“Security of Supply” is commonly defined as a “guarantee of supply sufficient for a state to discharge its defense and security commitments in accordance with its foreign and security policy requirements.” With SoS language now residing predominantly within procurement legislation of the military domain, there is a tendency to address this concept in simplified (or mercantile) terms where “guarantee” somehow equates to “promises” concerning the execution of individual supply contracts. This, of course, is not the case. Guaranteeing that SoS is sufficient for national defense requires a comprehensive approach, with an adaptive defense industry playing the central role amid the concurrent presence of numerous other stakeholders.

First, there is the question of available industrial capacity itself. Guaranteeing supply without a readily accessible industrial base to back it up makes just as much sense as promising defense assistance without possessing actual military capabilities required to provide it. Uninterrupted availability concerns the full life cycle of required goods or services, and considers a complete spectrum of their potential application scenarios — from introduction and daily employment, to crisis operations, to waging war.

To this end, Latvia’s security policy views the broader development of the national defense industry as the primary overarching SoS enhancement measure, which then facilitates the fulfillment of more specific SoS requirements within individual capability development projects, and vice versa. These two layers subsequently can be (and are) utilized by the mobilization system of the Latvian National Armed Forces, providing considerable added value to our defense commitments, though often unnoticed and unappreciated until an actual crisis hits.

Next comes the question of industrial cross-border cooperation. The national approach described above should sound familiar to most readers, with many states striving for “industrial self-sufficiency” in support of national defense long before NATO was established or the European Union’s precursor — the European Coal and Steal Community — was set up. However, since then, the situation clearly has changed. Defense and trade alliances manifested by these institutions have done much to facilitate military SoS: from building the trust necessary for defense forces of one nation to rely on critical supplies originating in another, to setting common standards, streamlining cross-border procurement procedures, encouraging industrial cooperation and investment, facilitating the transfer of technologies, and accelerating defense innovation.

Best described as a relatively small and export-oriented economy, Latvia understands perfectly that complete industrial self-sufficiency is far beyond its means, and therefore it has fully embraced cross-border industrial cooperation opportunities directly provided (or indirectly facilitated) by NATO, the EU and other international formats (including government-to-government approaches).

Latvian armored personnel carriers are now developed together with Finland; our combat vehicles are supported based on know-how transferred from the U.K.; our skies monitored using equipment and procedures originating in the U.S.; and our future unmanned ground vehicle standards are developed in close cooperation with Estonia, Germany, France and other EU nations under the umbrella of the EU co-funded European Defence Fund. Moreover, all of the nationally subsidized Latvian defense-innovation support tools now welcome industrial participation from the other NATO/EU countries, while most of our internal research and development projects (like the military 5G test bed) are designed with probable allied involvement in mind.

Insofar as comprehensive SoS is concerned, all of the aforementioned activities have at least two things in common: involvement of Latvian national industry, and transfer of technology. Whatever their intensity in each respective project, they do facilitate growth of available industrial capacity, and subsequently readiness to meet specific SoS requirements, set according to our defense and security policy.

Finally, there is the logical observation that comprehensive SoS vis-a-vis functioning state security is not provided by the defense industry alone. Industrial development and proper functioning requires, among other things, predictable legal framework, rigid supply chains of necessary raw materials, spare parts and system components, readily available labor, financial services, and unimpeded cross-border movement.

Now, as the COVID-19 crisis is gradually subsiding, we look back at the initial shortages of personal protective equipment as probably the most vivid example of how radically SoS risks can manifest themselves once “guarantee of supply” is simultaneously called upon by a number of end users far exceeding our domestic (NATO/EU-wide) industrial capacities, additionally crippled by unreliable (non-NATO/EU) supply chains for required raw materials and components.

This crisis mostly concerned medical supplies; however, associated lessons learned should be kept fresh for those, mostly in the EU, who argue that there are way too many “redundancies” to be found in our common defense market and those of dual-use goods, services or raw materials supporting it. This is fundamentally shortsighted, as redundancy in defense planning should be viewed from the engineering perspective, where duplication of critical components is commonly practiced to increase reliability of the whole system.

Latvia’s security policy recognizes this concept as a constituent part of comprehensive SoS. However, actions required to actually enact it reside mostly with the EU’s institutions and — to a lesser degree — with collaborative capability-development projects continuously (and rather randomly) launched by any two or more NATO/EU nations.

Artis Pabriks is Latvia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister.

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