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How can partners enhance support for Ukraine?

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion on 24th February 2022, rhetorical and material support for Ukraine came in abundance; the United Kingdom (UK) was even providing lethal assistance in January 2022. Now, however, the rhetoric remains, but the support provided does not match it. Negotiations regarding Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (EU) were recently delayed, and the German Bundestag rejected the provision of Ukraine with Taurus missiles on 22nd February this year. And the American Congress continues to frustrate attempts at providing Ukraine with aid as the spectre of a potential second presidency for Donald Trump looms. It is clear support for Ukraine needs to be accelerated given the situation on the ground there. But how can partners enhance this support? We asked ten experts in today’s Big Ask.

Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University

Norway could help Ukraine by doing several things. 

First, it could simply commit to a level of defence spending which matches the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) target. For an extremely wealthy, energy-rich country, the current figure of around 1.6% will seem to outside observers to be counter-intuitive given its proximity to a hostile Russia. Norway has been content for others such as the UK and the United States (US) to lend a defensive hand but has been careful to placate Russia lest it act provocatively in Svalbard, in and around the immediate terrestrial border region, or disrupt activity such as fishing in the Barents Sea. Norway should commit to reaching the 2% figure by around 2025 or 2026. 

Second, Norway could substantially increase its direct military support to Ukraine, which is pegged currently at NOK75 billion between 2023 and 2027. This is a commitment of around £6 billion, but it is one which Norway’s opposition Liberal Party has challenged as too low. Indeed, Norway can afford to give more. 

Third, any equipment supplied to Ukraine, including promised F-16 fighters, must be functional. Newspaper reports noted that Ukrainian military personnel observed that several M-109 tanks were simply inoperable. Another worry for Ukraine is that Norway fronts up the International Donors Group for Palestine.

Gabriel Elefteriu, Council on Geostrategy

Uniquely among NATO members, Romania does not acknowledge any of its military aid to Ukraine. The Kiel Institute, which tracks international support for Kyiv, records zero military commitments by Bucharest and only a small sum for humanitarian assistance. But the reality is very different. 

Unofficially, Romania appears to have been one of Ukraine’s key early backers. It has reportedly transferred large quantities of Soviet-type ammunition together with tanks and, allegedly, half of its own air defence systems, all from its Soviet-era stocks. Its defence industry is also now producing for export to Ukraine, and helping to sustain various Ukrainian kit. Kyiv has recently mentioned ‘15 military aid packages’ sent by Bucharest since the invasion, while Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself has noted Romania’s help with training F-16 pilots.  

Where next? Firstly Romania needs to arm and secure itself, militarily and politically, so that it can remain a dependable and safe logistical and support base for Ukraine – and a vital export corridor for Ukrainian grain. This crucial role will come under great pressure  from Russia (especially via Moldova/Transnistria) if its troops keep pushing westwards. Actual defence spending by Bucharest needs to grow. It was 1.72% of GDP in 2022 and 1.58% in 2023: unacceptable and dangerous. Importantly, Romanian leaders must also ditch the current ‘quiet aid/no comment’ policy and engage society in open debate about what is at stake in Ukraine. This is vital for restoring public support for Kyiv’s fight, which has now sunk well below European average.

Secondly, the government should seize the moment to shake up industrial policy and turn the country into a major defence production and innovation hub, which can help sustain Ukraine’s war effort over time and solidify NATO’s Black Sea flank. This will be, at best, a long war; it will be essential to Kyiv to have a strong backstop on the lower Danube.

Amelia Hadfield, University of Surrey

France’s support for Ukraine is currently one of the strongest in Europe. In the past two years, it has provided €1.7 billion (2022) followed by €2.1 billion (2023) in military aid. Having just agreed to a comprehensive, ten-year long agreement with Ukraine, covering a range of key issues including defence and cyber cooperation, the protection of critical infrastructure, and counterintelligence, France’s further commitment to Ukraine now requires a timely execution of each of these areas, themselves worth €3 billion in additional support.

France’s recent security pact with Ukraine is bilaterally robust in this respect, but usefully underwritten by very similar agreements finalised with the UK and Germany. However, the challenge is practical and time-sensitive. Both bilateral, and group-based cooperation demands a high degree of needs-based efficiency, timeliness of delivery, training, and interoperability not merely with Ukraine itself, but with NATO defence structures. Enhanced support is likely also to be largely leadership based. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has already adopted a hawkish stance – along with other EU and NATO leaders – of the overall seriousness which Russia poses to continental Europe, pointing out that Russia has ‘accumulated and hardened its aggressiveness – not just against Ukraine, but against all of us’.

Within the EU, however, France – along with Germany – needs to demonstrate greater commitment and efficiency, and swiftly agree to aid Ukraine via the EU’s European Peace Facility. France’s specific on the overall requirement to make defence purchases on the basis of a ‘Buy European’ attitude does not help Ukraine in the short-term, and may likely imperil its chances of success in the battlefield in the long-term.

Edward Howell, University of Oxford

The Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) was one of the first East Asian countries to support Ukraine by siding with the US, NATO, and the EU on the matter. Yet, Seoul’s proactive rhetoric remains unmatched by reality. In the aftermath of Russia’s 2022 invasion, South Korea was caught in a dilemma between supporting US-led sanctions towards Russia and imposing its own independent measures. For all the ROK’s emphasis on defending universal values of freedom and democracy, its support to Ukraine has centred on providing non-lethal and humanitarian aid, despite exporting arms indirectly via Poland. 

South Korea needs to take a more concerted stance. Whilst indirect support should continue in the short-term, with the war ongoing, the ROK should also consider the direct – if limited – provision of lethal aid to Ukraine, despite fears of possible Russian retaliation. In the long-term, Seoul needs to play to its strengths in the post-war recovery effort to facilitate Ukraine’s reconstruction, and should contribute primarily in the economic and security realms. Since the ROK wishes to enhance its relations with Europe, it should also bolster bilateral and multilateral military cooperation with European partners, particularly with respect to strengthening the ROK’s conventional capabilities. 

Fundamentally, South Korea also needs to re-evaluate its longer-term relationship with Russia, which remains a key economic partner. Doing so would simultaneously support Ukraine whilst benefiting South Korea, given the ROK’s concerns with the growing ties between North Korea and Russia over the past year.

Alexander Lanoszka, Council on Geostrategy

Due to years of budgetary neglect and the insufficient modernisation of its armed forces, Canada has hit a limit in terms of what military assistance it can still provide to Ukraine. 

To be sure, it has in recent weeks announced new initiatives, such as new funds to the tune of CA$60 million (£35 million) to support F-16 pilot training. However, such efforts – though helpful – will not have a significant impact anytime soon. They also reveal that Canada is using its pocketbook more to shore up Ukraine’s needs rather than provide hard capabilities directly. 

Yet, Canada can still do something even more meaningful: it can ramp up ammunition production far beyond 2021 levels to help Ukraine continue its resistance through at least 2024. The Government of Canada unfortunately has decided against this option, presumably for financial reasons. That is unfortunate because Ukraine ultimately is fighting an artillery war with Russia and so much of NATO, including Canada, remains far behind where they should be in terms of ammunition production.

James Rogers, Council on Geostrategy

Britain has been at the forefront of efforts to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression. It has provided more assistance than any other European country bar Germany, and provided it faster. It has donated some of the most lethal and long range weapons and has led efforts to galvanise international support for Ukraine. And the UK has got closer than any other country in providing direct military support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

But even Britain can do more; the UK economy churns out over £2.2 trillion per year, yet His Majesty’s (HM) Government has pledged just £2.5 billion in military support for Ukraine for 2024. This is hardly insignificant, but it should not be forgotten that the Kremlin will surely further challenge British interests in the event that Russia’s army prevails in Ukraine, not least because of the number of Russian fatalities the Ukrainians have inflicted using British intelligence and firepower. 

Britain could afford to double the support it provides for Ukraine. It could supply more armour to the Ukrainian Armed Forces; British tanks and armoured vehicles would inflict more damage on Russia’s war potential in Ukraine’s hands than they would in storage sheds in British barracks.

Moreover, the UK should pile on the diplomatic pressure. Certain European allies are dragging their feet. Spain, Italy, and France could all do far more to assist Ukraine. While Britain, Germany and Poland have each allocated over 0.5% of their national incomes to help Ukraine, Paris, Madrid and Rome have not even provided 0.1%! A well-targeted diplomatic and narrative campaign in underperformers may compel them to do better, generating billions more for the Ukrainian cause.

Michael Richter, University of Surrey

The current government in Poland faces a complex situation at the border with Ukraine, where protests by farmers have led to blockades. Due to these internal challenges, the new Polish government, which pledged an increase of support for Ukraine, finds itself in a position where it must address both domestic concerns and international promises.

A bipartisan approach towards aiding Ukraine is in this context essential for Poland, reflecting the country’s deep-seated interest in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbour. Given its strong ties with the US, Poland is well-placed to engage with some members of the House of Representatives who may require further persuasion on the need for continued support for Ukraine. In addition to leveraging its relationship with the US, Poland should also seek to strengthen its partnership with Germany and utilise its central position in the region to mobilise support.

The remarks by Petr Pavel, the Czech President, at the Munich Security Forum, regarding the identification of 800,000 artillery shells, exemplify the kind of innovative thinking and regional collaboration which can be instrumental in supporting Kyiv, now and in the future. Poland’s significant influence in the region, combined with its global connections, positions it as a key player in finding and coordinating such efforts. By identifying all possible avenues of assistance and encouraging European and global support, Poland can play a crucial role in ensuring Ukraine receives the necessary aid to defend its sovereignty. However, Warsaw must first find a solution to the blockade of the border.

Mick Ryan, author of Futura Doctrina

Much of the debate around the war against Ukraine is centred on what Clausewitz described as the physical and moral forces of warfighting. But there is a third aspect which needs to be considered. Assisting Ukraine in 2024 also demands the mobilisation of intellectual capacity.

Both sides are fighting a 21st century war with 21st ideas. There are five operational problems that should be the focus of mobilising the intellectual capacity of Ukraine and its partners this year to address this situation.

Challenge 1: Integrating old and new technology. This is the more effective and rapid integration of new technology (civil-military sensor networks, drones, and digital command systems) with old technology (tanks, helicopters, and artillery).

Challenge 2: The massing versus dispersion predicament. Modern military forces must be equally capable of operating in dispersed and massed forms, and able to minimise their detection when they do mass in a way which provides an improved chance of surprise.

Challenge 3: Lowering the cost of defending against missiles and drones. There is a shortage of low-cost, distributed solutions which enhance a layered defence concept, increasing the ‘magazine depth’ of interceptors.

Challenge 4: The right balance of long-range strike and close combat. A key operational problem for Ukraine is the appropriate balance of investment in the deep battle and the close fight.

Challenge 5: Closing with the enemy. Ukraine needs new techniques that are quicker, lower signature, and more survivable at crossing the operational and tactical spaces towards objectives.

To break the current stalemate in the war, this investment in the mobilisation of intellectual capacity and its application to major operational challenges is vital.

Emma Salisbury, Council on Geostrategy

When it comes to Ukraine, America is talking the talk but not walking the walk – and the reason is Congress. Certain members of the House Republican Conference are playing politics with the latest aid package, despite strong support for Ukraine from the rest of the House, the Senate, and the White House itself – as well as from the American people.

Helping Ukraine beat back the latest Russian invasion is a moral imperative that every right-minded nation should heed. But beyond that, it is also directly in America’s national interest. If Russia takes Ukraine, what then? Vladimir Putin is unlikely to stop there – and a lack of American support will make it all the more likely that his next victim may be a NATO ally.

These House Republicans feel emboldened to block aid to Ukraine – and are arguably obliged to – by Donald Trump. His rhetoric on Russia is dangerous, and his willingness to let Europe be overrun is both short-sighted and entirely out of keeping with American sentiment. A second Trump presidency would be disastrous, but even potential candidate Trump can clearly make a good deal of trouble. Asking House Republicans to stand up to their party’s leader and do the right thing may well be pointless, but for the sake of Ukraine we must do so nonetheless.

Rena Sasaki, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Japan continues to support Ukraine in defending its freedom and independence and advocating for the restoration of its territorial integrity. Japan has pledged continued support for Ukraine at all stages, from initial emergency rehabilitation, such as landmine removal and debris removal, to economic reconstruction and the upgrading of its industrial capacity. 

The Japanese and Ukrainian governments’ plan to enhance cooperation in seven areas, including strengthening agriculture and infrastructure for reconstruction. Japan’s support for landmine removal is particularly crucial for the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Currently, approximately 30% of Ukraine’s land area may be contaminated by landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other explosive devices. Japan should lead international assistance in this area by expanding the provision of its Advanced Landmine Detection System, a state-of-the-art mine detector developed by Japan that can identify landmines accurately.

Meanwhile, Japan’s military aid to Ukraine may seem limited, but under the new guidelines on arms export, Japan can now provide indirect military assistance to Ukraine through US-made equipment produced under licence by Japan to replenish America’s military inventories. While currently only the export of the PAC-3 missile is planned, in the future, Japan should also consider exporting other licensed products such as Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and Homing All the Way Killer (HAWK) surface-to-air missiles.

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