Capstones: The Arsenals of Democracy in Action
“Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines,” President Franklin Roosevelt declared as tyrant regimes descended on democracies across Asia and Europe. Our enemies “must be out-fought and out-produced,” he added. “We must be the great arsenal of democracy.”
Eight decades later, the valiant Ukrainian people are doing the fighting, while America and its closest allies are producing the weapons needed to defend the front lines of freedom.
First things first: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cogently explains why America and its Free World allies have opened their arsenals to support Ukraine.
“Putin’s war of choice is a direct threat to European security…Russian aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies…Russia’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values—and on the rule of law. And finally, Russia’s invasion tears at the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure. So, our support for Ukraine’s self-defense is an investment in our own security and prosperity as well.”
The United States is leading the way, pouring tens of billions in military assistance into Ukraine, with billions more pledged and in the pipeline. The growing list of U.S. military aid to Ukraine includes: 1,600+ Stinger antiaircraft systems; 8,500+ Javelin anti-armor systems and 46,000+ other anti-armor systems and munitions; 700+ Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; 142 155mm howitzers and 1 million 155mm artillery rounds; 4,200 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds; 9,000 155mm rounds of Remote Anti-Armor Mine (RAAM) Systems; 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and ammunition; 20 120mm mortar systems and 135,000 120mm mortar rounds; 1,500 TOW missiles; eight NASAMS air-defense systems; four Avenger air defense systems; undisclosed numbers of high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs); 20 Mi-17 helicopters; 45 T-72B tanks; 1,000+ Humvees; 100+ light tactical vehicles; 200 M113 armored personnel carriers (APC); 250 M1117 armored infantry fighting vehicles (IFV); 440 mine-resistant vehicles; 11,000+ grenade launchers and small arms; 104 million rounds of small arms ammunition; 75,000+ sets of body armor and helmets; 1,800 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; undisclosed numbers of laser-guided rocket systems; undisclosed numbers of Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels; 50+ counter-artillery radar systems; two harpoon coastal defense systems; undisclosed numbers of M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions; tactical secure communications systems and satellite communications antennas; thousands of night vision devices, surveillance systems, thermal imagery systems, optics and laser rangefinders; commercial satellite imagery services; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear protective equipment; and 350+ generators; electronic jamming equipment.
In addition, M1A2 Abrams tanks, Patriot missile-defense batteries, more Avenger air-defense systems, more NASMS missiles, more IFVs, millions of rounds of ammunition, thousands of artillery rounds, Stryker armored vehicles, new artillery systems and laser-guided anti-drone systems are on the way. And there’s more to come. Congress recently approved a White House request for $38 billion in fresh appropriations for Ukraine, which pushes the total amount appropriated (not spent) for Ukraine-related military assistance above $100 billion.
U.S. assistance is not limited to arms deliveries. DefenseOne reports “an undisclosed Air Force contractor” modified anti-radiation missiles so that they can be used on Ukraine’s Soviet/Russian-built MiG-29s. The U.S. has shared vast amounts of intelligence with Kiev and conducted high-level joint wargaming to steer Ukraine’s tactics and objectives, maximize Ukraine’s resources, and leverage Ukraine’s asymmetric advantages. And the Pentagon is training thousands of Ukrainian combat units at facilities in Germany. This is an extension of training programs launched after Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014—programs that modernized and Westernized the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF).
To coordinate the massive amounts of military assistance flowing into Ukraine, the Pentagon has stood up the Security Assistance Group Ukraine, which is led by a three-star general based in Germany.
This effort is very much in America’s wheelhouse. From Britain during World War II, to Israel in 1973, to the mujahadin in 1979-88, to the anti-communist aid programs in Central America and Central Europe in the 1980s, to the Croats, Kosovars and Bosnian-Muslims in 1995-99, to the KRG in 2014-21, to the Ukrainians today, the U.S. military and intelligence services are very good at training, equipping and assisting people willing to fight for their homeland. That last phrase—“willing to fight for their homeland”—is key. The difference between the UAF and the Afghan National Army is enormous and glaring—and captured in the images of Kabul 2021 and Kiev 2022.
Nor is this effort solely the work of U.S. government agencies. American businesses and philanthropies are shipping everything from portable heaters and first-aid equipment to generators and satellite-Internet systems. U.S. military veterans, retired defense officials and industry leaders have stood up Fighting Chance Ukraine, a nonprofit committed to outfitting Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces. As Military.com reports, Fighting Chance Ukraine has provided food, blankets, medical supplies, helmets, boots, flak vests, night-vision goggles, encrypted cell phones, communications gear, drones, GPS devices, computers and satellite services.
America is not alone in this effort. Some 50 nations are sending arms and aid to Ukraine, helping defend democracy, and punishing Putin. Following the U.S., Ukraine’s top security-assistance providers are Germany, Britain, Poland, Canada, France, Czech Republic, Sweden, Estonia and Italy.
Britain has sent Ukraine 10,000 antitank weapons, 120 armored vehicles and scores of Starstreak air-defense systems. Britain hosts an ongoing operation that trains 10,000 Ukrainian personnel every 120 days. And the British are sending Challenger 2 tanks—the first Western-built main battle tank delivered to Ukraine. (It’s worth noting that during the 1990-91 Gulf War, British Challengers and American Abrams eviscerated Iraq’s Soviet-built T-72s—the same tanks that comprise the bulk of Putin’s invasion force in Ukraine.)
France is sending AMX-10 RC light tanks, training thousands of Ukrainian soldiers, and supplying artillery systems and rocket-launch systems. Britain and France recently announced shipments of new air-defense systems.
Germany is delivering a battalion of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany also has sent Ukraine mine-resistant vehicles, ammunition for multiple-launch rockets, Iris-T air-defense systems, self-propelled howitzers, 200,000+ rounds of 40mm ammunition, self-propelled antiaircraft systems, tens of thousands of rounds of antiaircraft ammunition, 3,000 antitank weapons, 14,900 antitank mines, 500 Stinger air-defense systems, and 2,700 Strela air-defense systems. Plus, Germany is standing up a maintenance facility in Slovakia to repair Ukrainian weapons.
Germany’s slow-motion decision to send Leopard 2s has opened the way for other allies to ship the German-built tank to Ukraine. Warsaw is finalizing plans to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Poland already has delivered more than 230 Soviet/Russian-built tanks, 100 air-to-air missile systems, and dozens of artillery pieces and rocket-launch systems. In addition, Polish factories are repairing Ukrainian artillery and armor for reuse on the front lines.
Finland and Norway are also sending Leopard 2s, and Spain and the Netherlands are likely to follow suit.
Canada is providing M777 howitzers, tens of thousands of artillery rounds, winter combat gear, satellite imagery and combat training.
Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark have delivered Ukraine anti-ship systems.
The Czech Republic, North Macedonia, the Netherlands and Slovenia have shipped 200+ tanks to Ukraine. The Czech Republic will train thousands of Ukrainian soldiers this year.
In the crucial early weeks of fighting, Bulgaria quietly rushed fuel and ammunition to Ukraine via overland and air routes—supplying Ukraine with a third of the ammunition it needed to defend its territory.
The Netherlands partnered with the U.S. in refurbishing and modifying 90 Soviet-built T-72 tanks for the UAF. Plus, the Netherlands is considering sending F-16 fighter-bombers to Ukraine.
Ukraine has received more than 1,200 IFVs and APCs from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Greece, Canada and Spain.
Turkey has sent ground-attack drones and electronic-warfare jamming systems.
The Baltic countries have sent antiaircraft and antitank systems, Denmark antitank weapons, Spain air-defense systems.
NATO has engineered delivery of more than a squadron of Su-25 fighter-jets.
Norway, Germany, Denmark and Slovakia are pooling their resources to deliver Slovak-made howitzers to Ukraine.
The EU is finalizing plans to deliver $1.5 billion in economic aid to Kiev per month to sustain the Ukrainian government throughout 2023.
Under a deal brokered by Washington, South Korean arms suppliers are shipping artillery shells to Ukraine. Related, Seoul has sent hundreds of tanks, rocket-artillery systems and howitzers to Poland.
Australia has sent radar systems, dozens of mine-resistant trucks and hundreds of kamikaze ground-attack drones to Ukraine. Australian troops are in Europe training Ukrainian troops, and Australia and France just announced a joint venture to manufacture and deliver 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine.
Japan has sent drones, bulletproof vests, helmets, winter battle uniforms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Russia has even been kind enough to provide Ukraine with arms to defend itself. Abandoned Russian equipment—including 460 main battle tanks, 92 self-propelled howitzers, 448 IFVs, 195 APCs, 44 rocket-launch systems—has doubled Ukraine’s combat capability. These captured Russian weapons make Moscow “by far the largest supplier of heavy weapons for Ukraine, well ahead of the U.S. or other allies in sheer numbers,” a Wall Street Journal analysis concludes.
Countering those who say the Free World is spending too much to help Ukraine, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg soberly explains: “We are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine. But the price we pay is in money, while the price Ukrainians pay is in blood. And if we let Putin win, all of us will pay a much higher price.”
“Freedom must be armed better than tyranny,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has observed. That’s true not only for frontline democracies like Ukraine, but also for the rest of the Free World, which underscores the urgent challenge of replenishing the arsenals of democracy. NATO militaries, weapons manufacturers and supply chains—unaccustomed to the burn rate of high-intensity combat between two modern near-peer militaries—are scrambling to restock their inventories and maintain their own deterrent capabilities.
Washington must ensure, first and foremost, that America’s arsenal has the weapons needed to defend America’s democracy and deter America’s enemies—which brings us back to another line from FDR’s “Arsenal of Democracy” address: “the rearmament of the United States.”
With an $857-billion defense budget planned for 2023, it might look like America is well-armed and fully funding its military. But looks can be deceiving. The Army is undersized and overstretched. The Navy is far too small. The Air Force fleet is undermanned, undersized and old. The main reason: The U.S. invests barely 3 percent of GDP in defense. America’s Cold War average was more than twice that.
With Russia on the march, China on the rise, the Middle East on fire, and Russian ASATs, Chinese fighter-bombers, North Korean missiles and Iranian drones setting the Free World on edge, a strong argument can be made—and many have—that a new cold war is upon us. To prevent Cold War 2.0 from metastasizing into something far worse, larger and more sustained investments in defense are needed. Former national security advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster suggests 4.5 percent of GDP for defense. A panel of military experts calls for annual increases to the defense budget of three to five percent above inflation.
Spurred by the assault on Ukraine, congressional leaders are hammering out plans for a new weapons-acquisition fund, multi-year contracting to incentivize arms manufacturers and reforms that will enable the Pentagon to collaborate with NATO partners to procure weapons in large quantities. In addition, Congress is earmarking $8 billion for munitions production—on top $600 million already authorized to backfill U.S. stocks of 155mm rounds. The Army has awarded LockheedMartin $520.8 million to replenish its inventory of Guided Missile Launch Rocket Systems. LockheedMartin has doubled production of Javelin antitank missiles and expanded production of HIMARS rocket launchers by 60 percent, the Wall Street Journal reports.
A Norwegian firm is increasing artillery-shell production by 1000 percent, and a Czech arms manufacturer is doubling production of 155mm shells, the Journal adds. NATO members are streamlining purchasing cooperation. Nearly every NATO member is increasing defense spending. And some European arms manufacturers are even merging to boost production.
Good News, Bad News
The bad news is that the torrent of weapons deliveries to Ukraine is slowing the flow of weapons to Taiwan. The U.S.-to-Taiwan weapons backlog is now $19 billion, up from $14 billion a year ago. This undermines efforts to deter Xi from following Putin’s example.
The worse news is that Putin’s war on Ukraine is far from over. Ukraine desperately needs more air-defense systems to protect its population centers from Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, more armor to liberate its territory, higher quality and higher quantities of aircraft to clear its skies.
The good news is that the efforts and outputs of the Free World’s arsenals of democracy won’t end anytime soon.
“We’ll work together to train Ukraine’s forces for the long haul,” Austin vows. “We’ll work together to help integrate Ukraine’s capabilities and bolster its joint operations for the long haul. We’ll work together to upgrade our defense industrial bases to meet Ukraine’s requirements for the long haul. And we’ll work together for production and innovation to meet Ukraine’s self-defense needs for the long haul.”
Stoltenberg adds that NATO will be delivering “more support, more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons.”
The better news is that, even as the arsenals of democracy help Ukraine defend itself, they are having a positive impact far beyond Ukraine’s blood-soaked soil.
“This war has imposed terrible costs on Ukraine,” as Hal Brands of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies concedes. Yet “it has been a strategic windfall for Washington. Russia’s military is being reduced to rubble. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is expanding and strengthening its defenses. China is facing greater resistance in the Western Pacific, as Japan, Taiwan and Australia hasten their military preparations. European nations that now see the downsides of dependence on one coercive autocracy are reconsidering their ties with another: Beijing. Amid Putin’s serial struggles in Ukraine, assertive authoritarianism no longer looks like the wave of the future.”
None of this—the survival of a sovereign Ukraine, the weakening of Putin’s Russia, the reawakening of NATO, the revival of the Free World, the deterrent signal to Xi’s China, the erosion of authoritarianism—would be possible without the arsenals of democracy.
Alan W. Dowd is a senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute, where he leads the Center for America’s Purpose. A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Landing Zone.