the development of troops and building of platforms.

  • Our attention turns to where European militaries will prioritise development capabilities moving forward, including in Poland, as well as how those calculations will be affected by the Ukrainian conflict. We discuss the impact of the US' actions in Ukraine and rhetoric around European defence affecting these decisions.

Part 4: Leopards for Lagoons? (1:05:05)

  • James Black begins Part 4 noting that European militaries have had ample opportunities to think about the threat Russia poses since 2014, with the past decade seeing an adjustment in defence supply chains across the continent. These developments were accelerated by the election of Donald Trump and the threat of US wind-back in support to NATO.

  • We discuss the growth in the cost of high-tech current generation military platforms creating a shrinking effect in the number of assets a military can afford to field, which combined with the danger of focusing too closely to previous conflicts in steering long-term force structure decisions, leaves European militaries vulnerable to being too specialised and unable to adapt to the next conflict.

  • We discuss the prospect of continental integration of defence industries in Europe, noting that the defence supply chain creates tens of thousands of jobs, often clustered together in specific geographies, as well as significant revenue for each exporting nation, as well as issues of trust in potential future conflicts.

  • Black identifies the biggest doctrinal differences since the start of the conflict in 2022, at a tactical and strategic level.

 

Episode Guests:


Neil Melvin

  • Director International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

  • His current research is focused on emerging international security dynamics in key regions around the world, notably Europe and Eurasia

  • Previously Director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme and Director of Research at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

  • He has held senior adviser positions in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Energy Charter, the European Union, and has been a consultant for the United Nations

Alex Clarkson

  • Lecturer in German and European & International Studies at King's College London

  • His research focuses on how the European Union’s border system has involved an increased emphasis on militarisation that has affected its relationship with neighbouring states in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Maghreb and Sahel regions

Perun

  • Well-renowned defence analyst and YouTuber covering the military industrial complex and national military investment strategy

  • Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, he has produced excellent analysis of the lessons from the conflict and how they may inform the future investment decisions that other nations may or should make

James Black

  • Assistant Director, Defence and Security research group at RAND Europe, where he leads the Defence Strategy, Policy and Capability research portfolio

  • He is also the European Lead for the RAND Space Enterprise Initiative

  • Black's research focuses on strategy, policy and decision making amidst uncertainty, complexity and rapid change. He has led a wide range of studies for the UK MOD, EU, NATO, Australian, Finnish, Norwegian and U.S. defence agencies

  • NATO 2030 Fellow

 

The Red Line's European Rearmament Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of military procurement on the European continent.

Books:

Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine

Mark Galeotti


White Flag: An Examination of Britain's Modern Day Defence Capabilities

Michael Ashcroft

Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe

Michael Ashcroft

 

For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon member Sofie Ela

 

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