Is there an amount of military aid for Ukraine the U.S. won’t approve? Within the past two weeks alone, the Biden administration has committed nearly $4 billion in security assistance by allocating $3 billion and $775 million in separate packages. The grand total of military aid delivered to Ukraine since President Biden took office in January 2021 is a whopping $13.5 billion, and that number is only set to increase.
What is particularly pernicious about the weapons gravy train is the lack of a clear endgame in the conflict itself, an ugly feature of U.S. engagement in proxy wars. When asked how long the war in Ukraine and, by extension, military aid will last, variations of “indefinitely” seem to be the going answers from U.S. leaders.
Such a position is amorphous and unrestrained, plunging the United States into deeper subsidization of European security and repeating the same mistakes made in arming proxies.
The latest round of military aid announcements underscores the absence of restraint on the part of U.S. leaders. In the aid announcement on Ukrainian Independence Day, the Department of Defense said the weapons package demonstrates “U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine over the long term — representing a multi-year investment to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.”
Further, $3.5 billion in weapons from the nearly $4 billion pot will be made by the U.S. defense industry rather than come from existing U.S. stockpiles — a nice payday and additional job security for the military-industrial complex.
In the fast and furious arming of Ukraine, it seems both Congress and the White House forgot to ensure billions of dollars worth of weapons actually reach Ukrainian forces and don’t fall into the black market.
At a July press briefing, a senior DOD official was quoted saying, “We are not tracking weapons … And quite honestly, I mean, we feel pretty good that the Ukrainians are using the weapons that we’ve provided to them and have not seen any indications that those weapons have gone anywhere else other than to fight against the Russians.” This is quite the assertion to make if weapons aren’t being tracked.
The rapid delivery of weapons, entrenching the U.S. in years of new weapons contracts, and the complete lack of oversight in arms delivery is setting up U.S. involvement in Ukraine to become the latest in a string of U.S. proxy war failures that produce no tangible gains for U.S. security interests.
What is an acceptable end to the conflict that would bring U.S. support to a close? The large-scale arming of Ukraine is taking place with no clear mission or operational objectives. Buzzwords like “long-term gains,” “enduring strength,” and “defending democracy” communicate nothing practical.
Biden, parroting his European counterparts, said the U.S. will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” But the inability of U.S. leaders to connect billions in support for Ukraine to respond to a tangible threat directly impacting U.S. security is a symptom of a larger problem. European powers have spent decades relying on U.S.-funded defense via NATO, allowing defense spending and readiness on the continent to lapse. Rather than put pressure on Europe to own a large share of the responsibility in supporting Ukraine, the U.S. welcomed two new ill-equipped nations to NATO.
Such a dichotomy is problematic as it empowers Ukraine and the largest players in NATO to define for the U.S. the acceptable amount of arms, the conditions under which the conflict could end, and that the war in Ukraine must be considered a top national security priority. Ukraine has already taken such liberties.
In response to a question about Americans concerned with the level of spending on Ukraine, President Zelensky said, “As long as we are resisting it [Russian aggression], the integrity of the United States will continue, therefore we are giving our lives for your values and the joint security of the world… Inflation is nothing, Covid is nothing…”
With all due respect to Zelensky, American families facing skyrocketing living costs have every right to be skeptical of their government’s unrestrained and undirected support of a war in which the U.S. is not a declared participant. Further, Zelensky recently said his country will press on fighting Russia without “any concession or compromise,” a stance that puts the U.S. in an impossible position to suggest any peace negotiations that could end the war.
The U.S. committed itself to the war in Ukraine the moment the first package of military aid was announced post-Russian invasion. In undertaking yet another proxy war, the White House and Congress utterly failed the American people by abandoning all restraint.
Congress could have capped emergency spending. The White House could have toned down the “unwavering support” rhetoric. The Department of Defense could have put in place controls to track weapons deliveries before one bullet crossed into Ukraine. No facet of the U.S. government defined an endgame. As the threat of China’s retaking of Taiwan looms, cooler heads need to rise above the negative PR and devise an exit strategy for the U.S. from arming Ukraine.
Ms. Katherine Thompson is a fellow at the Center for Renewing America and a former Military Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Mike Lee.
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