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The Extraordinary Folly of Arming Ukraine

The proposal to send "lethal aid" to Ukraine has no merit.

Antony Blinken wants the Trump administration to arm Ukraine. He describes the argument of opponents of this proposal:

That ban was heavily debated during the last administration. Its proponents argued that any military escalation favored Moscow, for whom the stakes were higher and the ability to quickly pour more lethal weapons into Ukraine much greater. They were concerned Ukraine would be emboldened to act out militarily and overplay its hand. They knew that Moscow sought to divide us from our European partners, most of whom opposed lethal aid. President Barack Obama concluded that we should keep the focus where we had the advantage: on tough sanctions, economic aid to Ukraine, training for its troops, support for its reform efforts — especially combating endemic corruption — and determined diplomacy.

That was then.

Give Blinken credit for describing the case against arming Ukraine so well that he unwittingly refutes his own argument. None of the proposal’s many flaws has disappeared in the last few years. Nothing has changed that would make arming Ukraine any less foolish and reckless than it was in 2014, 2015, or 2016. It is still the case that the stakes in Ukraine are much higher for Russia than they are for the U.S., and Russia could easily match whatever level of support the U.S. chose to provide. There is no military necessity for sending arms at this point, and the only reason one would consider doing so is if one wished to encourage the Ukrainian government to go on the offensive. Leonid Bershidsky explained this very clearly a couple months ago the last time this horrible idea resurfaced:

Two years after both sides have largely kept to existing demarcation lines (minor encroachments aside), it is militarily unnecessary to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons unless the U.S. wants to encourage it to try to reclaim the “people’s republics.” That would be a mistake. Though Russia doesn’t have enough resources to take over and hold Ukraine while still staying on the lookout for other military threats, it has plenty of money, firepower and determination to defend the separatist statelets.

Our major European allies are still strongly opposed to sending weapons, and doing so would fracture what allied unity there is on Ukraine. Charles Kupchan commented on this over the summer:

Europeans are already on edge due to Congress’s recent sanctions legislation, which imposes measures not coordinated with the European Union and that have the potential to cause undue harm to European companies. If Washington decides to head off on its own and send lethal weapons to Ukraine, solidarity on Ukraine may well come to end.

Blinken later asserts, “Defensive weapons for Ukraine is an idea whose time has come.” There is no reason to believe that, the idea remains as bankrupt as it has always been, and it would be an act of extraordinary folly to do this. The proposal to send “lethal aid” to Ukraine has no merit, and yet we hear periodic demands for doing something that would achieve nothing except to escalate the conflict and get more Ukrainians killed.



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