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Nation-Building in Ukraine

They never learn.

Germany Hosts Ukraine Reconstruction Conference

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz coauthored an editorial with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last Monday ahead of an economic forum held October 25 in Berlin. The essay, titled “A Marshall Plan for Ukraine,” delivers exactly what we’ve come to expect from our current class of political and economic elites, inviting European countries, alongside G7, G20, and other international organizations, to dialogue and potentially launch a spending program to rebuild Ukraine. The piece is dripping in corporate language that would make even the most woke tech companies blush.

The “courage of Ukraine” is what inspired European leaders to gather in Berlin earlier this week, the German chancellor and European Commission president wrote, “to discuss with experts how the international community can best help and support Ukraine in its reconstruction.”

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It is all so bloated. "European leaders" will have a meeting to talk about starting a dialogue about doing something; then, they will circle back about the meeting about the dialogue. The end product typically is just as convoluted, senseless, and impracticable as the process that created it.

“The shape of the reconstruction will determine which country Ukraine will be in the future,” Scholz and von der Leyen claimed. “A constitutional state with strong institutions? An agile and modern economy? A vibrant democracy that belongs to Europe?” At first glance, the answer to each of these questions from Western Europe’s perspective is yes. 

But what happens when these questions come into conflict with one another? Has the West truly been committed to ensuring Ukraine’s institutions remain strong? Their efforts to encourage the Euromaidan revolution suggest not. And how have European institutions treated countries that refuse to accept their vision of what constitutes an “agile and modern economy?” Hungary, Poland, and other nations who refuse to accept unfettered migration and the latest climate change policy fad would tell you, 'not so kindly!' The third question posed by Scholz and von der Leyen says the quiet part out loud: bringing “democracy” to Ukraine by physically rebuilding the war-torn nation is not for the people of Ukraine or their benefit; rather, it’s to ensure that Ukraine forever “belongs to Europe.” That is Europe’s foremost priority.

Scholz and von der Leyen continue: 

What can we – together with our Ukrainian partners – learn from past reconstruction experiences? How can such a huge long-term project be organized and financed? Which structures are important in order to ensure the necessary transparency and the indispensable trust of investors?

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These are important questions, ones that Scholz and von der Leyen either haven’t looked into, or that they refuse to give any sort of concrete, preliminary answer to because they know how unpopular their proposal would be. For the executive of Germany and the de facto executive of the European Union, which is more likely?

As I’ve previously reported for The American Conservative, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, a Ukrainian-born economist from the University of California, Berkeley, has done some preliminary research into what it might cost to rebuild Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian-born Gorodnichenko told NPR that replacing the “damaged bridges, buildings, and so on,” could cost “easily somewhere between $100 and $200 billion.” Other costs associated with a Marshall Plan-style rebuild of Ukraine could drive the costs much higher. “We can also look at other measures and similar efforts that were done in the past,” Gorodnichenko said, per the NPR report. “For example, what was the cost of reconstructing Iraq or Afghanistan? If you look at the size of these countries, the level of damage, and scale it to the Ukrainian case, you come to somewhere between $500 billion, maybe $1 trillion.”

In Scholz and von der Leyen’s essay, the pair boast that “The G-7 countries, the European Union and its members have so far raised more than 35 billion euros in emergency aid for Ukraine alone.” But 35 billion euros (about $35.26 billion) is a far cry from the 350 billion euro ($345 billion) figure von der Leyen cited at the October 25 meeting, based on the World Bank's current cost estimate for the damage done to Ukraine. Again, these world leaders know this, but refuse to say it for fear that citizens of various European nations would decide that Ukraine’s democracy simply isn’t worth forking over hundreds of billions of their hard-earned money, much less going without heat or other necessities this winter. They refuse to say it because they know the people are right.

Other estimates also anticipate the cost of rebuilding Ukraine will cost much more than the current World Bank figure. The Kyiv School of Economics estimated that total infrastructure losses in Ukraine could amount to $600 billion. And that was as of late May. The same study added that about $4.5 billion of war-related damage occurs with every passing week. If their calculations are correct, then in the past five or so months, another $100 billion in damage has been done. And given that fighting has only intensified as the conflict has worn on, the additional $100 billion is probably an underestimate.

And that figure will only continue to climb, because rather than meeting to find peaceful solutions and grapple with the respective political-economic realities Ukraine, its backers, and Russia face, world leaders have decided to look beyond the war’s end. They are absolutely certain that the arc of history bends towards justice; therefore, Vladimir and his Ivans not only must be defeated, but will be. The ethereal spirits of liberalism—social justice, environmentalism, democracy—will not tolerate any outcome other than a resounding victory for Ukraine.

It's a terrifying reality: an incompetent class of elites that has long forgotten how to build things, let alone an entire country, still has the power to try to do so.

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