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The Folly of Arming Ukraine

The administration still seems to be resisting pressure to send arms to Ukraine:

Joe Biden, the US vice-president, told an audience in Kiev on Friday that Washington would always support a democratic, reformist Ukraine but he did not offer the one thing his hosts most desired: a promise of heavy weapons to counter a Russian-backed insurgency.

There are a few reasons why the U.S. should continue to refrain from throwing more weapons at the conflict in Ukraine. Marc Champion explains two of them here:

Most important, they would make real the myth that Russia is responding to NATO aggression in Ukraine. Nothing is more likely to raise support in Russia for going to war in Ukraine — at the moment, it’s just 13 percent — than footage of U.S. weapons killing Russians on the border.

Second, there are few angels in this war. A Human Rights Watch report has convincingly tied Ukrainian forces to the use of cluster bombs in residential areas — a war crime according to most countries….Ukraine will try to crush the rebels, at great human cost, if it believes, however mistakenly, it has the means and the U.S. at its back.

Neither Ukraine nor the U.S. would benefit from this. By sending arms the U.S. would become Ukraine’s patron. That would not only feed into Russian propaganda and make the conflict more difficult to resolve, but it would create an expectation in the Ukrainian government of further U.S. support that almost certainly won’t and shouldn’t be forthcoming. That either sets up the Ukrainian government for making a disastrous miscalculation or it puts the U.S. in an unacceptable position of providing Ukraine with increased military assistance. Either way, the conflict becomes a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia that the U.S. shouldn’t be trying to fight. That in turn increases the risks of conflict elsewhere in the region, and makes a wider war slightly more likely. Russia has already demonstrated that it isn’t going to permit the rebels to be crushed. Arming the Ukrainian government encourages it to think that it can resolve the conflict by force, and that will only expose it to additional Russian incursions and potentially the loss of even more of its territory.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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