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American aid to Ukraine is in a war spiral

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 2/3/2023 Dominic Green
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The first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine falls on Feb. 24. There is no end in sight. Both sides are intensifying their commitment. Russia is preparing for a spring offensive and planning to mobilize a further 500,000 conscripts. The United States is sending Ukraine its largest military “aid package” yet, worth $3.75 billion and including Bradley armored personnel carriers. Germany has agreed to U.S. pressure to send Leopard 2 battle tanks. The U.S., which has sent tens of thousands of artillery and mortar rounds from its own stockpiles, will send M1 Abrams tanks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now asking for F-16 jets. The Biden administration and the Department of Defense insist that the U.S. is supplying “defensive” weapons only, but tanks and jets are not defensive. Tanks and jets are offensive by design. They are supposed to expand the battlefield and achieve a breakout from the kind of slogging artillery exchanges in which the war is currently mired. This is mission creep, and it will shortly break out from a creep into a run. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess, but it will be nowhere good.


The U.S. was right to rally NATO and subsidize Ukraine’s defense. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an attack on the international order, and preventing a Russian victory is a precondition of ending the war. That end is nowhere in sight. Russian President Vladimir Putin miscalculated on a quick victory and must now commit more and more forces to avoid defeat. Zelensky also wants a total victory, including the recovery not just of the four oblasts in Ukraine’s east and southeast that Russia annexed last September (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk) but also of the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

The U.S. began with the goals of containing Russia, restoring the status quo before last February’s invasion, reviving NATO, and restoring a balance of power in Europe. A year later, the mission has crept to fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian, expanding NATO to the Arctic Circle, defeating the world’s biggest nuclear power on its own doorstep, and causing the overthrow of Putin. We deceive ourselves if we deny that this, too, is a plan for total victory. We deceive ourselves further if we think it is attainable. One side’s total victory means the other’s total defeat. Why would Putin, or any other leader in possession of a second-strike nuclear arsenal, accept that?

The U.S. strategy commits the Western alliance to an escalatory spiral, narrowing toward a nuclear-tipped peak. Ukraine keeps asking for more powerful weapons. The White House initially says that the weapons will not be sent for fear of escalatory responses from Putin. A few weeks later, off go the weapons, to fanfare about defending democracy in Ukraine. This has happened with Javelin anti-tank systems, 155 mm howitzer guns, and HIMARS batteries. It has just now happened with tanks, Patriot missile systems, and Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bombs, or GLSDB. These precision-guided bombs will double the range of the HIMARS batteries the U.S. has already sent and allow the Ukrainians to strike Russian targets 100 miles away.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians recently tested “kamikaze drones” with a range of over 600 miles. President Joe Biden is currently refusing to send F-16s and the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, which would increase the Ukrainians' range to 200 miles. But on Jan. 26, CNN told us that there is a “broad understanding that, in the long term, Ukraine will switch to Western jets from its current, Soviet-era MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27.”

This broad understanding seems to envelop Lockheed Martin, whose CEO said there is “a lot of conversation about third party transfer of F-16s” and which is now selling a new variant; the governments of the Netherlands, which says it has “no taboos” about sending its old F-16s to Ukraine; and the Department of Defense, in which, according to Politico, a campaign by a “contingent of military officials” for sending F-16 jets to Ukraine’s spring offensive is “gaining momentum.” On previous form, it is only a matter of time until the president’s understanding attains breadth sufficient to crank the escalatory spiral to even more dangerous heights.

The war is still contained within Ukraine, but it has already distorted and undermined America’s global strategy. The long effort to romance the Iranian dictatorship back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal has collapsed, with Iran shipping weapons to Russia. NATO’s northward expansion is stalled, with Turkey objecting to Sweden’s accession. Key Asian allies India and Israel are not on board. Excluding Russia from dollar-denominated international transactions has not only caused an energy crisis in Europe. It has driven the global energy market permanently beyond U.S. control.


Russia’s energy exports have risen in value, with Asian customers, notably China, taking up the slack. Russia and Iran are edging into formal military alliance. Turkey is at odds with NATO, and NATO will split whether Putin goes to the nuclear brink or the negotiating table. The Chinese and the Saudis are edging toward oil deals priced in yuan. A mishandled attempt to reassert the American order is accelerating the “dedollarization” of the global economy and the arrival of a post-American order.

Dominic Green is a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Find him on Twitter @drdominicgreen.


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Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, War in Ukraine, Russia, NATO, Foreign Policy, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, War

Original Author: Dominic Green

Original Location: American aid to Ukraine is in a war spiral


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