26 March 2020
According to the words of David Beaumont, Director of the Australian Army Research Centre, people naturally gravitate towards the idea that strategic resilience is about maintaining a buffer for emergencies (Beaumont, 2020). And what better ‘crisis’ shield than a pile of stockholding of any kind, ranging from face masks in everyday life to war stocks in military supplies?If the Covid-19 emergency is teaching us something right now, it is by making clear how panic buying makes things worse. Starting from the “similarity” between health and military supplies’ cooperation, this article aims to point out the need for military stockholding’s sharing.
As the European Political Strategy Centre recently pointed out (European Commission, 2019), in a world affected by increasing international disorder, European leaders must act together. As EU Member States each have a single set of armed forces – which they may deploy in different frameworks and different moments – a consolidated EU defence cooperation and interoperability will help to strengthen military capabilities, while at the same time preventing unnecessary stock spending. Moreover, the recent EU Commission’s call for enhanced military mobility will enable Member States to act faster in the case of security threats. In the current multipolar global scene, a more structured and strategic EU defence cooperation is the key towards greater security.
Why are military stockholdings important?
Enough stockholdings of strategically important commodities are crucially important for national resilience, just as they are for single military operations. However, the lack of particular military stockholdings could be only one side of the problem in a major crisis. In some cases, the maintenance of unnecessary stock levels may diminish a State’s preparedness; large quantities of inappropriate military reserves consume money and resources that may be used in other critical areas (Beaumont, 2020).
Military logistics provide strategic readiness by resourcing the army machine while restricting directly into the economic power of the nation-state. The logistics and sustainment arrangements made unilaterally could determine what would be practically possible when governments ultimately require army options. If production or availability cannot immediately increase, in case of emergency, an inefficient transfer of resources from one area of the battlefield to the other can alter strategy. In such circumstances, it would become difficult for commanders to direct military resources to the right place, and what can be termed ‘brute force logistics’ – get as much as you can to the area that you believe is of greatest need – may soon arise (Ashurst and Beaumont, 2020).
What Covid-19 is teaching us about supplies?
Emergency supplies and enough stockholdings are frequently arranged by people with the advent of natural disasters, wars or pandemic, like the Covid-19 one that we are experiencing right now.
“It is rational to prepare for something bad that looks like it is likely to occur,” says David Savage, associate professor of behavioural and microeconomics at the University of Newcastle in Australia, who has written about the human rationality behind stocking up in a crisis (Lufkin, 2020).
Though, in the case of a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood, most people have a fair idea of the items they may need in the event of a blackout or a water shortage for a specified period (Lufkin, 2020). But with Covid-19, as well as with the possibility of a conflict, the effects that may be produced are unclear and surrounded by spending uncertainty. Buying 100 toilet paper’s packs, or 500 boxer mechanised infantry fighting vehicles, could make shortages worse.
Importance of interoperability and cooperation during crisis
While it is still unclear what might happen in our nowadays pandemic situation, the example of health cooperation logistics, both within and outside the EU, can offer a window through which the military logistics’ argumentation can be seen.
To make a solid example: although demand for medical supplies remains high in China, the State will overcome difficulties and will provide masks and other medical supplies to Italy, increasing export of materials and furniture (State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 2020) badly needed in Northern Italy’s hospitals. Plus, China already sent a highly qualified medical team to Italy, while the European Commission adopted an authorisation scheme for sharing protective equipment within Member States, prohibiting national bans.
Despite the uncertainty and the gravity of the situation, we can, however, use the events as an example through which analyse military preparedness and State’s cooperation.
What if the scenario in front of us was a military crisis rather than a response to the Covid-19 pandemic? Try to imagine we were talking about spare-parts or precision weapons rather than face-masks or toilet paper (Beaumont, 2020). “We have to start questioning whether our big capabilities – F-35s and others – can endure on a battlefield if our friends are far away” Beaumont said. Since 2017, awareness about the physical obstacles hampering armed forces from moving effectively inside EU borders has been raised. Even though military mobility has enjoyed a high degree of commitment from all stakeholders, when it comes to military exercises and training across the MS’s territory, the EU needs to take measures for correcting this strategic vulnerability, which would impede an accurate and effective response in potential emergency cases (European Parliament, 2020).
Five decades of increasing interconnectedness have opened up the world to massive cross-border flows of goods, services, money, ideas and people. Interdependence is not a new tendency, but in cases of emergency, more and more fragile structural characteristics are revealed, leading to global awareness of what needs to change and in which ways.
Nowadays, there are numerous barriers to logistics interoperability in defence. The European armies, as well as the Australian and the U.S. ones, operate an enormous range of different military materiel with varying requirements of sustainability. And as we may know, true military interoperability is much more difficult when both nations have various equipment, training procedures, legislative requirements, and capabilities. For example, during a 2017 NATO joint exercise in Poland, U.S. Army troops discovered that their fuel nozzles didn’t fit Polish armored vehicles’ fuel tanks. That teaches us that proper common military exercises not only help army to properly prepare, but also aid to identify interoperability gaps.
Integrated approaches to sustainment acquisition and programs should, where possible, become normal (Ashurst and Beaumont, 2020), preventing States to turn to sovereignty-prioritising structure during crises. Interoperable logistics creates strategic resilience and responsiveness for each Member States, as it can often represent the difference between an expended ‘one shot’ capability and an organisation that thrives and prevails where others cannot. At a superficial level, therefore, this is simply a matter of capability; at a more fundamental level, this is a matter of well being and survival, and it can mean the difference between defeat and victory.
The EU defence structures must organise themselves to mitigate the tail risks associated with our highly globalised world. Although this will require a historic leap, major crises, like the one we are living in, often open the space for radical reforms. Defence matters in a time of unsettling shifts in Europe’s security environment, precisely at a time when rules-based multilateralism is in retreat, perhaps the fear and losses arising from COVID-19 will encourage efforts to bring about a better model of globalised cooperation in different sectors (Derviş and Strauss, 2020). Under the Juncker Commission, European defence cooperation has gained unprecedented momentum, as evidenced by the implementation of the European Defence Action Plan, and the proposal to increase funding for research and capabilities’ acquisition. Yet, notwithstanding the substantial progress achieved, the journey is still only at its beginning (European Commission, 2019). Achieving military interoperability is both a matter of funding and political will and tangible coordination.
The road to concrete
interoperability in sharing military resources begins with some serious
obstacles that require breaching. Progress can surely be made, but
interoperability can only be achieved driving through an increased level of
cooperation in defence and security matters, especially in the stockholding levels. And in the end, if it can be reached, through such precise
and interdependent shape, regarding the multilateral
harmonising capacity in the stockholding’s sphere, would
be worth the journey.
 Resilience is the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events (The National Academies; Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative; 2012).
Written by Alessia Cornella Defence Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
Ashurst, T. and Beaumont, D. “Logistics interoperability a valued assets, strategic enablers”, January 16, 2020: https://www.army.mil/article/231663/logistics_interoperability_a_valued_asset_strategic_enabler
Beaumont, D. “Toilet Paper and
Total War – The Psychology of Shortages and What it Means for Resilience”, Logistics in War, March 8, 2020: https://logisticsinwar.com/2020/03/08/toilet-paper-and-total-war-the-psychology-of-shortages-and-what-it-means-for-resilience/
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European Parliament, “Military Mobility: Infrastructure for the Defence of Europe”, Briefing, February 2020: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/646188/EPRS_BRI(2020)646188_EN.pdf
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Levick, E. “Can the ADF sustains itself on operations?”, Australian Defence Magazine, April 12, 2019: https://www.australiandefence.com.au/defence/joint/can-the-adf-sustain-itself-on-operations
Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union, “Wang Yi: China-Italy Friendship Will Grow in Joint Fight Against COVID-19 Outbreak”, March 10, 2020: http://www.chinamission.be/eng/mhs/t1754564.htm
Schütz, T. and Stanley-Lockman, Z., “Smart logistics for future armed forces”, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), November 2017: https://www.iss.europa.eu/sites/default/files/EUISSFiles/Brief%2030%20Smart%20logistics.pdf