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Three reasons to support Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier gestures as a captured Russian tank T-80 fires at the Russian position in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Nov. 22, 2022.

Bad diplomacy, like bad economic policy, discounts the long-term effects. The Feb. 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world and produced serious discussion about the use of nuclear weapons. This discussion has led to an unholy alliance of left-wing “Blame America First” and right-wing “America First and Only” to limit or even abandon military and financial support for Ukraine. But before the U.S. makes another short-term decision that could have adverse long-term consequences, it should be noted there are at least three reasons that it is clearly in the best interest of the United States to urgently support Ukraine’s fight to drive Russia from its soil. 

First, in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the United States promised that if Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons — then the third largest stockpile in the world — the U.S. would protect the newly independent country. However, when the Russians invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, President Obama decided the United States would not respond militarily. Instead, he promised a diplomatic effort to isolate Russia, but it seems that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was able to survive the flurry of nasty diplomatic cables. The message to Russia and the rest of the world was clear: Russia learned that the U.S. would respond to further Russian military adventurism with measured diplomatic remarks and limited sanctions that gradually would be relaxed. And the rest of the world became a more dangerous place, as countries learned that you should never give up your nuclear weapons because you cannot rely on U.S. security assurances.

Second, failure to militarily support Ukraine sends the wrong message to both our allies and enemies. Although Ukraine is not a NATO member, you can be sure that NATO members are looking at U.S. support for Ukraine as a sign whether the U.S. will support them against a nuclear-armed Russia. Consider the case of Poland, which, along with Ukraine, was a major U.S. ally in Iraq. Poland borders Ukraine, Russia-allied Belarus, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. If Russia can retain part of Ukraine after launching an unprovoked attack, how much confidence can Poland or other Eastern European states have in U.S. promises to its more vulnerable NATO allies?

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s threats to invade Taiwan receive the most attention, there are dictators on almost every continent who threaten their neighbors. And many of the threatened nations have official or unofficial promises from the U.S. that we will come to their aid. Following the debacle of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, if the U.S. reduces or suspends military and financial aid to Ukraine, dictators around the world will take this as a sign that their victims will have little support beyond angry speeches at the United Nations. Economic, political and climate progress in the developing world will stall as state-on-state conflict spreads. 

Finally, Ukraine is a democracy — albeit an imperfect one. One of the pillars of U.S. foreign policy for over 200 years is to encourage the creation and preservation of democracies. To this end, we have fought wars that led to immense losses of American blood and treasure. As a retired Marine, I am well aware of the tragedy of American families whose sons or daughters were killed or wounded in conflict. But Ukraine is not requesting that our young men and women fight by the side of young Ukrainians. They are asking that, once again, we take on the role of “arsenal of democracy” and provide them with the urgently needed munitions, weaponry, and finance necessary to preserve their democracy from Putin’s tyranny.

Therefore, for these three reasons, it would be extremely short-sighted of America to abandon Ukraine in its time of need. If Ukraine loses, the world will rapidly become a more dangerous place for everyone, including Americans and America. 

Frank R. Gunter is a professor of economics at Lehigh University and a retired U.S. Marine. Views expressed are those of the author, not the university nor the Marine Corps.

Tags China-Taiwan tension NATO Obama Russian invasion of Ukraine US military aid to Ukraine
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