Expanding NATO Industrial Capacity Key Message from U.S. Officials

July 9, 2024 10:18 PM - Updated: July 9, 2024 10:46 PM
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks delivers remarks during the NATO Summit Defense Industry Forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., July 9, 2024. DoD Photo

Growing NATO’s defense industrial capability was the message the White House national security advisor and the deputy secretary of defense delivered Tuesday on the eve of the alliance’s 75th-anniversary meeting in Washington.

“The truth is, no engine of production has ever spun up from zero to 60 overnight. And that’s why Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has said the most important thing we’ll do this year for the future of NATO is strengthen our defense industry,’’ Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said on Tuesday.

“Russia’s defense industry is on a wartime footing,” aided by China supplying microelectronics for cruise missiles, North Korea providing artillery shells and other munitions and Iran sending aerial and ground drones, Jake Sullivan, national security advisor, told the gathering of international defense industry figures.

In the session at the United States Chamber of Commerce headquarters near the White House, Sullivan added he expected a major outcome from the summit that each of the 32 alliance members pledged themselves to develop a comprehensive industrial plan that strengthens themselves and NATO.

Hicks added, “the rapid defense industrial expansion of our strategic competitors has revealed how defense industries across the Atlantic were affected by decades of inconsistent funding and blinkered demand signals.”

The idea is to go beyond the Defense Production Action Plan’s goals adopted at last year’s NATO meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

In sum, Benedetta Berti, in the policy planning office of the NATO secretary general, said, “show me where you put your money, I’ll show you your priorities.”

Berti, speaking at the Hudson Institute Monday, added, “we need capacity” and that comes from a clear demand signal from governments that this is what they intend to spend on security in the coming years.

Sullivan, Hicks and Berti all pointed to more and more alliance members reaching the 2 percent spend of gross domestic product on their security. Berti stressed that 2 percent was the floor not the ceiling for national defense spending. Poland and other eastern alliance members are pushing for a 3 percent or higher ceiling.

Berti noted that European members and Canada have upped their defense spending by almost $600 billion since Russia seized Crimea in 2014.

Hicks said, “From the Baltic to the Black Sea, European allies are stepping up more than they have in a long time. Over the last two-plus years, allies in Europe have grown their share of alliance-wide defense spending faster than any two-year period since the Cold War.”

Sullivan added, that allies in the Indo-Pacific – Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand realize that the war in Europe is having an impact on them as China and Russia grow closer with joint maritime patrols and other exercises. At the same time, China is acting more belligerently in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Sullivan added, “we’re watching what Russia is supplying [China, North Korea and Iran] with in turn” for what Moscow received from Beijing, Pyongyang and Tehran.

“Ties have never been more integrated,” he said between U.S. allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. As USNI News reported, he also mentioned plans to establish a three-star NATO command at Wiesbaden, Germany to train Ukrainian forces and coordinate the distribution of donated weapons from 50 nations to Kyiv’s forces.

This move is seen as a “bridge” for Ukraine’s membership in the alliance.

The commitment to Ukraine by the United States, NATO and other allies is for the long-term, Sullivan said. He noted that discussion of that commitment is at the center of the North Atlantic Council’s Thursday afternoon session. Like the United States with a 10-year security agreement in place with Ukraine, a number of other nations have stepped forward to provide military aid over a number of years.

The European Union also has pledged long-term political, economic and humanitarian support and opened the way for Ukraine’s membership.

“This is not the Cold War or the post-Cold War era. Even as we face the threat of Russian aggression in Europe, we also cannot ignore the global pacing challenge presented by the People’s Republic of China. So we have to double down with urgency and confidence,” Hicks added at the Chamber of Commerce event.

“Doubling down” means aggregating demand for weapons systems among the allies and multi-year procurement contracts, Berti said at Hudson.

Hicks added, “we’re also expanding co-development, co-production, and co-sustainment of key capabilities. And we’d welcome more opportunities.”

The example she used was the United States, Germany, Spain, and other NATO allies jointly producing
interceptors for Patriot air defense batteries.

Sullivan said at the top of Ukraine’s immediate needs are more air defense and F-16s.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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