What we need to do to help Ukraine win

(Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images.)

Supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s unjust invasion is a silver lining of bipartisanship in an otherwise polarized country. But Americans’ enthusiasm for more aid programs like the $40 billion bill the House of Representatives just approved could wane as consumers struggle under the weight of inflation, disruptions in supply chain, labor shortages and soaring gas prices. Sen. Rand Paul delayed the Senate vote due to concerns over the skyrocketing cost and details of the content of the funding bill.

This pause is a good time to reassess the American approach to Vladimir Putin’s war. While the spending package included significant aid for Ukraine’s military forces, including weapons, and for things like US missile production and increasing our stockpile of critical munitions, almost half of the funding package was not was not for defense. It was for “diplomatic support”, mainly for the State Department, and for humanitarian aid. And its mix of weapons reflects the administration’s stubborn refusal to free the Ukrainian government to launch a real counter-offensive that could force Russia to end the war. Instead, the arms package suggests Biden’s goal is to keep Ukraine in the fight until Moscow is ready to negotiate. Unfortunately, the administration’s approach allows Putin to set the terms for peace talks and prepares Ukraine for a protracted war. This is neither sound nor morally defensible policy.

US policy should be to help Ukraine win, which requires supporting Ukraine’s efforts to force Russia to stop its assault and return to Russian territory. Rather than bleeding out the Russian military, the US goal should be to end the war quickly to end the suffering of the Ukrainian people and enable their economic recovery. To that end, Ukraine must be equipped to wage a punitive counteroffensive to defend its sovereignty and compel Russia to invent an exit ramp.

With this clear objective in mind, the United States should do the following:

Geopolitically, the United States should align itself with NATO allies who want to see Ukraine push back against Russia. This side is led by the United Kingdom, Poland and those along the Black Sea, NATO’s modern front. France and Germany have so far refused to be so forward thinking, making American leadership necessary to unify NATO around the goal of Ukrainian victory. The impending additions of Finland and Sweden to the alliance add momentum to shore up a fiercer and visibly braver Western allied effort.

Militarily, Ukraine needs more effective land weapons for the Donbass. The US should send self-propelled howitzers like the M109 that can navigate the devastated road network of eastern Ukraine, where US M777 towed howitzers already on the way may prove useless. To help prevent Russian troops from gaining more ground, the United States should provide Ukraine with anti-vehicle mines such as the Gator that remain permitted under international mine protocols and conventions.

But Ukraine’s most pressing need is for longer-range strike systems. Guided multiple launch rocket systems could help Ukrainian forces attack Russian supply depots and logistics lines to slow the Russian advance. And MQ-9 Reaper drones could engage Russian armor across the open fields of Donetsk and Luhansk. There are concerns that the supply of Reapers could “violate” the missile technology control regime, which is designed to limit the proliferation of certain missiles and technologies, but the MTCR is an informal agreement and not a treaty, and it is against -productive to use as a pretext to avoid supporting an attacked country.

US and allied efforts to help Ukraine win on the ground will be in vain if Ukraine fails to break the Russian naval blockade off Odessa. Restoring access to the sea will be vital to displacing agricultural exports to avert a global food crisis and to rebuild Ukraine’s economy after the end of the war. Ukraine has attacked Russian forces on Snake Island and is mounting an anti-shipping campaign, but its supply of locally-made Neptune anti-ship missiles is dwindling. The United States is expected to send some of its substantial inventory of harpoons or work with Norway’s Kongsberg to supply Ukraine with some of its new naval strike missiles.

Finally, if the United States must do what only it can do when it comes to armaments, it must also exert unyielding pressure on European allies to do what it can do. This includes providing food, medicine and other services that Ukrainians need during the war and will need to rebuild their country once this war is over. Poland has borne the brunt of Ukrainian refugees, and wealthy Western allies, such as Germany, are expected to share the financial burden.

Helping Ukraine win is not about altruism. It is in the direct interests of the United States to have peace in Europe, for supply chains to operate freely, and for powerful allies to work cooperatively to ward off the shared authoritarian threats of imperialism. Biden’s approach has been to speak aggressively about Putin and his regime while withholding the support needed to match the rhetoric — pushing the bear without being bear-loaded, so to speak. The administration needs to give President Volodymyr Zelensky a much bigger stick before Congress closes its checkbook.

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, specializing in United States national defense policy, with a focus on strategic deterrence. Bryan Clark is Principal Investigator and Director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute. During his 25-year career in the Navy, Bryan was an enlisted submariner and officer.

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