Eastern Europe should invest in defense industrial supply chains

As China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats openly question the sovereignty of ex-Soviet states, including the Baltics, Eastern Europe should respond. Eastern European countries should invest in defense industrial supply chains that will not only bolster Ukraine but also support Taiwan, writes Joseph Webster.

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Joseph Webster is a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council and editor of the China-Russia Report. This article represents his own personal opinion.

There is little chance that Beijing will seek to invade Taiwan in the near term. Still, military-related risks are rising as the Chinese armed forces become qualitatively more capable and quantitatively larger.

Additionally, Western defense industrial supply chains are already being stretched by the war in Ukraine, creating some tradeoffs between supplying kit to Kyiv or Taipei.

Accordingly, Eastern European countries should invest in military armament production lines for Javelins, air-defense systems, short-range anti-ship missiles, and other anti-access/area denial (A2AD) capabilities.

Expanding production rates for these capabilities will positively impact the security of Ukraine, Taiwan and, ultimately, eastern Europe.

Beijing’s opposition to Eastern Europe

Beijing’s hostility to Eastern Europe is increasingly palpable and has been building for some time.

Xi Jinping was, reportedly, the first foreign leader to call Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko after his “victory” in Belarus’ sham presidential election of August 2020. Beijing’s intervention into Belarusian domestic politics impacted Lithuania and other Baltic states.

In response, Vilnius moved closer to Taipei and quit Beijing’s 17+1 cooperation forum; China subsequently downgraded diplomatic ties and pressured companies to leave Lithuania.

Beijing’s most harmful impact on Eastern Europe has been its pro-Russia neutrality throughout the invasion of Ukraine. Even though Beijing has not yet provided military assistance to Moscow, it is doing nearly everything else. China’s provision of economic, political, and logistical assistance has been a key enabler for the Russian invasion.

The Baltics have some breathing room

The Baltics’ territorial integrity is arguably safer now than it has been for decades.

The risk of an invasion of the Baltics was extremely low even before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: while the Russian dictator exercised extraordinarily poor judgment in assaulting Kyiv, he nevertheless shows a healthy respect for NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance.

The Russian military will remain weakened for years, if not decades. Some frontline special forces brigades have suffered 90 to 95 percent attrition rates; Russia’s officer corps has been devastated; and the Russian aerospace forces, or VKS, entered the conflict with fewer than 100 fully trained pilots and are now reportedly sending trainers to the front lines.

The Russian military has been weighed and has been found wanting. Moreover, Russian armed forces will almost certainly remain engaged in Ukraine for years.

There are, of course, concerns about the future of European-US ties, particularly starting in 2025. These fears seem to have motivated French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments in Beijing, which attempted to chart a China policy semi-independently of Washington.

While NATO does indeed face significant risks on the horizon, these problems are manageable. Even in a worst-case scenario, the Baltics will still possess the ultimate deterrent from France and the United Kingdom, not to mention NATO forces’ apparent conventional overmatch vis-à-vis Russia.

In sum, the Baltics have the security space to invest in weapons production lines.

Arming Taiwan will enhance Baltics security

As the war in Ukraine has demonstrated, Western militaries require not only quality but also quantity. To deter and, if necessary, win present and future conflicts, Western countries must have sufficient stockpiles of arms and munitions.

There are a variety of proposals to bolster Western armaments production and stockpiles, including jointly guaranteeing long-term orders and investment. These ideas have merit, but NATO countries, especially in Eastern Europe, should also consider the needs of non-NATO entities like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Both Kyiv and Taipei will face major security threats from Moscow and Beijing for a long time. Fortunately, A2AD capabilities are relevant in both contexts, although Taiwan’s needs are more maritime in character.

To help both Kyiv and Taipei – and themselves – Baltic countries should consider making investments in production lines for key military items that need to be mass produced. Some obvious candidates include anti-tank weapons, man-portable air-defense systems, short range anti-ship missiles, and other A2AD capabilities.

The Baltics should seek to avoid a backlash from Beijing, if possible.

Investments in Western defense industrial supply chains need not be showy, nor do Western countries need to spell out which problem set they are seeking to manage. Still, Beijing’s increasingly open hostility to Eastern Europe and the Baltics deserves a response.

Expanding Western military industrial capacity will reduce the risks of conflict in Europe and the Indo-Pacific and underpin the security of the rules-based international order, which is the ultimate guarantor of freedom.

Consequently, the Baltic countries should consider investing in production lines for A2AD capabilities.


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