The importance of security of supply is a necessary precondition to overcome the security crises of the 21st century. Security of supply relies on three main pillars: first, available national industrial capacity; second, industrial cross-border cooperation, particularly due to interdependence of modern economies; and third, societal readiness to accept military industry as a necessary item in a comprehensive defense system, which is needed to overcome any hybrid or traditional warfare challenges of the 21st century.
Challenges related to the security of supply rose to expert and public attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they continue to affect most countries due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This war on the European continent reconfirmed that all three pillars of security of supply are crucial for solving crises in many policy sectors — be it health care, or internal and external global security.
In terms of external security, I see the dependence on these pillars as follows. First comes the available industrial capacity and uninterrupted availability of its outputs, including raw material stockpiling. War in Ukraine highlighted that Western democracies are not ready for a full-scale conventional war; it does not really matter if the theater of war is in continental Europe or some other part of the world.
Striving for the appropriate return on investment and “just in time” deliveries are excellent efficiency-measuring tools in any economy. But it turns out they should not be 100% transferable to the defense industry; currently there are raw material and component bottlenecks as well as tooling and personnel challenges for industry ramp-up, which are hampering the move from peacetime to wartime production.
National governments and multinational organizations are now heavily working on industrial base mapping and are trying to send out the proper demand signal for the defense industry. To assure “guarantee of supply,” long-term commitments must be in place.
Second is industrial cross-border cooperation. The trans-Atlantic defense industry has to be united, as the members are historically interlinked and share common values. Industry members who are competitors during peacetime must become partners during wartime, as NATO and the European Union are moving away from interoperability to interchangeability, which also includes the transfer of technology.
Latvia, as a member of both organizations, is already doing that. Our industry is producing unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles and small weapons ammunition, and it is testing the newest 5G technologies in accordance with NATO and EU standards to ensure we all strive for the same quality and quantity. Sharing is caring and in the globalized world, which is now moving toward a value-based regionalization, the bonds and supply chains we share are crucial.
A good example for such a regionalized approach is our joint Common Armoured Vehicle System program with Finland, Sweden (both finally joining NATO) and Germany, where a common six-wheel drive platform is and will be used.
These two pillars form the core mobilization capability for the armed forces – a developed, value-based regionalized industry able to switch to wartime production and provide interchangeable capabilities ready to be mobilized and jointly used to tackle crises.
Last but not least of the three pillars comes the understanding of comprehensive defense throughout all societal sectors – and being aware of current security challenges. One of my positions in the government is vice prime minister for comprehensive national defense. My responsibilities included developing and implementing comprehensive national defense in Latvia during the last four turbulent years. With COVID-19, we did our homework and learned that even in democracies, during times of crisis, there must be someone in charge.
Now, we are learning a lot from Ukraine, including how they are using the comprehensive approach in defending their country from the aggressor.
These challenges and lessons learned during COVID-19 and from our Ukrainian partners show us the significance of crisis-management capabilities (including the requirement for raw material and resource stockpiles), as well as the need for governments to be a key stakeholder in the defense industry.
To add to the quote by Gen. Omar Bradley – that “amateurs talk strategy, professionals discuss logistics” – timing also matters. We do have powerful organizations — NATO and the EU — capable of tackling these issues rigidly. The only thing needed to succeed is political will and political courage.
Artis Pabriks is Latvia’s defense minister.