The Wall Street Journal repeats a familiar foolish demand:
While Ukraine is not a NATO member, the U.S. should also send lethal aid to Kiev as a way of making Mr. Putin think twice about the costs of an invasion. Mr. Obama is worried that this will be too provocative, but what is really provocative to this Kremlin is weakness.
Since the Ukrainian military is evidently in no condition to fight, it is the worst sort of posturing to insist on sending weapons to make Russia “think twice” about an invasion. Suppose that the U.S. sends Ukraine some weapons. If Ukrainian forces aren’t ready to resist an invasion, and if they aren’t trained to use the weapons and equipment they are given, this would achieve nothing while potentially creating the expectation of greater military assistance. At best, it would be a futile gesture, and futile gestures never convey strength.
One of the many bigger flaws in the WSJ’s editorial is the boilerplate hawkish assumption that “weakness is provocative.” This is one of those mindless phrases that all hawks use, but very few ever bother to examine. There are times when weakness can be provocative. If a state can’t effectively defend itself, that can invite attack from its neighbors, but it often doesn’t for any number of reasons. Aggressive actions are far more likely to rile and provoke other states than is a perception of “weakness.” That is a problem for interventionists, since they are frequently demanding that the U.S. and its allies take more aggressive actions in various places around the world. These actions frequently do provoke other states, trigger undesirable responses, and may even precipitate armed conflict that they are supposedly aimed at discouraging. The U.S. should generally refrain from arming another government in an ongoing conflict unless it is treaty-bound to provide such assistance, and even then it should avoid doing so if it it is likely to escalate and intensify the conflict.