The Russian defense industry has some struggles ahead. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, it turns out that Russian industry needs Western components and Western support. One of the most autarkic industries in one of the world’s most autarkic economies is suffering from supply shortages because of sanctions. Does this mean that autarky in the defense sphere becomes impossible? If so, what does that mean for the pursuit of security for modern states?
Theoretically, states should carefully guard the chains that supply their defense industrial bases with goods, as a loss of access to global markets (or even to specific suppliers) could prove catastrophic in times of war. Most variants of realism suggest that a state will, if it can, reduce vulnerability by internalizing as much of its defense industry as possible. Of course this is not possible for every state; some must rely in part or in whole on the defense industry that it can borrow or buy. But great powers especially should try to be as autonomous as possible in defense.
This logic runs squarely against decades of trends in complex industrial production. In the second half of the 20th century most industries became globalized to at least some extent, relying on transnational partnerships for resources and finished components of a final product. Infrastructure and investment made this kind of integration vastly more efficient than autarky. During the age of globalization the defense industry certainly budged (transnational production and innovation characterized defense buildups in both the West and in the Soviet bloc), but defense remained the least globalized of any major sector. To be fair, a non-trivial component of “buy local” has also involved subsidization of domestic industries (and workers), which isn’t quite autarky although it is often justified under the same logic.
But despite these headwinds, can a modern defense industry manage autarky?
During its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has run straight into the problem of incomplete defense autarky. The difficult truth is that the Russian defense industrial base has become intimately tied to the West. The apparent dependence of Russian industry on Western components appears to have surprised even the Russians, who have engaged in elaborate efforts to find enough chips to keep advanced weapons on the menu. Could Russia’s example indicate the vulnerability of defense supply chains, encouraging countries to onshore requirements critical to their DIB? The short answer to Russia’s dilemma appears to be that autarky in the defense sphere, at least as far as advanced components are concerned, is simply not possible for a state seeking a first tier military capability. It is likely that some countries will try and that few (if any) will succeed. The hard truth is that a modern defense industrial base requires advanced components that are only available with a world class technology industry (possessed by very few countries) or open access to markets in high tech.
This leaves a world in which the components necessary for advanced, high-tech weapons are available in the West and available to Western partners, but are considerably less available to anyone outside of that technological ecosystem. This mirrors in many ways the situation that held during the Cold War, when the United States took extravagant steps to prevent Soviet access to Western technology. In this case, however, the US enjoys even more robust advantages. Supply chain dynamics, export controls, and intellectual property law have given the United States much greater control over global technology than it once enjoyed, although these advantages are at least in part offset by the expansion of the internet and the development of 3D printing technology. Indeed, the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO will undoubtedly accelerate the integration of their technology sectors with the transnational defense industrial base of the West.
It would be exceedingly difficult for any Western country to try to escape this ecosystem while still maintaining the sophistication of its defense industrial base. Turkey and South Korea, for example, have worked hard on developing domestic alternatives to Western equipment, but this effort has primarily been to avoid export control requirements rather than out of concern over the reliability of supply chains. Both Turkey and the ROK remain full participants in the Western technology ecosystem, notwithstanding Turkey’s flirtation with Russian air defense equipment.
This technological future looks ugly for both Russia and China, but especially for the former. Reconstituting the technological blocs that existed during the Cold War but expanding the Western one at the expense of the Russian will not benefit Moscow, and it may end up driving a wedge between Moscow and Beijing. China, deeply engaged in the civilian tech economy, will face difficult choices about how much to support Russia. Moreover, Russia and China are increasingly in direct conflict over their shares of the international defense market.
All told, Beijing would likely prefer to draw Russia into its own technology ecosystem and its own extended defense industrial base but as a distinctly junior partner.
Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.
from Russia with love
August 28, 2022 at 6:04 pm
As far as I know, not a single enterprise of the Russian military-industrial complex has stopped its work. some even switch to a three-shift work schedule (that is, around the clock). the author is trying to pass off his fantasies as reality?
August 28, 2022 at 6:15 pm
Heh, a bit of past laziness on the part of russian defense industry but doubtless it will eventually get past this unintended inconvenience.
Iran is a shining example of what (self) determination can do in the face of massive adversity, and all russia needs to do now is get real cosy with the iranian defense establishment.
No part can’t be obtained and even reproduced without some right bargaining (ya gimme this and I givya this) and russia has PLENTY to offer!
Whay did putin say on aug 15 2022 during the army-2022 exhibition – “We gonnna share our advanced mil tech with our close allies !” AMEN.
August 28, 2022 at 8:06 pm
Russia is finished:
will end like Yugoslavia
and Putin like Gaddafi
August 28, 2022 at 8:27 pm
The old Communists used to say the “western capitalists would sell them the rope to hang them with”.
The evidence is that the capitalists took their money.
August 28, 2022 at 9:31 pm
“Shiny example”? The fact that Russia is begging them for tech doesn’t mean Iran’s military industrial complex is competent.
August 28, 2022 at 10:29 pm
To Russia whatever…
Yeah, Russia’s killin’ it…. (rolling eyes…).
August 28, 2022 at 11:13 pm
It is likely that at some point Russia will turn to China for the parts it cannot create domestically.
That might be enough to fill local defense demands, but Russia’s arms industry depends on international sales to make its own domestic needs viable.
The uncomfortable question for Russia will be why should countries like India (who is hostile to China) buy Russian weapons with Chinese parts? And why should countries like Algeria buy from Russia when they can get basically the same thing from China for less money?
August 29, 2022 at 7:18 am
That’s exactly from the propaganda playbook of the Ukrainian puppet “President” Zelenski, a wishful thinking does not represent the reality!
August 29, 2022 at 9:44 am
Russia announces liberation video how pathetic is putin the kremlin and the majority of russians from what I here from them when interviewed about the war I think 80Percent of Russian are definitely impaired in the mind and devoid of a brain cell between the fucking lot of them.How can putin liberate Ukraine for Russians that live there for fucks sake you dopey running things the people who are Russian living in Ukraine are there because they don’t want to live in a authoritarian state they are avoiding putin and his kremlin regime of evil savage barbarian scum.they don’t need to be liberated obviously but unfortunately they have printed the results before the ballot has taken place,Russian savage barbarian filthy scum make me sick for fucks sake rid Russia of putin for the world and mankind’s sake,you evil cock eyed little prick putin your a can’t of the highest order no 1 in fact world wide bar none
August 29, 2022 at 10:03 am
China stole TSMC’s semiconductor technology and are suddenly producing 7nm chips. They need China and not the west. The west is stagnating just like Russia, while China forges ahead.
August 29, 2022 at 12:24 pm
Few people’re aware iran still flies F-14 fighter jets, only nation in the world today to keep these now vintage yet still very fairly sophisticated aircraft flying.
Fewer still are aware iran has been under one whole series of sanctions or another, for 40+ years, yet iran has been filly able to keep its military on its own two feet…
Russia in its moment of self reflection can clearly learn a useful thing or two from iran.
How about moscow bartering some Yars technology for iran’s stealth combat drones. This will greatly displease biden and the ukros.
August 29, 2022 at 12:30 pm
“Russian military-industrial complex” There is no such thing…
russia is a small country full of cowards, assassins, thieves and stupids…
August 29, 2022 at 12:32 pm
call 112… fucked estupid russians (de mierda…)
August 29, 2022 at 12:33 pm
So, Russia dreams of emulating … Iran? Maybe someday.
I suppose the Iranian and Russian militaries are similar: Israel seems to have no problem getting through Iran’s (and Syria’s) Swiss-cheese air defense systems whenever they feel like it, and blowing up stockpiles of Iranian armaments. Just like …
Instead of laziness on the part of Russia’s defense industry, I’d substitute systematic, chronic, top-to-bottom corruption. Too bad they can’t attack the Ukrainians with mega-yachts, dachas and Cypriot bank books.
August 29, 2022 at 12:36 pm
“As far as I know (russian words)” Vo sabes NADA. As any other slavic, you better born died.
Absurdly stupid, vladimira… Every russian is better dead.
August 29, 2022 at 1:21 pm
Ivan’s bunnies sure jumped on this article real quick. The reason is that the Russian weapons industry is being shown to be incompetent – it’s all been a lie. The Russian s… doesn’t work very well. Lost $ales ahead.
August 29, 2022 at 2:00 pm
How can Russian Lavrov demand Israel adhere to international laws the two faced liar, deceitful ,kaniving, contrary,laughable ,demnted self deluded repugnant can’t when Russia committed genocide,atrocities,war crimes and use nuclear power station as a base you take the cake you decrepit looking piece of Russian scum.up the white blue white flag the people cleansing Russia.
August 29, 2022 at 4:11 pm
Well, I suppose one example of Russia’s advanced technology are those escape pods they’ve built into the T-72 tanks. Sometimes those things pop 100 feet into the air to safely deliver the crew from the exploding ammunition in the hull below.
Oh, wait …
August 30, 2022 at 9:07 am
The Russian military are able to field an army with equipment necessary for the job at hand.
Whatever shortfalls they might have… I’m sure they’re working to remedy.
Meanwhile, instead of empty boasting & bravado
and silly disparaging, supporters of this bankrupt diplomatic & military failure in Ukraine need to look in the mirror and engage in healthy self reflection.
Your preferred policies hurt America and devastated Europe, and turned much of the world against us.
August 30, 2022 at 12:59 pm
Russia is not the real threat. Their economy is smaller than Italy. No one loses sleep at night over Italy. China is the monster we need to confront. End all tech transfers to China and sever all economic ties with them before it’s too late.