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Don’t Arm Ukraine

Debunking a thoroughly crazy idea.

Ben Judah proposes a thoroughly crazy idea:

If we believe that Ukraine will one day become a member of the European Union and NATO, then we should be ready to arm it. We must face the fact that the costs of unlimited European Union and NATO expansion have meant war with Russia by proxy — and then fight the war. Having reignited the hottest moments of the Cold War, we must deal with the consequences of encouraging democratization in Eastern Europe.

This logic demands that we send Western military advisers to Kiev, and give the Ukrainians full intelligence and satellite support. And we must ship them guns, tanks, drones and medical kits by the ton. We must even be ready to deploy NATO troops if Russian tanks roll toward Crimea, as many fear they will, to build a land bridge to the mainland of southern Russia.

Judah frames the choice over Ukraine in such a way that suggests that he clearly prefers this option to the alternative of “surrender,” but the policy he describes here is so senseless and dangerous that it discredits itself. It is senseless because even if Western governments did all these things it wouldn’t change the eventual outcome of the conflict, and it is dangerous because these moves could very well trigger a wider and more destructive war. The U.S. and its allies could choose to send arms and supplies to Ukraine to wage a war that it can’t possibly win, but this would only increase the damage done to the country. Supposing that Western governments could somehow claim a “victory” against Russia in such a proxy war, Ukraine would be utterly ruined in the process.

If “we” refers to Westerners, “we” don’t believe Ukraine will ever join the EU or NATO, because many members of both organizations don’t want Ukraine to join. The most plausible solution to the crisis is to confirm that Ukraine isn’t going to belong to any bloc, so it is irresponsible to act as if it will one day be a member of either the EU or NATO. If it wasn’t already clear how much of a liability Ukraine would have been to NATO, the events of the last six months have removed all doubt. The alliance obviously isn’t willing to defend Ukraine, so nothing would be worse for the rest of the alliance than to include Ukraine in it. If “the costs of unlimited European Union and NATO expansion have meant war with Russia by proxy,” as Judah says, that is a damning indictment of both policies and another reason to conclude that the eastward expansion of both organizations should be halted.

The U.S. and its allies are never going to care more about Ukraine than Russia, and they are never going to be willing to take any major risks on behalf of Ukraine. That was true when the crisis began last year, and nothing has changed since then. Several Western governments carelessly pursued a contest for influence with Russia in Ukraine without having any intention of dedicating the resources or taking the risks that such a contest required, and they did so without ever considering how negatively Russia would react to the attempt. Now that we can see how disastrously this has turned out, it makes absolutely no sense to repeat the error by encouraging Ukraine to fight an unwinnable war.



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