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The Folly and Futility of Arming Ukraine

Joshua Keating gets [1] a quote from Barry Posen on the folly of arming Ukraine:

If Russia is willing to bear the costs of political and economic isolation, which for now it seems to be, it can continue to pour resources into the fight, knowing that there’s only so far Western countries will be willing to go to counter them. “I think there’s a real risk,” Posen says, “that we’re going to start providing weapons to the Ukrainians and will look up after a year or so and find out it hasn’t really helped that much.”

There is also the matter of getting the weapons to Ukrainian forces and training them in their use in a timely fashion. As Micah Zenko noted [2] in a recent post, to do this before this spring “would be a highly ambitious, if not unprecedented, political and logistical effort.” Considering how slowly U.S. arms have reached anti-regime Syrians once the administration decided to start providing them with weapons, it is very doubtful that the weapons would reach Ukraine quickly enough to even try to do what the hawks want.

Like Posen, I don’t expect that sending arms to Ukraine will have the desired effect. Even if it doesn’t lead to escalation and a severe worsening of the conflict, which is very well might, it still isn’t going to “work” in the way that its advocates imagine. When it doesn’t work as intended, we know that this won’t discourage the hawks in the least, but will prompt them to demand that the U.S. “do more.” If they lure the administration into making the first blunder of agreeing to send some weapons, they will then insist that the U.S. cannot now “abandon” the people it has been arming.

The debate over arming Ukraine has a lot in common with the debate over arming rebels in Syria. Hawks insist from the start that the U.S. needs to be arming one side in a foreign conflict, whose importance to the U.S. is grossly exaggerated to make it seem imperative that the U.S. does what they want, and they dismiss any possible negative consequences while focusing solely on the supposed benefits of “action.” Once the warnings of skeptics of U.S. involvement are proven correct, that doesn’t weaken the hawks’ desire to throw more weapons at the problem, but just makes them even more certain that the U.S. has to keep increasing its support for its ineffective proxies.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "The Folly and Futility of Arming Ukraine"

#1 Comment By Brian M On February 4, 2015 @ 10:56 am

“ineffective” proxies? Heck, our proxies in Syria are basically working for the “other” side, so…
It’s like arming the Iraqi military. Or an Afghani police force that seems to be riddled with Taliban agents.

#2 Comment By PaulR On February 4, 2015 @ 11:10 am

Agreed, this is a thoroughly bad idea, as I explain here: [3]

#3 Comment By collin On February 4, 2015 @ 11:21 am

Will sending weapons stop Putin? NO, NO, NO. I am not sure what evidence would show Putin will back down here as he has had several opportunities the last ~15 months. In fact, sending weapons falls exactly into the Putin is “STANDING TO THE US” media push and it ramp the war. It is a Civil War and it should be up to Ukraine to work it out which may mean the 20% of of population can separate.

#4 Comment By Charlieford On February 4, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

This is so inexcusably nuts. Russia will always have more motive and more ability to determine what happens in Ukraine than we will. Building up the opposition by arming them will just make the Russians all the more convinced we’re intent on undermining them, and we’ll see more and more of this in other places. Re-read your Kennan, Mr. Obama.

#5 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On February 4, 2015 @ 1:01 pm


In fact, sending weapons falls exactly into the Putin is “STANDING TO THE US” media push

Have it ever occurred to you that not everything in politics is about media campaigns? Applying American political behavioral “standard”, which is the “gift” which keeps giving since 1999, to something that is a matter of national consciousness forged in the climes which are simply beyond the comprehension of the majority of Americans is a folly of the massive proportion. I said it many times, I will repeat it again–the field of the so called “Russian Studies” in US is dead. It is over. People who actually know the real history of Russia and her culture are few and far between in the US. I try, however crudely, to give some understanding on how it works and how it is related to the ONLY thing that matters–the situation on the battlefields–in my series of posts Sand Castle Geopolitics.


There is NO understanding of Russia without understanding the military history of the 20th Century, period. None, zilch, nada. For the rest–there are Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak and all other cliches about Russian history, such as bears on the unicycles, GULAG, drunk children on the streets and pogroms.

#6 Comment By collin On February 4, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

Re-read your Kennan, Mr. Obama.

Isn’t Obama’s policies very “Realist” in their approach and not unlike many of Reagan’s realist moves. (Similar to say weapons to the Contras in the 1980s.) None of Obama nor Merkel’s moves have been “stupid” but they have been an attempt to poke at Russian interference and give the current Ukrainian government increased confidence. Set economic sanctions, have lots of speeches against Putin and now send ‘defensive’ weapons. These actions to make Putin cost go up to involve himself with the Ukraine but the moves are not designed for a peace agreement. These moves are making harder for Putin to expand to other countries (I don’t know if that was in Putin’s plan) and at the same time, allowing The Ukraine to do all actual fighting.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On February 4, 2015 @ 10:55 pm


Russian studies was allowed to die in the 1990s. As it is I find that most of what the west is told about Russia is what Americans want to believe about the world, which is pretty much what our media does about every country. (To be fair that’s pretty much what journalists do wherever they come from)

Unfortunately Americans know even less about Ukraine and that Ukrainians have spent their independence alternating between Russia and the west as bills start coming due has gotten lost in the noise.

#8 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On February 5, 2015 @ 12:25 pm


As it is I find that most of what the west is told about Russia is what Americans want to believe about the world, which is pretty much what our media does about every country.

I have to politely disagree here. The role of the Soviet/Russian (many of them Jewish) dissidents (and immigrants) in shaping Russian narrative (and the field of “studies”) is colossal, in fact–defining. Russian history was Solzhenitsified to the point of being unrecognizable. I am not talking here just about media. And so is colossal US dysfunctionality towards Russia. The roots of this problem are, among many, in the history of the 20th century and its “interpretation” as a march of American exceptionalism towards Pax Americana. It is in many respects metaphysical issue. It is also a civilizational one.

#9 Comment By Christopher Herman On February 5, 2015 @ 12:32 pm

The problem is that paramilitary Right in Ukraine that has the heart to defeat the Russians do not fit the “liberal democratic” mold, so if arming the Ukrainians was in any way successful, it would be at the expense of “U.S. interests”.

#10 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On February 5, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

@Christopher Herman

The problem is that paramilitary Right in Ukraine that has the heart to defeat the Russians

You have a very limited knowledge, to say the least, about Ukraine’s “Right”, which is precisely the point I make on this discussion board. People make conclusions based on the, well, pure speculations or fantasies. But then again, there are an operational issues and then there is media propaganda.

#11 Comment By Rossbach On February 7, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

The proposal now is to commit $1 billion in arms and “humanitarian” aid to Ukraine. At best, this would be throwing good money after bad; and if the US is really stupid enough to give the Kiev regime a war guarantee vs Russia, it would be the worst foreign policy blunder since the UK gave one to Poland in 1939.

We know how well that turned out.

It is singular that a government that won’t lift a finger to help its own people to preserve their national sovereignty and the rule of law is willing to risk involvement in wars to defend nations/peoples to whom it owes nothing.