Ayear into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should Washington continue to provide financial and military aid to Kyiv?
President Biden’s February 20 trip to Kyiv was historic and lifted the spirits of the Ukrainian people. He is to be commended for this visit which demonstrated continued U.S. support for repelling Putin’s unprovoked invasion.
Yet, Biden appears to be losing public support for his efforts to help Ukraine. 47 per cent of Americans believe that the US should not provide more weapons and funding to Ukraine, according to a January 20-24 NBC poll.
Some Republicans ~ a minority but vocal group within the GOP, according to a January 4-6, 2023 CBS/YouGov survey ~ assert that it no longer serves America’s interests to continue providing U.S. taxpayer dollars and valuable munitions to Ukraine.
Others present a well-intentioned yet false choice argument that no additional funding for Ukraine should be appropriated while American households struggle with inflationary pressures affecting gasoline, school lunches, airline fares and groceries. These critics accuse allies in Europe of not spending enough on their own security and urge against further assistance to Kyiv while the US southern border is in a state of crisis and as health problems rise after the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
According to a January 18- 24, 2023 Pew Research Poll, 40 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that the US is providing too much support for Ukraine, up from 9 per cent who held this view in March 2022.
Many of these voices have resuscitated a line of reasoning that America ought to focus less on overseas issues and instead devote more attention to domestic problems ailing the country.
Such protectionist and isolationist approaches have their supporters among the right and the left in America’s political discourse. Some support Putin’s arguments and others blame NATO’s expansion for provoking Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Still others are urging for less aid to Ukraine and more focus on the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
These arguments overlook the broader strategic imperative of supporting Ukraine for the purpose of protecting American security, values and the rulesbased order that was paid for in American and Allied blood during the Second World War.
It is vital that Washington walk and chew gum at the same time by implementing effective policies both overseas and domestically. American support for Kyiv is important for preserving the stability of countries that are friendly to the US and which offer an alternative model to the despotic systems seen today in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang.
Leaders in Washington owe it to the American people to explain that the US is fully capable of having a robust national security policy while addressing the considerable challenges on its own soil, i.e., the immigration crisis at the southern border, inflation, addiction, the tragedy in East Palestine, business and job creation, etc. Members of both parties need to explain that the war in Ukraine is not a military conflict in a distant land without consequences to America and its allies. More broadly, efforts to protect the Ukrainian people and their democracy are connected to the struggle between human liberty and autocracy that is playing out on the world stage with the US, Russia and China as the major players in this contest.
If Putin is allowed to succeed in his efforts to decapitate Kyiv’s government and annex Ukraine as part of greater Russia, the practice of larger states invading smaller states will embolden other regimes. This most notably concerns Chinese President Xi Jinping who believes that US policy failures in the 2008 financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan are signs of America’s inevitable decline. Xi has pledged to reunify Taiwan with mainland China by force if necessary and is closely observing America’s current performance of standing up to Putin’s aggression.
While the growing non-interventionist and isolationist concerns in American political discourse must be heard and respected, these arguments must be countered. A public education campaign should be undertaken to make the case for a forwardleaning, internationalist posture by Washington to protect US security while also delivering on the domestic needs of Americans at home.
The American people need to hear that sending weapons systems and financial assistance to Ukraine is not mere charity but an investment in the safety of the American people.
US assistance to Ukraine is not involving American boots on the ground, is severely degrading Putin’s military and is building credibility with US allies. It is also demonstrating the resolve that Xi Jinping can expect if he decides to invade Taiwan. Put simply, the rewards of this investment of American aid exceeds its costs.
To this end, American voters need to know that US spending on Ukraine aid has been manageable and low when compared with the total $817 billion in defense spending allotted for in the National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law last year. The Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget’s figures show that to date US defense support for Ukraine has totaled $67 billion and nondefense support has amounted to $46 billion. According to the Center for European Policy Analysis, these outlays of Congressionally approved funds for Ukraine make up approximately 5.6 per cent of US defense spending.
The President, Congress and current aspirants for higher office must level with voters, sharing with them the stakes involved and the steps necessary to safeguard America and its interests. The American people need to know that they are involved in a decades-long struggle with China and Russia which means larger expenditures of public funds for military budgets and expanding the U.S. industrial base.
Voters’ concerns that US aid to Ukraine is being squandered by corruption need to be addressed. The Biden administration must demonstrate that all aid to Kyiv requires diligent oversight to fight graft and to ensure that weapons and funds get to where they are needed. More needs to be done to show the concrete measures that are being taken to protect American taxpayer dollars from malfeasance.
In the immediate term, Biden needs to give Ukraine the tools it will need for a swift, overwhelming counteroffensive to push back Russian forces and to go after Crimea. Only when Putin understands that he will not be able to defeat Ukrainian forces will he be in a position to negotiate. This will involve supplying the Ukrainians with anti-ship cruise missiles, ATACMS surfaceto-surface long range missiles, fighter aircraft, Gray Eagle offensive strike drones and extensive replenishments of ammunition. It also means moving heaven and earth to get the already-approved Patriot surface-to-air missile system to Ukraine to help defend its airspace. The purpose of the gradual approach to escalation that President Biden has pursued thus far has been to avoid antagonizing Putin into employing tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. While Biden’s concern is understandable, his self-deterrence is unnecessary.
There is little probability that Putin will resort to a nuclear attack on Ukraine due to the devastating NATO response that would follow in addition to the likely withdrawal of support from China and India. Such an act would further set back Russia for decades on the world stage.
Unfortunately, Biden’s gradualist approach involves more loss of life as time passes in addition to the risk of dragging out the war. A drawn-out conflict would likely play into Putin’s hands, allowing him to outlast and overwhelm Ukrainian ammunition supplies.
The Ukrainians know that the longer the war drags on the American people and the Western coalition will lose interest just as happened after Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. This is why 2023 is a pivotal moment for Ukraine to receive the sophisticated and powerful weapons that it needs to drive Putin’s forces from its territory.
In conclusion, America’s leaders need to be up front with voters that national security today depends on opposing Putin in Ukraine and deterring Xi in the Pacific. Non-interventionist approaches simply amount to hiding America’s head in the sand while ultimately emboldening authoritarian regimes.
Washington must clearly communicate to the American people that protecting the US amid this new reality will be an ongoing process that will take years. It will also require a peacethrough-strength approach involving higher public expenditures on the military capabilities needed for national defense and security in Europe and the IndoPacific. These efforts will involve expanding America’s industrial capacity to harden defenses and build the weapons systems needed for deterrence. The war in Ukraine is more than a struggle for Kyiv’s survival. It is a test of America’s will, credibility on the world stage and values.
(The writer is Associate Clinical Professor at Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles)