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Guns instead of masks: NATO countries continue to build up weapons

This post was published in Izvestia. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The coronavirus has not yet been completely defeated, but the military-industrial complex is already counting profits and losses, states are making adjustments to plans and making cautious forecasts. How the pandemic affected the military development of the largest NATO countries and the prospects for arms markets – in the material of Izvestia.

For some countries, the pandemic has become a heavy blow to the economy and has caused the need to revise defense budgets, shift or curtail programs for the development and purchase of weapons. For others, it’s more of an expense than a problem. Military construction in these countries is being implemented in accordance with previously approved plans and has practically not changed. At least for now.

It is too early to talk about long-term consequences in the post-coronavirus world, but some trends in the military sphere have already emerged.

In general, despite the gloomy forecasts, most countries do not intend to reduce military spending, rather the opposite – the defense industry and military orders are seen as one of the main ways of economic stimulation.

Germany

On June 10, it became known that the German coalition government decided to allocate financial assistance to businesses in the amount of € 130 billion. According to Finance Minister Olaf Stolz, such measures were taken to speed up the economy’s recovery from the crisis.

German arms manufacturers will receive € 10 billion from the treasury. It is noteworthy that the defense industry had been considered a “necessary evil” of the German economy for decades. To a certain extent, this can be viewed as a signal that the FRG is moving towards greater militarization.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said there is a rigorous calculation behind every decision to develop and manufacture weapons, including industrial policy and jobs in Germany. “If we want to quickly revive the economy, there is no point in reducing the defense budget, which is part of government spending,” she added.

Companies that are ready to start work this or next year, as well as those using a significant proportion of local employees and subcontractors, can count on government support.

Meanwhile, the previously planned projects are moving according to the previous schedule. For example, on March 11, that is, even during quarantine measures, the budget commission of the Bundestag allocated a budget for the first stage of the MGCS program to develop a promising tank.

On June 17, it became known about the financing of the construction of four multipurpose ships of the MKS180 project with an option for two more, and a day later, Rheinmetall announced that it had received another large contract for the production of 4,000 military trucks.

Stable activity is also noticeable in other projects of rearmament of the FRG army.

France

France has been showing stability in military construction for many years, and the pandemic has not broken this stability. According to the commander of the general staff of the country’s ground forces, Thierry Burkard, France must continue to strengthen its armed forces.

On June 17, the strategic plan for the development of the army until 2030 was published. The document was prepared by a group of high-ranking officers in August-October last year, but due to the outbreak of the pandemic, its publication was delayed.

On the whole, France remains true to its earlier course of modernizing the army, implementing the SCORPION program and increasing combat capabilities. However, the document also contains serious innovations that could signal a significant change in the views of the French leadership on the expected threats.

First, Burkar stresses that “the implementation of the plan is critical because the cycle of asymmetric wars ends and a return to the” traditional “conflict with an equal adversary is quite likely.”

Second, despite the traditional rhetoric about the threat from Russia, this time the focus has shifted. China was named as one of the main sources of concern. The French general believes that the aggressive expansion of the PRC can threaten such territories as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

The state should have the means to protect its interests even in such a remote theater of operations. All other recommendations and actions logically follow from this statement.

The rearmament, meanwhile, continues: within the framework of 12 major projects, 114 thousand French servicemen will be trained and equipped, of which 77 thousand belong to the ground forces.

The focus is still on space, cyberspace, information technology and other “new weapons of warfare.” There are so many high-tech innovations expected that even the creation of a special educational institution is planned.

There, military personnel will be able to receive advanced technical education necessary for the use and maintenance of new equipment. € 12 billion is allocated for its development and creation.

As in the case of Germany, the French leadership is providing substantial financial assistance to enterprises working on the production of weapons. The aerospace industry alone will receive € 15 billion. The goal, like the Germans, is to help the industry survive the crisis, preserve key competencies and jobs.

Interestingly, the plan directly encourages the military to rush orders and increase spending, thereby stimulating national production. For example, armies are proposing to double spending on ordering light reconnaissance aircraft and drones from small and medium-sized companies.

Spain

The Iberian kingdom is among the most affected by the coronavirus infection, but it also has no plans to cut military spending. So said Pedro Fuster, a high-ranking representative of the General Directorate of Armaments of the Spanish Ministry of Defense.

Currently, the country’s Ministry of Defense and representatives of the defense industry are studying the impact of the pandemic and are aimed at maintaining the combat readiness of the armed forces.

“We are exploring the capabilities of industry and major companies to find ways out of the crisis,” said Fuster. As in the case of other large European countries, the national industry, working on the creation and production of land, sea and air weapons, is named as a priority area for assistance.

The official also believes that the crisis can become “a catalyst for the implementation of new opportunities in the defense and aerospace industry in Spain, both at the micro and macro levels.”

The military budget for 2020–2021 will not change because of the crisis, and no major changes are expected in the implementation of current programs.

NATO

However, a stable state of affairs is by no means typical for all NATO countries. The members, already not distinguished by their unity in fulfilling the requirements of the alliance, demonstrate a desire, first of all, to secure national interests. Nobody rejects international obligations, but the prioritization is very indicative: first one’s own, then collective.

Another division is no less clear: old Europe has more resources. Even in a deteriorating financial situation, these countries have the opportunity to act according to previously outlined plans in the field of defense and security. But the military ambitions of most Eastern European states are under threat.

It is possible that it was precisely the desire to give confidence to the Eastern European partners that caused the rather strange steps taken by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In mid-March, that is, in the midst of the fight against COVID-19, he presented a report on NATO’s annual activities, and on 8 June launched the NATO 2030 initiative.

According to Stoltenberg, the initiative is “an opportunity to show exactly where we see the North Atlantic Alliance in 10 years and how it will protect us in an increasingly uncertain world.” To achieve these goals, it is necessary to “maintain political unity, take a more global approach and remain strong in the military field.”

The latter means “to continue investing in the military and improving its capabilities. This is what has guaranteed our safety over the past 70 years,” he added.

It is significant that Stoltenberg’s speeches repeat the reminder to fulfill the requirement to spend 2% of GDP on military needs. This idea was sounded during the speech on March 19, it was also repeated in June.

Obviously, the NATO leadership is concerned about a possible reduction in the level of security spending, which is quite likely, given the difficult economic situation in a number of countries and far from rosy forecasts.

There is another cause for concern. Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, which have caused the flow of refugees and illegal migrants, do not subside. Now to this problem has been added the coronavirus infection, which is taking on rampant proportions in the context of the civil wars in Syria and Libya, as well as in numerous refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries.

If earlier the EU countries had to fight only with illegal migration, now they will have to defend themselves against infection in order to prevent a recurrence of the outbreak at home. And this is a potentially huge problem for southern Europe, at least until a complete and affordable vaccine is obtained.

The growing conflict between Turkey and Greece, NATO members, also adds to the headache. In general, it can be noted that the focus of interests of the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance is clearly shifting to internal tasks or to other regions.

USA

In 2019, US arms exports were estimated at $ 55 billion. Sales to the countries of the Middle East, long-term partners and users of American technology, accounted for a significant share.

Forecasts for 2020 are less rosy, there are fears that the defense budgets of the buying countries may decrease – both due to the fall in oil prices and due to the shift in government priorities. They may have to focus on mitigating the impact of the global pandemic.

However, representatives of the American military-industrial complex are optimistic. The first quarter of 2020 has already yielded good results, including in the Middle East. In early May, Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said: “So far, we have seen a good influx of money from Middle Eastern clients, which is surprising given the oil situation. They need our equipment and we need to help them protect themselves. “

In unison, there are comments from the Lockheed Martin management that there is no decline in demand in the Middle East.

It should be noted that the pandemic is unlikely to affect long-term plans. The official position of the US leadership in relation to Russia and China will not change either. They will remain on the list of threats, which means they will continue to serve as a catalyst for the growth of military budgets both in the United States itself and in its allies in Europe and Asia.

On June 10, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a February proposal to increase the US military budget for 2021. This is only the first step in a long process of negotiation and discussion, but two notable points stand out.

First, the bill was adopted despite the difficult situation with the coronavirus and protests in the country. Second, it contains a proposal to increase the pay of servicemen and improve health care for the military and their families.

The latter, to a certain extent, limits the freedom of action of those forces that would like to “ride” the Trump initiative. Opponents of the bill risk being reputed to be politicians “endangering the lives of the soldiers who protect us.” If successful, the military will receive $ 740.5 billion, of which $ 69 billion is planned to be spent on operations abroad.

It should be noted that two practically non-intersecting streams can be clearly traced in the American information agenda. The first is the “popular” turnover, actively replicated by the media, which includes, in particular, protests by BLM supporters and the fight against the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, decisions and long-term plans related to the military sphere continue to be made at the highest level and without excessive publicity.

Effects

The patterns that apply to the EU countries are, in principle, typical for the whole world. For example, if the United States does not plan to slow down the pace in the defense sphere and may even slightly increase the budget for next year, then in Latin America there are almost no countries that would not cancel any of the major military projects.

A number of countries see the pandemic as an opportunity and are ready to invest in national defense, despite serious losses. According to Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the current crisis will be used for a long-overdue reform in the defense industry.

Analysts and financiers, meanwhile, predict an economic downturn with a subsequent rise in the so-called. V-type. Differences in amounts and timing, but in general, nothing that the world would not have encountered before.

The situation is as follows with regard to military development and arms markets. Now there is a whole bunch of factors, not all of which are directly related to the pandemic. However, the effects will overlap, making the overall picture worse.

The worst affected countries will include countries with initially weak economies that have not provided themselves with a financial cushion or are dependent on certain sectors of the economy.

The consequences of the pandemic will affect the plans of many countries in Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East. Most likely, many national programs for the development and procurement of weapons will be shifted “to the right” in terms of timeframes or canceled altogether.

In general, the consequences of the pandemic and growing tensions in a number of regions are likely to increase the demand for weapons and accelerate the implementation of national defense programs. This, in turn, will spur production and international arms trade. The decline in the purchasing power of a number of arms importing countries will affect manufacturers, which will have to be kept “afloat” with the help of government subsidies.

However, the pandemic is unlikely to become a reason for revising long-term contracts and investments and will not change the alliances that have been formed earlier. Some shift towards strengthening national, rather than collective, security is also possible.

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