Europe Wants to Stand on Its Own Militarily. Is It Too Little, Too Late?

As Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany broke ground for a new ammunition factory this week, he celebrated a move that should enable the country to restore its almost entirely depleted arsenal of artillery shells.

But despite his portrayal of the groundbreaking as another German response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began two years ago this month, it was also a reminder of how slow the European reaction has been. It will be a year before the new factory is able to produce 50,000 rounds annually, with hopes of doubling that in 2026.

That is too little and too late to help Ukraine at a moment of greatest need, and just as Washington’s own aid package may be faltering. And it is arguably late for Europe as a whole, as leaders warn that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, should he succeed in taking and holding even part of Ukraine, may try to test NATO’s commitment to defend every inch of its territory in the coming years.

Those realities, and new doubts about Ukraine’s long-term strategy, will all play into debates among its allies this week, first among NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, and then at the opening of the annual Munich Security Conference.

At last year’s conference, there was talk of whether Ukraine was on the verge of a huge success and whether it could restore the borders that existed two years ago. This year, President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to appear before the group for the first time since his country was invaded.

He will no doubt implore his Western supporters — especially Europe — for the artillery, the air defenses and the drones Ukraine needs just to maintain the current front lines in a brutal war of attrition.

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