The War in Ukraine: Meeting the Russian Challenge to NATO

This quick take is part of our Crisis Crossroads series, which highlights timely analysis by CSIS scholars on the evolving situation in Ukraine and its security, economic, energy, and humanitarian effects.

Many of the outcomes of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are currently impossible to predict. There is at least one outcome, however, that is fully predictable, and that is the need to revitalize the modernization and strength of NATO’s military forces. Far too many NATO countries now fall far too short of the levels of force strength, readiness, and modernization they need in order to provide adequate deterrent and defense capabilities. Interoperability is far too limited, as is the ability to deploy quickly into the forward areas near Russia and to sustain active military operations.

Almost all of the former Warsaw Pact states along the border with Russia fall far short of the capabilities they need. Key powers like Germany are now hollow and incapable of providing the strength NATO needs, other powers cannot deploy the majority of their land and air forces quickly outside their own territory, and for all the talk about added spending and burden-sharing, many countries did not spend in the right areas and have aging forces with limited capability to fight.

These issues are described in detail on a country-by-country basis for all 30 of NATO’s member states in a new CSIS study entitled, NATO and Ukraine: Reshaping NATO to Meet the Russian and Chinese Challenge, which is available for download on the CSIS website here. This same study shows, however, that NATO Europe and Canada spent $363 billion on defense in 2021, and that Russia only reported spending $62.3 billion—and even worst-case estimates put the Russian figure at $178 billion. Coupled to $754 billion for the United States, NATO clearly has the resources to create the forces it needs if it can assign the right priorities and also create and implement the right force plans.

The challenge is not burden-sharing. It is using existing member country resources wisely. Hopefully, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may finally persuade NATO states to act on their recent crisis-driven promises and provide NATO with the security it now clearly and desperately needs.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Emeritus Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy