The long-awaited $60.8bn American security assistance package for Ukraine has finally been approved by the US Congress, however, this incident further highlighted the vulnerability of European reliance on US-led initiatives to support the Ukrainian armed forces. Furthermore, the Western defence industry’s capacity to produce enough material to sustain high-intensity operations in Ukraine has repeatedly come into question, with the European Union having revealed in January that it would fall short on its pledge to supply Ukraine with one million artillery shells by March 2024, with only 52% of the promised deliveries having taken place. As European governments become increasingly concerned with Russian resilience on the battlefield and isolationist rhetoric from certain US officials, the Czech Republic has taken the initiative and spearheaded an international procurement program seeking to acquire artillery munitions from suppliers outside of the European Union.

The “Czech Initiative” as it has become known is based on gathering financial donations to a collective fund which would be used to pay for additional artillery ammunition purchases from willing partners around the globe. Czech officials have been mediating bilateral procurement agreements with foreign suppliers, and upon launching the initiative had outlined its aims to purchase 500,000 155mm shells and 300,000 122mm shells for the Ukrainian armed forces at a total estimated cost of €3bn ($3.2bn). The Czech authorities conducted extensive research within the global munitions market and initially identified over 800,000 shells which were available for purchase on the global market. The initiative saw early successes with the Czech government signing contracts for 180,000 shells by mid-April this year, with several other Nato member states having joined the initiative in recent months.

The new participants have pledged or donated varying levels of financial support to the initiative, providing Czech mediators with greater scope and flexibility to pursue procurement agreements internationally. Several donors have publicly declared their financial commitments: Canada donated C$40m ($); Belgium provided €200m ($); Norway pledged €140m ($148m); Finland pledged €30m ($); the Netherlands donated €100m ($106m); Iceland committed €2m ($2.1m); and Nato’s newest member Sweden pledged €30m ($31m). Germany is currently the largest financial backer of the initiative, having pledged €576m ($612m) in late March to fund the purchase of 180,000 shells and now accounting for a 40% share of current donations. Other participating nations including France, Poland and Denmark have opted not to publicise the financial details of their support efforts, though the Polish government recently stated that it would double its contributions as well as provide logistical support to the initiative. This additional commitment will prove critical in accelerating the delivery of shells to Ukraine due to the Polish border being the primary avenue through which Western security assistance has found its way into Ukraine.

With international support growing rapidly, the Czech initiative has since revised its objectives upwards, with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala having recently stated that up to 1.5 million artillery shells could be supplied to Ukraine over the course of a year. Recent reports have also implied that deliveries could take place earlier than anticipated, with the first batch of munitions potentially being transferred to the Ukrainian armed forces in late April two months ahead of schedule. Though the initiative has highlighted continued divisions amongst Nato members with regards to their policies on Ukraine, with Slovakia and Hungary having stated they would not participate, many observers have hailed the program as a diplomatic and strategic success. The Czech Government’s approach illustrates the fact that European Nato member states do possess the political capacity to address regional security issues proactively and collaboratively, with much of the credit being owed to Czech President Petr Pavel’s administration leadership.

However, despite the increasingly positive outlook for the Czech initiative, broader concerns remain over the European defence industry’s ability to scale up production capacity in the face of growing demand for materiel throughout the region. The fact that the Czech Initiative had to source munitions from outside the EU is a testament to the historic failures of European defence industrial policy over the past three decades, with limited investment in supply chains resulting in shortages of critical equipment thus driving up procurement costs and delivery timelines as defence firms seek to balance competing demands. Whether this initiative will serve as the catalyst for increased collaboration within the European defence and security industry remains to be seen, but it remains nonetheless an important step in the right direction.

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