Editorial: Aid to Ukraine enforces U.S. values worth defending
President Biden’s surprise trip to Kyiv this past weekend was the right message at the right time. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, Biden used the trip to put an exclamation mark on his continuing promise that the West would stand by Ukraine “for as long as it takes!”
Such resolute support is particularly important as Russia launches offensives this winter/spring to try to secure its land grabs of the past year, and as Western allies (and isolationist Republicans at home) question how long they will be asked to pump money into this war.
To that end, it’s crucial that Americans of all political persuasions understand why our commitment to Ukraine is in America’s vital national interests.
As President Biden has rightly claimed, repelling Russia’s invasion is crucial to the West’s political values: that all countries have a right to sovereignty, to live free from the aggression of others, and to pursue democracy as they are able. Compare that to Russia’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine and its indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets and the nation’s civilian infrastructure, and you can understand why the West’s values are seen by many throughout the world as crucial to uphold.
Furthermore, Biden’s message was to affirm the civilized world’s commitment to fighting unjust wars — a promise that gives heart to aspiring democracies around the world and that weakens authoritarian leaders.
While that fundamental message is reason enough to lend Ukraine this country’s unflinching support, a recent report by Timothy Ash published by the Center for European Policy Analysis makes a strong argument that America’s investment in the Ukraine war is money well spent; in fact, it is among our most cost-effective spending in the defense budget. While some isolationist Republicans are calling for our military support of Ukraine to be cut, Ash argues that those Republicans downplay the risk from Russia and misunderstand the value of fighting Russia through the war in Ukraine.
Ash, who calls Western support for Ukraine an “incredibly cost-effective investment,” notes that the Biden administration had received $40 billion in aid for Ukraine for 2022, and asked for another $37.7 billion for 2023, of which more than half was earmarked for defense. That compares to a total US defense budget of $715 billion for 2022. The assistance for Ukraine amounts to 5.6% of total US defense spending, a pittance, Ash notes, considering Russia is a primary adversary of the U.S.
“In cold, geopolitical terms,” Ash writes, “this war provides a prime opportunity for the US to erode and degrade Russia’s conventional defense capability with no boots on the ground and little risk to US lives.”
Going through the numbers, Ash lists the substantial military losses Russia has endured throughout the first year of the war, concluding that the US investment to “destroy nearly half of Russia’s conventional military capability seems like an absolutely incredible investment.” He continues: “If we divide out the US defense budget to the threats it faces, Russia would perhaps be of the order of $100 billion-$150 billion in spend-to-threat” per year. “So spending just $40 billion a year, erodes a threat value of $100-$150 billion, a two-to-three time return. Actually, the return is likely to be multiples of this given that defense spending, and threat are annual recurring events.”
Ash goes on to argue that America’s military support of Ukraine has also:
• made America’s superior military equipment (compared to Russia’s) stand out as the preferred product for countries seeking to defend themselves from aggressors, and that Ukraine’s innovations on the battlefield are helping American manufacturers of weapons improve equipment performance, thus helping American-made weapons manufacturers;
• revealed that Russia’s defense industry was not as vaunted as suspected;
• sent a powerful signal to China that invading Taiwan would be riskier and more costly than they might have once considered.
For all those reasons, Ash concludes, “US support for Ukraine is a no-brainer from a bang-for-buck perspective. Ukraine is no Vietnam or Afghanistan for the US, but it is exactly that for Russia. A Russia continually mired in a war it cannot win is a huge strategic win for the US.”
Now, Ash’s approach is undeniably harsh and he’s not writing this for mass consumption; rather, it’s written for policy wonks deliberating things as distasteful as a war’s return on investment. But it’s important to note that, from a purely financial perspective, Americans’ tax dollars are not being wasted.
More importantly, of course, is that Western aid to Ukraine is not only helping Ukrainians live freely, but it is repelling a dictator’s brazen aggression that if it had gone unchecked (imagine how quickly ex-President Trump would have rolled over to Russia’s demands) would surely have sparked other aggressions around the world. Had Biden and the West not challenged Putin, Russia would surely have sought to bring other former Soviet satellite nations under Russia’s dominance, and China would have surmised that Taiwan was theirs for the taking as well.
Republicans, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who dismiss such prospects would lead this nation and the world into greater peril.
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