Ukraine Needs Arms, Not Cheap Arguments

2017/8/31 19:55:03

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) speaks with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis during a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2017. Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Pool via REUTERS

BY JOHN E. HERBST for the New Atlanticist, Aug 30, 2017:


The United States is seriously considering giving Ukraine lethal defensive weapons, and this is the right move. Over the last month, Michael Brendan Dougherty and I have debated this issue here and here.


In his latest response, Dougherty tries to rack up a quick win. He claims that experts issued a report arguing for arming Ukraine in 2015 and warned of a “worldwide conflagration” if this did not happen. (I was a co-author of that report.) He also claims that Ukraine did not receive the assistance and “most of us are still walking about.”


That is cute, but misleading. First, the report does not predict a “worldwide conflagration.” It carefully says that deterring and defending against Russian aggression is the surest way to avoid “a regional or even worldwide conflagration.” The use of the word “even” shows that we think a worldwide conflagration is a longshot. Second, Dougherty’s understanding of international timing is superficial. Our report did not specify a date for a dangerous clash. By Dougherty’s logic, Winston Churchill, who began to sound the alarm about Hitler in 1934, should have been skewered as an alarmist in 1936 since Germany had not yet launched World War II.


Finally, Dougherty writes as if the advice offered in that report was simply ignored. But that report argued for giving a wide array of equipment to Ukraine—including Humvees, counter-battery radars, secure communications equipment, and anti-tank weapons (Javelins). The Obama administration did not provide the Javelins, but it did increase military assistance to Ukraine in 2015 and provided the other recommended equipment, most importantly counter-battery radar for missiles, which helped reduce Ukrainian casualties. NATO also placed armed battalions in each of the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania. Together, these steps helped Ukraine better defend itself and put Moscow on notice that any escalation might prompt further measures from the West.


Sadly Dougherty’s essay does not become more persuasive after these missteps. That is probably because he does not recognize Moscow’s motives. This is evident when he endorses my description of Kremlin strength, but says nothing about my characterization of Moscow’s “deplorable intentions.” Since he does not recognize those deplorable intentions, Dougherty mistakenly writes that I try “to blur the distinction between our duties to NATO countries and those to non-NATO countries.”


But that is false. My argument is this: The United States has a vital interest in a strong and secure Europe and Transatlantic partnership. Moscow wants to weaken NATO and the EU and to undermine the post-Cold War order. We need to thwart these aims by strengthening NATO, enhancing deterrence in the newest NATO members, and providing forward defense for NATO in Ukraine by raising the price of Kremlin aggression. The military equipment that we have already provided Ukraine is a form of forward defense of NATO. If Moscow is bogged down in Ukraine, it has fewer resources and reduced incentive to commit provocations against our NATO allies in the Baltics. That reduces the risk of a US-Russian confrontation over the Baltic states, whom we obligated to defend. We have no such formal obligation with Ukraine.


[…] ... -arms-not-cheap-arguments


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