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It’s time for Lend-Lease 2.0

Associated Press/Emilio Morenatti

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a dangerous game-changer. Adversaries like Vladimir Putin are on the march. China’s ambassador to the United States is threatening war over Taiwan. Iran is enriching uranium — again. This is happening because our old methods of deterrence are failing. Our rivals are adapting. We must adapt to their adaptation.

The good news: We can revive a winning American idea from the past by adding a new and powerful twist. Let’s call it: “Lend-Lease 2.0.” Making Lend-Lease great again will confound our enemies, protect America and prevent the further contagion of war. We must deploy this option right now. 

Deterrence is how America prevents wars. President Reagan famously explained it as “peace through strength.” The concept endures today. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman recently restated Reagan in blunter terms, warning: “Vladimir Putin should understand that body bags will come back to Moscow” should he invade Ukraine. Only Putin ignored Sherman. His invasion of Ukraine shows what happens when our old forms of deterrence fail: The world becomes a deadly place. So, what’s changed? 

The old drugs in the medicine bag of American deterrence are not effective. While the bottles are many, few still work. Nuclear retaliation is the most extreme form of deterrence. This bottle says: “DO NOT USE — EVER.” Since 1945, it has never been used. Our enemies know this. 

Next in the bag is conventional retaliation. We used this option after Sept. 11, 2001, in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Americans have no appetite for overseas fights. Not since the pre-World War II era have voters been so opposed to overseas military interventions. While public opinion can change, this option is severely curtailed — for now. Our enemies also know this.  

Additionally, there is financial pain. For months now, the White House has threatened Moscow with the mother of all sanctions should it invade Ukraine. And still, Putin invaded. Financial deterrence fails when an aggressor is prepared for a fight and the pain of sanctions that will ensue. Sanctions do not work against a determined foe. 

This leaves us with our alliance structures. They constitute the last bottle in the bag — and it is half empty. While America’s allies are certainly our best international asset, too much of America’s deterrent capabilities still rests on our shoulders. The most obvious solution to this problem is to add more meaningful players, and more guns, into the game theory of deterrence.

If we are going to prevent the contagion of war around the globe, we must urgently increase the high-end deterrence that our allies – and not just the United States – can bring to bear. We must force Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and others to not only ask: “What will the Americans do?” We must make them ponder: “What will America’s allies like Poland do? What about Romania? What about Australia?” This will force them to calculate the high-end deterrent capabilities of the United States and our allies combined. We can do this with “Lend-Lease 2.0.”  

The original Lend-Lease program empowered our allies to win the Battle of Britain and resist Germany at the start of World War II — all without American troops. Today, this successful strategy has been codified into the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It grants powerful statutory authority to the Executive Branch to equip our best friends and allies in our defense. We can (and must) supercharge this old idea by injecting a new, winning concept into the mix: federal matching funds. 

Federal matching funds are powerful. They are America’s tried-and-true method for creating stakeholders out of grant recipients in domestic spending. Today, we use matching funds to pay for everything from federal highways and scientific research centers to the radios that local first responders use in an emergency. By applying the matching funds principle to international defense cooperation, we can swiftly improve the security of the United States and our allies. 

Lend-Lease 2.0 is the natural next step in the winning strategy that helped to win World War II. By adding federal matching funds into the mix, allies such as Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia would be able to match at a 1:1 ratio the money that Congress allocates for defense and deterrence programs. This would effectively double the amount that key allies can spend on high-end, “Made in the USA” capabilities. Such a program would not only diversify the burden that U.S. taxpayers currently carry for deterring Russia, China and Iran, but turn our frontline allies into stakeholders in America’s defense. 

If we are going to halt the contagion of war after Putin’s detestable invasion of Ukraine, we must equip our most valuable allies with the real sensors, shooters and weapons that will prevent our enemies from attempting this kind of aggression again. Doing so will benefit U.S. industry and our current account, all while incentivizing burden-sharing by friends and dramatically strengthening the international bonds that make America strong. 

Once upon a time, America was the arsenal of global democracy. We must renew that legacy to halt the spread of conflict today.

Peter Doran is the former CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and former candidate for governor of Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @peterbdoran.

Tags Lend-Lease NATO Poland Romania Russia Ukraine Ukraine-Russia conflict Vladimir Putin World War II
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