by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 15
November 2022
Dispatch
10:12

Central Europe re-arms in face of Russian threat

Visegrád countries have committed to massively increased defence spending
by William Nattrass
Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki. Credit: Getty

Prague

Speaking at a military aviation plant on Monday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented his nation with “a simple choice.” “We can either fall victim to Russian domination and captivity,” he warned, “or we can build up our defence potential quickly, together with our closest allies such as the U.S.A., Great Britain and other NATO countries.” 

Morawiecki framed Poland’s extraordinarily ambitious military expansion plans as a “duty”, which would see it increase defence spending from the current 2.4% of GDP to a final target of 5%, already going up to 3% next year. This would involve doubled troop numbers and massive investments in armaments.  

These are hardly propitious economic circumstances for such plans. Indeed, Morawiecki implied that the EU would be partly to blame if Poland fails to live up to its new defence programme, with Brussels continuing to withhold funds for Poland.  

But it isn’t just Poland where defence spending has taken on a new sense of urgency. Across the border in the Czech Republic, there’s an impetus to reverse years of neglect, with Prague trying to balance a drive to reach NATO’s 2% spending goal with the need to get finances back under control in the wake of the pandemic. 

As major suppliers of arms for Ukraine, both countries recognise a short-term imperative for increased spending. With weapons stockpiles running low, many European countries have little materiel left to send to Kyiv, highlighting the continent’s continued reliance on American might. The Czech Republic has by now sent as much as 30-40% of all its weapons systems to Ukraine, according to one analysis; the shortfall in new supplies has led Czech and Ukrainian arms industry leaders to sign a wide-ranging agreement for the rapid production of more equipment for the Ukrainian army. 

But former Czech Army Chief of Staff Petr Pavel, who was the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018 and who will run in Czech presidential elections this January, told me that the kind of support which the country can provide has changed since the early days of the war. “The supply we had that could be offered to Ukraine was always limited. From the start, our support focused on equipment that Ukrainians were able to use from the very first day,” he said. 

Most recently, this has included Communist-era tanks with upgrades paid for by the Pentagon. But according to Pavel, the depletion of supplies means “what we can provide now is financial support and technological support for the production of equipment.” 

As elsewhere in Europe, this shortfall is partly attributable to a long-standing disregard for defence. According to Pavel, the current government “wants to stick to the 2% GDP NATO commitment,” but the public remains sceptical because “we tend to feel quite secure in our basin surrounded by the mountains all around, as well as by our friends and allies.” Higher military spending gets a much better reception in Poland, because “you don’t have to convince Poles that Russia is a threat.”  

Yet there are signs elsewhere — most notably in Germany — that old Central European aversions to defence investments have faded since the war began. And while overhauling Europe’s military capabilities will involve significant difficulties, no one could now dismiss criticisms — made most famously by the Trump administration prior to Europe’s new era of war — about the continent’s past complacency.

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rick stubbs
rick stubbs
11 days ago

Germans will play Hamlet until the end of this play. Soft power failed but they have no other game plan..

martin logan
martin logan
11 days ago

Minsk was Putin’s “clever” plan to keep Donbas in Ukraine, as a Trojan Horse to sabotage the rest of the country.
He could always have just declared the two demi-republics part of Russia, like Crimea. Ukraine would then have been left permanently outside of NATO, but free of Russian control.
The latter was unacceptable, however. Putin wanted all of Ukraine, since Ukrainians are all “really just Russians”–except for N£zi-Jews like Zelensky. Otherwise, Russia could never be more than a petropower like Nigeria.
He gambled everything on war.
And wound up with less than nothing.

Matt M
Matt M
12 days ago

there are signs elsewhere — most notably in Germany — that old Central European aversions to defence investments have faded 

A unified Germany armed to the teeth. God help us!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
12 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

There are worse things. Like depending on Putin. Or on Trump.
German premiers seem to be saner and more reliable than either.

Matt M
Matt M
12 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I pray you are right Rasmus.

Chris W
Chris W
12 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I take ‘saner and more reliable’ to mean boring and totally lacking in ideas.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
12 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Why the downvotes? Trump fans or Germanophobia?
Anyway agreed, I’d rather depend on the Germans than Trump. And they’re between us and Russia geographically too, so can maybe provide more protection for these islands.

Last edited 12 days ago by Ian Stewart
benjamin auger
benjamin auger
12 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

“A unified Germany armed to the teeth. God help us!”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Berthold Kohler chief editor called for Germany to acquire nuclear bombs of its own.
Gold help may be not enough

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
11 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

In the real world, prejudices have expiration dates, which by and large is a good thing. It took many decades for an insignificant Prussia to become a militaristic behemoth, and for its descendant Germany to become something even worse. But all that ended in disaster 77 years ago, and my impression of the several post-WWII generations is that they are much more likely to be peaceniks than neo-Nazis. So come down to earth.

Matt M
Matt M
11 days ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

I hope you are right Wim. And I don’t think they are neo-Nazis at all. In fact all the Germans I have ever met have been scrupulously moral people. Plus I think forgiveness and reconciliation are essential in all life and we should never visit the sins of the (great grand) father on the son.
My concern is that the Germans themselves are so worried about themselves that they have resisted and many still resist any sort of rearmament. Why do they worry? Do they see something within their society that foreigners don’t? Is geography destiny as some argue and the real estate the Germans occupy will lead inevitably to expansion or doom (as some also say about Russia)?
Anyway, I pray that you are right and I will come down to earth.

chris Barton
chris Barton
12 days ago

Surely all the years of propaganda we have been fed that Russia is this superpower wanting to take over Europe like the USSR has been shown to complete and utter Bull by the Russian armies performance in Ukraine? They cant hold a small piece of Ukraine let alone everything east of Paris. Still arms manufacturers (particularly American ones) are happy.

R Wright
R Wright
12 days ago
Reply to  chris Barton

An incompetent aggressor is still an aggressor.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
12 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

Yup, they can still kill and hurt lots of civilians with missiles even when they’re armies are hopeless.

Last edited 12 days ago by Ian Stewart
martin logan
martin logan
11 days ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Russia actually had a rather competent military. It is Putin’s ridiculous plans for 24 Feb that doomed it to destruction.
Almost everyone agrees his attack on five separate fronts was idiotic. Much of Russia’s armour and personnel were destroyed during the attack and subsequent retreat.
Ditto for the slapdash use of cruise missiles over an 8-month period.
Finally, Putin’s insistance on hanging on to Kherson months after it became almost impossible to resupply insured that still more equpt fell into Ukrainian hands.
Without Putin, it’s difficult to see how Ukraine could have achieved so much success over the last 9 months.
He’s Zelensky’s secret weapon.

Neil Anthony
Neil Anthony
12 days ago

Putin has been granted – most favoured nation – status … By the Global Military Industrial Complex. Any European Liberal elite who dares to oppose the “Complex” shall be dispatched forthwith… Maybe Putin cannot take Paris. However, the “Complex” cares not. Question. How will the so-called Liberal Masters of the Universe work to maintain equilibrium with the “Complex?”

martin logan
martin logan
11 days ago
Reply to  Neil Anthony

So, the alternative is to halt Putin’s aggression with rainbow flags?

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
12 days ago

Ramping up military spending? Why not ramp up diplomatic spending? There was ample opportunity to avoid this war through diplomacy. But the people who want to ramp up military spending were having none of that.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
12 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

The only realistic diplomatic solution I ever saw required Ukraine to abandon its independence and become a Russian vassal state. Or ‘demilitarisation and de-nazification’, as the Russians call it. If you know of another solution that would have avoided the war, please share the details with us.

martin logan
martin logan
11 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

“Diplomacy…”
Rather like a shamanic chant in a forgotten language, about fantasies that never existed.
“Diplomacy” reflects facts on the ground. Nothing more.
Either one side or the other wins, or there is a stalemate. Only then comes diplomacy.
And a stalemate will take a long time, and be far more destructive to both Russia and Ukraine.