The Russian attack on Ukraine has shattered the sense of peace that has prevailed over most of Europe since the end of World War II. President Putin's aggression has prompted countries to shed their neutrality and peace-promoting positions adopted after "the war to end all wars."
Shift In Policy
Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU. Hence, neither alliance can send in soldiers to battle the Russian forces directly. Instead, many EU and western countries send arms, ammunition, and supplies to Kyiv in a show of support and solidarity.
Almost everyone from Canada to Romania pitched in to help. But, assistance in the form of weapons and warfare supplies from certain countries signaled a marked shift in their foreign policy. Berlin's pledge of anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems to Ukrainian fighters was seen as a complete U-turn in foreign policy. Since WWII, the country has stuck to a policy of not sending weapons to a conflict zone.
Non-aligned countries, like Sweden, send in arms, much to the surprise of war analysts. This time, Switzerland, a country known for its steadfast neutrality, joined the EU in sanctions against Russia and said it would freeze Russian assets in the country.
Moscow Helps NATO Achieve Its Goals
After Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO had urged member countries to raise their defense spending to 2% of their GDP by 2014. Years later, many countries, including Germany, had said that the target would not be met within the stipulated time. At the time, President Trump had threatened to pull America out of the alliance, saying it was "unfair, economically."
In the wake of the Ukraine war, German Chancellor Scholz has committed to meeting the NATO target in 2024. The country that had considerably pared down its defense infrastructure since World War II is now setting aside 100 billion euros for military modernization.
Augmented Defense Budgets
Sweden is augmenting its defense capabilities after slashing military spending after the Cold War. Scandinavian countries, like Sweden and Finland, which have been historically neutral, are thinking about joining NATO and taking part in joint military drills to improve their security.
Romanian President has announced that defense spending will be raised to 2.5 percent of the country's GDP. Poland is setting aside 3 percent of its GDP next year to boost its military competence. Denmark has pledged to gradually increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, meeting NATO's target. After announcing an increased military budget, Australia has also revealed plans to expand its forces by 30 percent. Meanwhile, China has allocated $229 billion for defense purposes. Others, like the UK, France, and Canada, are considering defense budget augmentation, and announcements are expected in due course.
Preparing For The Future Aggression
NATO spending has been incrementally going up over the years. In 2021, the alliance's defense spending $1.2 trillion dollars, the highest ever.
Most of these stated hikes in defense budgets require approvals from respective lawmakers and budget committees. So far, most of these announcements have been made in response to the heightened tensions on the continent. Should the Russian war on Ukraine drag on, most elected representatives will likely feel compelled to support the increased budget allocation to augment defense capabilities in their countries. Such measures would also enjoy the backing of most of the citizens in the given scenario.
The arms race and security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region, attributed to Beijing's hegemonic agenda, will find a parallel now in Europe and the West due to Moscow's aggression. The renewed defense budget demands will further test the global economy, which is slowly recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is feared that funds and resources that should have gone to updating healthcare systems and reducing dependence on foreign supply chains will now be diverted to the arms industry. A significant portion of R&D and technological advancements will shift to the weapons industry once again. The keen interest in bolstering security and augmenting defense capabilities is also likely to accelerate the development of new-age weapons like drones and robotic systems for warfare. Other than for defense stocks, there will be little to cheer about for the world economy trying to negate the losses created by the pandemic.
If the world leaders' focuses shift to modernizing defense capabilities and stockpiling arms, the price of President Putin's misadventures will be borne by ordinary citizens of the world for a while to come.
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