Preparing to Lose Two Wars
The establishment believes defending Ukraine will keep Taiwan safe. In reality, aid to Ukraine is making Taiwan more vulnerable.
“So, if you were in charge of NATO. If you were, say, Joe Biden, what would your next move be in the war in Ukraine? What would you do?” Tucker Carlson asked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a recent sit-down conversation.
“Peace. Immediately. Call back Trump,” the prime minister said with a chuckle, “that’s the only way out.”
“Call back Trump?” Carlson asked.
Orban repeated: “Call back Trump.”
It’ll be quite some time before Trump is called back. In the meantime, the Biden administration has cash and stockpiles to burn.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced another military aid package worth $250 million. “This package contains important capabilities to help Ukraine on the battlefield,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed in an August 29 press release. The package includes missiles for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), AIM-9M air defense missiles, 155mm and 105mm artillery munitions for U.S. provided howitzers, Javelins, mine-clearing equipment, demolition equipment, more than 3 million rounds of “small arms ammunition,” as well as funding for services and training.
“Every day, Russia continues to wage a brutal war of conquest that has killed many of Ukraine’s civilians and displaced millions of its people,” Blinken continued. “Russia started this war and could end it at any time by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine and stopping its brutal attacks. Until it does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine, for as long as it takes.”
As has become abundantly clear, the establishment is united in its support of Ukraine.
Last week in Milwaukee, several contenders for the Republican presidential nomination reiterated their membership in the club. “A win for Russia is a win for China. We have to know that. Ukraine is the first line of defense for us,” Nikki Haley claimed. “He [Vivek Ramaswamy] wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel.” (Later, in a back and forth between Haley and Ramaswamy about aid to Israel, Haley would argue, “It’s not that Israel needs America, America needs Israel”—a pretty strange argument in favor of aid.)
The argument is that if the U.S. does not defend Ukraine, China will invade Taiwan. It is an argument that Haley, Pence, and many other establishment Republicans make in favor of continued aid to Ukraine. What it fails to account for, however, is that if China does make a move on Taiwan in the next few years, stockpiles already reduced by Ukrainian aid will make aiding Taiwan more difficult and expensive if policy makers decide to do so. The foreign policy establishment that lost in Iraq and Afghanistan is laying the groundwork for defeats in two more wars of choice, against Russia and China—both nuclear powers, putting human civilization on the line.
To live up to its promise to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian, the Biden administration made use of the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the president to pull from existing Pentagon stockpiles up to a dollar amount pre-determined by Congress in this latest round of aid. The annual cap on the drawdown authority used to be $100 million; but in May 2022, members from both parties in Congress voted to increase that annual cap to $11 billion. It’s no surprise, then, that the Biden administration has used the drawdown authority on more than forty separate occasions to dispense upwards of $23 billion worth of military aid.
In total, the U.S. military aid thus far dispensed to Ukraine is valued above $41 billion. The U.S. has appropriated over $100 billion for Ukraine’s defense.
But William LaPlante, under secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, says there’s nothing to fear. Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, LaPlante has said, consider the impact each round of Ukraine aid has on U.S. military readiness. “So, by definition, if it’s taken of out of drawdown, the assessment’s been made (that) we can do it and we can manage the risk.”
One year before the latest aid package to Ukraine, reporting from the Wall Street Journal warned about U.S. aid to Ukraine was depleting pre-existing military stockpiles.
Per the WSJ’s report from August 29, 2022: “In recent weeks, the level of 155mm combat rounds in U.S. military storage have become ‘uncomfortably low,’ one defense official said. The levels aren’t yet critical because the U.S. isn’t engaged in any major military conflict, the official added. ‘It is not at the level we would like to go into combat,’ the defense official said.”
The report detailed the depletion of U.S. stockpiles of 155mm artillery shells used for howitzers, and revealed that the reason the U.S. is providing the Ukrainians with both 155mm and 105mm shells is that the U.S. simply does not have adequate stockpiles of 155mm shells.
The WSJ added that strains on stockpiles, like those experienced with 155mm shells, aren’t a quick fix: “In the U.S., it takes 13 to 18 months from the time orders are placed for munitions to be manufactured, according to an industry official. Replenishing stockpiles of more sophisticated weaponry such as missiles and drones can take much longer.”
Since then, the U.S. has been able to increase its production of 155mm shells to 24,000 per month, up from 14,000 per month prior to the Ukraine war. Thus far, however, the U.S. has given Ukraine 2 million 155mm artillery shells, and with Ukraine aid continuing at its current pace, it does not appear that the current level of 155mm shell production is adequate to maintain already depleted levels of U.S. stockpiles, much less build them back to pre-war levels.
The Ukraine war is straining our 155mm shell capacity, which is not only evident in the continued substitution of 155mm with 105mm shells, but also the Biden administration’s decision to green-light providing the Ukrainians with cluster munitions, which are banned in over 100 countries. The White House claimed it intends to use the cluster munitions as a “bridge” while artillery shell production ramps up. “We’re going to be able to continue to provide the Ukrainians with munitions, I think, for a long time,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told members of the press in July, but admitted, “I think they’re probably going to continue using [the cluster munitions] for a while as well.”
As The American Conservative previously reported, aid to Ukraine has strained the supplies of other kinds of U.S. weaponry, and weapons manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with the necessary rate of replacement. The U.S. has provided Ukraine with thousands of shoulder-fired Javelins, which Raytheon Technologies chief executive Greg Hayes said in December 2022, amounted to “five years worth of Javelin production.”
Further increases in production for Javelins and other weapons systems is proving difficult. Supply chain issues have led to persistent shortages for simple and complex components alike—the military is even struggling to get its hands on ball bearings. Labor shortages have also been hampered production.
The Pentagon devoted $2 billion to try and rectify these issues last year, but even with additional funding, building resilient additional capacity could take several years for even some of the simpler systems the U.S. has provided Ukraine. That fact prompted Gen. James Hecker, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), to claim on a panel just weeks ago at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Global Air & Space Chiefs’ Conference in London that U.S. stockpiles are getting “dangerously low,” due to the administration’s insistence on supporting Ukraine. The problem, Hecker said, has no “short term” fixes. “We don’t have nearly what we had at the heart of the Cold War,“ he said. “Now you add that we’re giving a lot of munitions away to the Ukrainians — which I think is exactly what we need to do — but now we’re getting dangerously low and sometimes, in some cases even too low that we don’t have enough.”
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These shortages will hamper the U.S.'s ability to address a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. An issue primer produced by the Center for Renewing America (CRA) asserts that “Many of the weapon systems that the US is supplying to Ukraine are also needed by Taiwan to deter or defeat a Chinese invasion. Currently, there is an approximately $19 billion backlog of weapons deliveries to Taiwan, partly caused by the US prioritizing arms supplies for Ukraine. Many of the same weapon systems being supplied to Ukraine (Harpoon missiles, HIMARS rockets, etc.) are also needed by Taiwan and other East Asian partners, creating real trade-offs against the US’s ability to deter Chinese aggression.”
The defense industrial base is struggling to produce weapons for Ukraine with extra cash and assistance from Washington. Unsurprisingly, it is set to fail in sectors without those additional resources and focus, particularly if China should invade Taiwan. War-games performed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies between the U.S. and China over Taiwan found, unsurprisingly, that the U.S. would likely run out of long-range anti-ship missiles within a week.
What matters more to the Chinese when they’re considering making a move on Taiwan: messaging—American resolve to stand with Ukraine—or China’s materiel capacity compared to that of Taiwan and the United States? If aid to the Ukrainians continues to come at the expense of U.S. preparedness, the world might soon have an answer to that daunting question.