U.S. and NATO Scramble to Arm Ukraine and Refill Their Own Arsenals

Given the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in the Donbas region, NATO’s new military spending goals — 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, with 20 percent of that on equipment instead of salaries and pensions — seem modest. But even those were largely ignored by key member countries.

In February, when the war in Ukraine began, stockpiles for many nations were only about half of what they were supposed to be, the NATO official said, and there had been little progress in creating weapons that could be used interchangeably by NATO countries.

Even within the European Union, only 18 percent of defense expenditures by nations are cooperative.

For NATO countries that have given large amounts of weapons to Ukraine, especially frontline states like Poland and the Baltics, the burden of replacing them has proved heavy.

The French, for instance, have provided some advanced weapons and created a 200-million- euro fund ($208 million) for Ukraine to buy arms made in France. But France has already given at least 18 modern Caesar howitzers to Ukraine — about 20 percent of all of its existing artillery — and is reluctant to provide more.

The European Union has approved €3.1 billion ($3.2 billion) to repay member states for what they provide to Ukraine, but that fund, the European Peace Facility, is nearly 90 percent depleted.

In total, NATO countries have so far provided some $40 billion in weaponry to Ukraine, roughly the size of France’s annual defense budget.

Smaller countries have exhausted their potential, another NATO official said, with 20 of its 30 members “pretty tapped out.” But the remaining 10 can still provide more, he suggested, especially larger allies. That would include France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.