National Review

Why the US Should Continue to Support Ukraine

Opposing further US aid at this crucial point in the conflict is geopolitical negligence.

Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia
HIMARS air defense ukraine artillery aid military defense russia
A Ukrainian grad rocket fires near Kherson, Ukraine, on October 7, 2022. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine enters its ninth month, there is a small but growing chorus of commentators calling for America to end its financial and military aid to the Ukrainians. To make their case, they use dubious arguments: Ukraine is too corrupt, there is not enough oversight of how US aid is being used, or there should be no “blank checks” given to Ukraine during a time of economic hardship at home. All these misleading arguments have been thoroughly debunked.

One of the most common objections to additional military support for Ukraine is that Russia is a “distraction” from the more pressing threat coming from China. This was the main argument made by Austin Dahmer in an article for National Review last week. In Dahmer’s words, “Washington faces a choice” between Europe and Asia, and America’s military presence in Europe and its support for Ukraine “are further eroding the deteriorating military balance in Asia.” This is an overly simplistic, almost lazy approach to advancing US interests abroad.

Policy-makers must understand that Russia and China are intimately connected: Figuratively speaking, they are two sides of the same coin, and literally speaking, they are two sides of the same landmass. On top of this, Russia is China’s junior partner on the global stage. Many of Russia’s and China’s strategic goals overlap. Both want a weakened and divided Europe that they can exploit. Both want to weaken the transatlantic alliance so that the free world is divided and more vulnerable.

This is why what happens in Ukraine could impact what happens in the Indo–Pacific. If Russia is defeated or weakened in Ukraine, China is indirectly weakened. Beijing is also watching the Western powers’ response to Russia’s invasion closely, and the conclusions it draws could alter its future plans for Taiwan. A strong and victorious Ukraine makes Taiwan stronger. While there might not be joint Russian–Chinese military-planning cells in Beijing or Moscow, it would be naive in the extreme to think that the two countries do not have some sort of mutual-security understanding in place. After all, since Russia shifted many of its forces involved with the invasion of Ukraine from its Eastern Military District, the number of Russian troops on or near the country’s border with China is at a historically low level. It’s safe to assume that Vladimir Putin would not have taken such a step without assurances from Beijing that Russia’s territorial integrity would be respected.

A common theme throughout Dahmer’s article is the downplaying of Europe’s importance to the US national interest. Undoubtedly, Asia is an important part of the global economy, but so is Europe. The economies of Europe and North America account for approximately 45 percent of the global economy even though the two continents account for only 11 percent of the world’s population. Year after year, the US and Europe are also each other’s top source of foreign direct investment. Last year, the US and Europe were each other’s largest export markets. Forty-eight of the 50 states — including the Pacific Ocean states of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii — exported more to Europe than to China in 2021.

All that bilateral trade supports millions of US jobs. Europe’s security and stability, which Russia now threatens, bring untold benefits to the US economy and, by extension, to the American worker. So what happens in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv could ultimately affect Kansas City, Orlando, and Louisville. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spreads to other parts of the continent, the conflict will have even greater implications for the US economy.

Dahmer makes the argument that the Ukrainians have destroyed the capabilities of the Russian military to such an extent that it can no longer be considered a genuine threat to NATO, and thus, the US should shift its focus to Asia. It is true that Russia’s conventional forces have suffered heavy losses in Ukraine. Open-source intelligence reporting shows visual confirmation of more than 8,000 major pieces of Russian military equipment taken out of service — including more than 1,500 main battle tanks. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and just as many more wounded or captured. Yet the destruction of the Russian military that Dahmer uses to justify American disengagement from Europe was made possible only by the same military aid to Ukraine that he opposes. And even after accounting for its significant losses, Russia has far from exhausted its military capabilities. If history is any guide, Moscow will take every opportunity to re-arm and re-fit for the future that it is given.

Dahmer also writes in his article that the “matériel Washington is providing to Kyiv could be used in a US-China conflict.” This is like arguing that a fire truck should go to a house five blocks down the street just in case there might be a fire there at some point in the future, instead of to your neighbor’s house that is burning ferociously right now. The prudent approach would be to fight the fire that’s currently raging while also helping the house down the street take appropriate steps to prevent a future fire.

Ukraine has won great victories in defending itself against Russian aggression. The Ukrainian victory in the Battle of Kyiv, the gallant defense of Mariupol that tied down tens of thousands of Russian troops for weeks, and the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, all paved the way for the successful Ukrainian counterattacks near Kharkiv and Kherson. But none of these successes would have been possible without US military support.

Right now, Russia is on the backfoot, and Ukraine is on the march. I was in Kyiv last week, when the first snow of the winter season coated the streets. It was merely a dusting, but it was bitterly cold and offered a small taste of what Ukrainian soldiers will face on the front lines this winter. Now is not the time to halt US aid to Ukraine. Russia’s invasion is not built around US congressional timetables. Lame-duck session or not, another aid package needs to be passed before Christmas. Opposing further US support to Ukraine at this crucial point in the conflict is geopolitical negligence.

Defense spending, like all public spending, is about establishing national priorities. Of course, China is a threat to the US and its allies and partners across the Indo–Pacific and the world. But the choice we face is not between security in Europe and security in the Indo–Pacific. It’s between security in both realms and security in neither — and we can and must choose both.

Read in National Review.