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Zelensky reminds Congress of the importance of supporting resilience

In advance of his trip to Washington this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted the need to strengthen his country’s resilience and defense capabilities. Defense capabilities, including the military aid as well as advanced weapons systems and heavy weaponry that have been provided by the U.S. and others to Ukraine have been key to defeating Russian aggression — and the omnibus bill before Congress to keep the government funded includes an additional $45 billion for Ukraine to support the fight. With this foundation, Ukraine has shown the world that the spirit and will to fight is essential, and in the process has become a global symbol of resilience. Ukraine’s heroic resistance underscores that leadership, courage, motivation, commitment and the willingness to sacrifice make a crucial difference in responding to acute crises and threats. 

The war also shows that bolstering resilience — the capacity to withstand, fight through and quickly recover from disruption caused by military and non-military threats — has become a collective imperative for NATO and the United States. The 2022 U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS) advances a focus on resilience and collaboration with allies and partners to deter aggression and promote peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Moreover, the NDS broadens the concept of NATO collective security commitment to include — on top of conventional deterrence and defense — working alongside allies to build resilience. This signals a major shift toward embracing resilience as essential to amplifying the combined capacity of allied nations to tackle shared challenges and threats. Resilience efforts should also be extended to Ukraine and other partner countries that border Russia. Strengthening Ukraine’s resilience now and rebuilding it after the war is crucial to deterring future Russian attacks.

Resilience is underpinned by a variety of indispensable investments, including those that strengthen critical infrastructure and support logistics functions. The case for these investments is clear. Russia has relentlessly attacked Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure in a strategy that seems designed to crush the spirit of the population even more than having a military effect. Zelensky fought back during his speech to Congress stating that “even if there is no electricity, they will not extinguish the light and faith in ourselves.” The impact of the war is not limited to Ukraine. For other nations in Europe, moving away from Russian energy has led to shortages and high prices.   

This use of intimidation tactics of deliberate supply disruptions to manipulate the response to ongoing crises and undermine allies resolve’ to support Ukraine heightens the need for urgent solutions to develop greater capacity to protect critical energy infrastructure. This also requires taking steps to reinforce military fuel supply chains. The NATO Pipeline System, set up during the Cold War to supply NATO forces with fuel, operated largely through the Central Europe Pipeline System, should be further expanded to bolster energy resilience. In addition, strengthening Eastern European pipelines would further enhance operational effectiveness, combat power and agility of NATO forces and would considerably support alliance presence on the eastern flank. 

In an ever more contested global environment, resilient and more interoperable logistics are a critical enabler to support ongoing deployments and effectively respond to emergent threats. The volatility of supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions caused the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and the Suez Canal blockage laid bare vulnerabilities that would be potentially catastrophic in wartime. In an ever more contested global environment, adversaries can intentionally disrupt logistic networks and pursue regional gains through anti-access/area denial strategies in an all-domain warfare. Without improved capacity and infrastructure to support ongoing deployments and effectively respond to emergent threats, NATO forces may face the prospect of “fighting to get to the fight,” unable to surge combat credible forces and provide timely reinforcement of allies in a crisis or a military conflict. The war in Ukraine shows that the capability to move forces and equipment can determine the speed of credible response.  

Part of investing in resilience involves working to optimize logistics capabilities for collective defense. NATO’s enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance and the operationalization of the new NATO Force Model agreed to at the Madrid Summit in June require identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in Euro-Atlantic logistics architectures that adversaries can easily exploit. To do so, allies have to prioritize addressing critical gaps in infrastructure and processes and collaborate to resolve logistics challenges and share logistics burden.  

The analysis of lessons learned from Russia’s attack on Ukraine can be used to identify resilience investments.  NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept calls for “prepositioned ammunition and equipment and improved capacity and infrastructure to rapidly reinforce any Ally, including at short or no notice.” The U.S. military already prepositions some stocks in Europe, and the heavy use of ammunition in the current conflict is an example of how important that is. Another investment in resilience would be a comprehensive assessment of transportation infrastructure and investments to ensure that it can support the movement of heavier military equipment including armored fighting vehicles to the battlefield. This may require roads along key routes to be reinforced to serve as effective backup to train transport, for example.   

A more comprehensive approach to resilience must include the identification of and investment in additional resources and strategies, with the first and possibly most analytically challenging step being the development of clearly defined objectives. The challenge always includes defining how much is enough, and what are the best approaches. While NATO’s consensus-based governing structure is a source of strength but may also lead to problematic delays, the leadership of the U.S. in pulling the allies together to provide support to Ukraine to enhance its resilience against Russia shows that collective action against a common threat is possible. Russia and other strategic competitors that work to identify and aggressively exploit vulnerabilities may create the appropriate urgency necessary to bolster collective resilience in Europe, without which the alliance’s ability to effectively address the looming threats may be insufficient.  

Zelensky’s inspiring speech to Congress were the words of a leader whose country is under severe attack. It is the responsibility of NATO and EU leaders to continue investments in deterrence including a strong resilience posture to raise the costs and reduce the change of success for future aggression against the nations of Europe and Western democracies.   

Cynthia R. Cook is the director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C 

Anna M. Dowd is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) at CSIS, and previously served at NATO, the European Union Institute for Security Studies, the European Defense Agency and the Polish Ministry of Defense.  

Tags Congress Defense National security NATO Russia Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky war in ukraine Zelensky

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