OpEd: Biden’s Ukraine Commitment is Self-Sabotage, And China is Loving it
On Monday, President Biden made an unexpected appearance in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to reiterate Washington’s sustained commitment to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Besides the terrible optics of Biden dedicating time and resources to visiting a foreign country while he has yet to set foot anywhere near East Palestine, Ohio, important geopolitical considerations were also at play.
Speaking to a room of reporters, with Zelenskyy standing by his side, Biden repeated a dictate that he has made countless times since Russia invaded nearly one year ago; that the United States will stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”
However, per usual, Biden failed to give a detailed account of what exactly that means, and what an acceptable endgame might look like. Does “as long as it takes” mean until Ukraine recaptures all its original territory in a total defeat of Russian forces? Does it mean until the Putin regime is overthrown, and a puppet government is installed in Moscow? Who knows? Certainly not policy makers in DC.
While the timetable of “as long as it takes’” is a mystery to us all, if the previous year is any indicator the substance of the commitment is easier to speculate. It likely means a perpetual signing of blank checks to Ukrainian leadership with little to no oversight over how the money is being used.
Since the beginning of the war, Congress has dedicated $113.1 billion in aid packages to Ukraine, including $67.1 billion for defense and $46 billion in non-defense related materials. But once the money is appropriated, there is little oversight into where exactly it ends up.
According to the Joint Strategic Oversight Plan for Ukraine Response report released in January, "State is overseeing unprecedented levels of security assistance in Ukraine, presenting significant risk of misuse and diversion given the volume and speed of assistance and the wartime operating environment."
Perhaps more concerning than the raw dollar figure the US has committed to Ukraine is the actual ammunition and weaponry. Aside from Washington’s latest high profile commitment to Kyiv, in which it has promised to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, it has already supplied Ukraine with massive amounts of hard materials. According to a fact sheet published by the State Department on February 3rd, this includes:
- Over 1,600 Stinger missiles
- Over 8,500 Javelin missiles
- Over 54,000 other anti-armor systems and munitions
- 100,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition
- Hundreds of thousands of rounds of various other artillery
While supplying weapons to the Ukrainian people in their fight against a revisionist power is admirable on its face, and certainly makes sense emotionally, it’s not our elected leaders’ job to make foreign policy decisions based on emotion. Instead, they should employ a more realist decision making process. By examining support of Ukraine through this lens it would be readily apparent that a carte blanche support of Kyiv’s war effort does not come without very real tradeoffs.
By definition, the more weapons we provide to Ukraine, the fewer we have the potential to utilize in other more important theaters, namely the Asia-Pacific.
While leadership in Washington has rightfully acknowledged that China is our greatest strategic rival, and the defense of Taiwan is crucial to American interests, policy makers continue to send gobs of money and weapons to Ukraine ignoring the negative consequences this may incur should the US find itself in open conflict with China.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) acutely outlined this dilemma in a speech at the Heritage Foundation last week. “For starters, the more U.S. resources we devote to Europe, the fewer we have available to strengthen deterrence in the Pacific,” Hawley said. “For some things, like heavy armor units, that may not matter much. But it matters a lot for the capabilities we need to deter China from invading Taiwan.”
He continued, “Both Ukraine and Taiwan require many of the same weapons, including things like Javelin and Stinger missiles. And our industrial base is strapped for capacity. That’s because we need to draw on many of the same suppliers for the defense of both Ukraine and Taiwan.”
As Hawley notes, our industrial base is strapped, but this language is really not strong enough. Thanks to a lack of urgency from the Pentagon and massive consolidation efforts by defense contractors, the US defense industry is drastically unprepared for a conflict with China.
According to a Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) report, the US would run out of key long-range, precision-guided munitions in less than one week if a battle over Taiwan were to break out. The CSIS study also notes that shipments of Javelin and Stinger missiles and counter-artillery radars and 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine have depleted US stockpiles.
“The United States has been slow to replenish its arsenal, and the DoD has only placed a contract on a fraction of the weapons it sent to Ukraine,” the report states.
All these weapons systems would be crucial for a defense of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
Underscoring China’s keen interest in the Russia-Ukraine war, the day after Biden paraded through the streets of Kyiv, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, landed in Moscow where he participated in talks with President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Wang, addressing the two countries’ special relationship vowed to work with Russia to “firmly defend respective national territories and national pride.”
Lavrov echoed the sentiment adding, “Our ties have continued to develop dynamically and despite high turbulence in the global arena, we have shown the readiness to speak in defense of each other’s interests.”
These warm diplomatic sentiments between China and Russia were exchanged just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the US possessed intelligence that China may be considering supplying lethal arms to Russia. Blinken added on Wednesday that the Biden administration was considering declassifying this intelligence, though no final decision had been made.
Considering the prospect of increased Chinese cooperation with Russia, President Zelenskyy declared, “if China allies itself with Russia, there will be a world war.”
It is the US, not China, that has been pouring weapons into the battlefield in Ukraine. The US is in no position to tell China what to do. China will never accept US finger-pointing or coercion on China-Russia relations. pic.twitter.com/H6krhOqYtc
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) February 20, 2023
Although China has denied claims it plans to arm Russia, and has criticized the US for trying to coerce Sino-Russia relations, the truth is China has been tacitly supporting Russia for the entirety of its war by propping up its economy via massive procurements of LNG, oil, and coal. More directly, China has supplied the Russian military with commercial drones manufactured by DJI. These drones are then outfitted in Russia for military use.
Whether China plans to increase involvement by supplying more lethal aid remains to be seen, but Beijing’s motivation for doing so would be two-fold. It would help ensure that Russia, China’s only major power ally, is not defeated. And given US policy towards Ukraine so far, by helping to extend the conflict China would also be able to bleed the US of critical strategic weapons and political capital. The longer the US is involved with Ukraine, the less resolve the American public will likely have when it comes time to sacrifice for Taiwan.
Biden loves to frame the Russia-Ukraine war as a battle of democracy vs autocracy. While it may be to an extent, deciding US foreign policy on those grounds is foolish. A hardheaded realism that understands the tradeoffs arming and supporting Ukraine requires is desperately needed.
To speak in terms Biden’s liberal sensibilities might resonate with, by blindly continuing carte blanche support of Ukraine, the US is forfeiting its future ability to defend another even more liberal and more democratic ally. However, in the case of Taiwan, unlike Ukraine, the US would not only be defending a liberal democracy, but one that is vital to American interests.
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