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Why Giving Arms to Ukraine Is Not Pro-War

Sniper Rifle
A competitor in the United States Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition uses a digital range finder on his weapon while engaging long-distance targets at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, March 19, 2019. Twenty-one teams competed in the USASOC International Sniper Competition where instructors from the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School designed a series of events that challenged the two-person teams’ ability to work together, firing range, speed and accuracy in varied types of environments. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)

“Western Support for Ukraine is Not ‘Pro-War’” – Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a small but vocal clutch of Twitter and television personalities have argued that Western support for Ukrainian resistance is ‘pro-war,’ a worsening of the conflict via the provision of aid which prolongs the fighting. This posture might be best described as ‘anti-anti-Putin.’ That is, these voices read Western dislike for Russian President Vladimir Putin since February as overwrought and exaggerated, thereby deepening the war.

To critics, this position is nearly indistinguishable from a pro-Kremlin posture that refuses to admit Putin’s apparent agency in launching the war.

The most prominent voices in the group are Tucker Carlson, the highly-rated Fox News host, and his frequent guest Glenn Greenwald. Others include former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and Substack gadflies Michael Tracey, Michael Brendon Dougherty, and Matt Taibbi. All seem to suggest that the West should cut off aid to Ukraine, on the premise that the war would end sooner.

Some go further. Carlson, Tracey, and Greenwald are arguably pro-Kremlin, having floated conspiracy theories about US biolabs in Ukraine and faked Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

A Ukrainian Defeat would End the War Faster, but Not Necessarily the Violence

If ‘peace’ is our only goal in Ukraine, then Western support is indeed bad, because it lengthens the war.

Western support is equipping the Ukrainian army and keeping it in the field. Ukraine has basically fought Russia to a standstill. The war now looks likely to drag on for months, or even years, as Putin tries to consolidate his gains against the inevitable Ukrainian counteroffensive. Without Western assistance, though, Ukraine would likely lose quickly. ‘Peace’ would then follow, per these ‘anti-war’ voices.

If peace is the most desired goal in this conflict, then indeed, Ukraine should surrender immediately and the West could cut off aid to force that outcome. (Curiously, the anti-anti-Putin voices do not much note the opposite: that Putin could surrender or withdraw immediately to end the war.) But of course, peace is not the highest social value for many peoples. Other values – such as sovereignty, democracy, liberalism, national dignity, territorial integrity, and so on – are more critical.

No one opposes peace in the abstract, and no serious voices in the West are encouraging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to reject negotiation with Putin in pursuit of total victory.

Instead, Western support is premised on the desire of the Ukrainian government, repeatedly expressed by its democratically elected head of state, for assistance in defending its sovereignty and freedoms.

By contrast, the anti-anti-Putin logic would blame defenders in an aggressive war for the lack of peace: defenders should give up to end the war as soon as possible and restore. This is both empirically bizarre – what country automatically surrenders on enemy contact? – and morally questionable – should the USSR have surrendered in 1941, or the American Union in 1861?

Finally, it is not even clear if the anti-war camp is correct that ending Western aid would reduce the violence. Victorious Russia might abuse the Ukrainian people even more harshly than it has to date. Defeated Ukrainians would likely launch an insurgency, and those are bloody, long, and harsh on civilians. It is unclear if supporting a Ukrainian victory, which now actually seems attainable, might actually lead to less violence than a quick defeat that morphs into a years-long bloody revolt.

In short, some wars are worth fighting, because there are things worse than war, such as imperial defeat, loss of self-determination, brutal occupation violence, and so on.

Too Focused on US Foreign Policy, Not Enough on Others’ Agency

A common error in American foreign policy analysis is the reduction of complex foreign events to decisions made in Washington. Ironically, even as the anti-anti-Putin apologists lament American ‘imperialism,’ they make the same imperial error of focusing all their attention on the US while ignoring others’ choices.

Most obviously, blame for the war rests with Putin, not with President Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, neoconservatives, and other favorite targets of the anti-imperial left. These actors played a role in the much-hated Iraq War, but that is simply not very germane here. One can agree that Iraq and other US overseas wars since the Cold War were mistaken without broadcasting that onto the Ukraine. We should not ‘Americanize’ this war, ignoring the fare greater agency of Putin and the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian population is doing far more to prolong the war than Biden by fighting vigorously, but it would be outlandish to suggest the Ukrainian people are ‘pro-war.’

Indeed, Biden and Western leaders dragged their feet on equipping Ukraine in the months before the war, precisely as the anti-war group now seeks. Biden also repeatedly sought to engage Putin over Ukraine, as the anti-war voices also sought. But Putin abjured all that for his own reasons. Putin has been quite clear that he sees Ukraine as a fake country and seeks to restore some measure of Russian imperial control in its neighborhood. This has little to do with concerns raised about American imperialism. The war is not about us.

Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool.

There Are Outcomes Worse than American Assistance

The US is not blameless. There is a vigorous debate about the wisdom of NATO expansion. Many have argued it could have gone slower or been handled better to accommodate Russia’s grievances. But that does change the core fact that Putin is the primary instigator of this conflict, seeks to dismember democratic Ukraine, and has tolerated (encouraged?) widespread war crimes. Preventing these abuses is more important than an abstract commitment to ‘peace.’ This is intuitive, as widespread American support for helping Ukraine attests. There are more important values than peace alone.

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Eric

    May 19, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Yes.

  2. Error403

    May 19, 2022 at 10:15 am

    Dr Kelly ! Giving arms may not be pro-war, but it’s pro bloodletting.

    The primary aim of Biden and US democrat party is to fight this 2022 war with Russia using Ukrainian blood.

    There’s no urging from anyone for a ceasefire, only massive propaganda pieces on how many military losses the huge supply of weapons have chalked up. Yeah to war !

    Biden’s feeble mind can’t process or even hold the thought that the massive supply of arms COULD RESULT IN A NUCLEAR slam bang in Europe.

    But of course, to the US democrat party, Europe hit by nuclear war is just ‘business as normal’. After the smoke has cleared, europe’ll forever hang into nanny’s teats.

    • George

      May 19, 2022 at 10:59 am

      Sure thing, tough guy. The Fox News brain rot really ripped your little head apart, huh? How is Q doing these days by the way?

      Or are you sitting in Moscow somewhere getting paid pennies per comment from your masters?

      There’s these things called facts and evidence that real humans with functioning nuerons in the real world use to determine who is telling the truth and who is full of shit. I see you lack any of these “facts” and fail to provide any of this so-called “evidence”.

  3. Disgusted

    May 19, 2022 at 10:57 am

    This is the most pathetic article I’ve read on here. Did this moron just say Tucker Carlson is pro kremlin? Are you serious?

    Someone needs to remove this contributer from the website, and put his head in a vise.

    Pathetic.

    • Joe Comment

      May 19, 2022 at 1:29 pm

      Disgusted: He wrote it was “arguable” and gave an argument supported by examples (Carlson repeating pro-Russian propaganda about biolabs and faked atrocities in Ukraine). You don’t agree? Then what’s your explanation for Carlson’s statements about the biolabs and faked atrocities?

  4. mark fishel

    May 19, 2022 at 11:31 am

    But that does change the core fact that Putin is the primary instigator of this conflict, seeks to dismember democratic Ukraine, and has tolerated (encouraged?)

    I think you missed the word NOT in there.

    But that does NOT change the core fact that Putin is the primary instigator of this conflict, seeks to dismember democratic Ukraine, and has tolerated (encouraged?)

  5. David Chang

    May 19, 2022 at 11:49 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Mr. Kelly is wrong.
    Every people should confess giving weapon to Ukraine is pro-war.

    Because Democratic party don’t ask people in Ukraine and Russia to obey Ten Commandments and abandon socialism first, the weapon supply is inciting war, not preventing war.

    People should think about the right and wrong in the war by just war theory.

    God is justice and ten commandments is morality.
    Just War Theory is the moral education of soldier and police.

    • Joe Comment

      May 20, 2022 at 12:30 am

      David Chang: It’s not really acceptable for politicians in one country to make religious demands on other countries. Remeber the 30 Years’ War?

  6. Ben d'Mydogtags

    May 19, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    Providing weapons is a violation of commonly accepted standards of neutrality according to international law. Western powers are not direct belligerents but are clearly “parties to the conflict” and therefore could be targeted by Russia.

    • Tony K

      July 15, 2022 at 2:00 pm

      Not since a century ago is that true. Once the right to war was abbrogated after WW1, any nation that attacks another is fair game to have the object of its attack supported indirectly.

  7. EUrob

    May 19, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    “We should not ‘americanize’ this war”: completely agree. Putin started it. And we should honor his distraction to shift his responsibilities to be another one’s blame.
    It is clear Putin realized his much sought Great Slavian State was crumbling when Belarus and Kazachstan almost slipped out of his hands. He was made to believe his Russians army easily could overrun Ukraine, he could incite divisions in Europe and translatantic relations.
    His ambitions took a blow. But he is not disillusioned yet. It is match of will. Let us hope that those who thought this day and age belongs to Grand Leaders see how easily they organize their own desillusion. Russia and China may seem strong, and America may seem divided, but it is never blind to its weaknesses.

  8. Roger Bacon

    May 19, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    Putin is fighting a war of annihilation against Ukraine. As the author stated, Putin does not believe it is a legitimate country. In such a war there is no option but to fight to the last man. In the 1920’s Russia committed the worst genocide of the 20th century against Ukraine. That’s why the eastern part of Ukraine speaks Russian today; they starved the native Ukrainians to death and resettled it with Russians. Never again, as they say in regard to other genocides.

  9. Rich

    May 19, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    Dr. Kelly while I’m in agreement that Putin bears overwhelming responsibility for the war in general, your essays invariably reek of left-wing pro-Biden bias. You always seem to have a need to apologize for Biden or attack his critics. Perhaps in doing so, you might consider not mischaracterizing their positions as they are a bit more nuanced than what you simply call pro-Putin. Now admittedly I haven’t listened to every monologue that Carlson has given, but what I get from what I’ve heard is that he is looking for some accountability with respect to the billions of US taxpayer dollars that are being thrown at Ukraine. Perhaps some type of congressional buy-in via a resolution would be appropriate. My fear is that there will be significant “diversion” of some of this equipment that winds up out of theatre and heaven forbid, eventually is used against us in some other part of the world. Prior to the war, Ukraine hasn’t exactly been a model player with respect to corruption and this leads one to believe that some of this equipment will wind up on the arms black market. But in bashing Carlson you just naively assume that every dollar spent will wind up destroying Russian military assets. There is just no way that Ukraine has the ability to securely deliver that much equipment from their western border to the front line even if everyone in the logistics train is a patriot.

    • h

      May 19, 2022 at 4:19 pm

      So, you’re saying that the bigger evil is the possibility of diversion of hardware for profit, not the genocidal war of annihilation going on under our noses, instigated by Russia?

      • Rich

        May 20, 2022 at 11:25 am

        No, I’m not saying that at all and you’ve just done exactly what Kelly has done to Carlson which is to mischaracterize my statement, construct a straw man argument and then critique it as if that’s my position. See how that works?

    • Fluffy Dog

      May 19, 2022 at 6:26 pm

      @Rich Corruption in Ukraine and Russia is well known, but in this case, you are talking about a country as if it’s a grant for some boondoggle in peacetime. It isn’t. Ukraine is at war and is in the process of cleansing itself from Russian collaborators and spies. Their attitude appears to be “all resources to be devoted to the victory.” In their situation, and with their resolve to fight and win, I would not be surprised if any misappropriation of funds would be punished by execution. That especially includes weapons. Ditto for the post bellum.
      I am much more concerned with the stuffing of the bill with items that have nothing to do with Ukraine. I.e., I am concerned with the American tradition of using a good cause for one’s party’s benefit.

    • Ady

      May 20, 2022 at 11:41 am

      Biden isn’t left wing
      Btw did you support these checks on waste money when…
      Bush started Iraq?
      Or when Trump blew billions on a pointless wall?
      Or our shady prison industry??
      Atleast something good comes out of this payment

    • Ad

      May 20, 2022 at 11:44 am

      Carlson supports unproven conspiracy theories which can cause real harm
      Sometimes those theories are corner stones of Russian propaganda ( bio labs)
      I think that’s what the blog writer is talking about

  10. William Barrett

    May 20, 2022 at 9:25 am

    With respect, I would suggest there are some inaccurate premises within your argument.

    Let me first say, I fundamentally agree with your argument that we should continue arming Ukraine, and allow the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves when they are willing to negotiate versus how long they wish to continue the conflict.

    But where I feel you are in error is the following:

    The premise “Western support is premised on the desire of the Ukrainian government, repeatedly expressed by its democratically elected head of state, for assistance in defending its sovereignty and freedoms.”

    I think that this is not fully accurate. It appears that many Western leaders are, in fact, pressuring Ukraine to seek terms or accept a settlement. the entire foreign policy intelligentsia, as represented in the pages of the leading foreign policy publications in the west, are beating a drum for “accepting an undesirable outcome”.

    Without question, the Biden administration and other western leaders did not anticipate Ukrainian resolve and resistance, and sought to end the conflict quickly (offering to evacuate Zelensky).

    My personal belief is that Western leaders wanted this conflict almost as much as Putin did, and with the same inaccurate assumptions regarding strength and capabilities. They sought a convenient “bad guy” in Putin to blame for various ills, coupled with appearing supportive of Ukraine, and it would all be over quickly and the status quo could be restored, with Ukrainian nationalism and the frozen conflict in the Donbas removed.

    Note: I am not absolving Putin of responsibility. Simply stating that others also bear responsibility. Putin is an evil (badword).

    Once Ukraine held, western leaders were caught unawares, and forced to double down on support, but now that it is dragging out and reinforcing Ukrainian nationalism (and perceptions of nationalism globally) western leaders want the conflict over as quickly as possible.

    So they arm Ukraine, to harm Russia and speed Russia’s willingness to negotiate, while pressuring Ukraine to negotiate at the same time.

    I believe that true western support for Ukraine is haphazard, because most western leaders still want a quick end to the conflict, as it has become a distraction, as well as reinforcing political concepts they did not wish to see strengthened (Nationalism, Patriotism, armed citizenry in opposition to invasion).

    I also believe the $$ proposed by Congress is wasteful, and that Ukraine could be effectively supported by the US for 1/10th that amount.

    I don’t watch Tucker or much TV news of any kind, but i don’t agree with him on this.

    But I also am sick of those who equate any questioning of support for Ukraine as support for Russia.

    It is without question in my mind that western leaders bear some responsibility for instigating this conflict, and that Ukraine’s govt (as well as many western governments) are corrupt.

    That does not change my support for the Ukrainian people and their fight.

    I would urge all to consider more rational debate of the subject, versus lumping of people into “sides” as either pro-Ukraine or pro-Russia.

    Thanks

    • Fluffy Dog

      May 20, 2022 at 9:54 am

      Fundamentally, I agree with every point you made. But the following needs expansion:
      “It is without question in my mind that western leaders bear some responsibility for instigating this conflict, and that Ukraine’s govt (as well as many western governments) are corrupt.”

      In the context of this war and its course, corruption in Ukraine is secondary. You can’t expect anything else after it being part of Russia for 400 years.

      West, especially Western Europe, in its current form, was built on denial of nationalism as a mentality and as a policy. West’s treatment of Russia was based on the old and false premise of “integrating and influencing.” Nationalism in the post-Soviet sphere is alive and well, but it was not understood by the West to what degree, and it was fought vigorously (Poland, Hungary). The result is that the Russian attitude was not considered militant despite the evidence, reliance on Russian resources was considered beneficial, and Ukrainian nationalism was considered problematic. All this makes the West directly responsible for this war. IMHO.

  11. Steven Carleton

    May 20, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    Sorry, but I fail to see how the West is in any way to blame for putin’s war of aggression. Russia has no legal right to control the foreign policy of its neighboring countries. Putin has violated countless treaties, including those carried forward from the USSR. The shrill assertion that NATO is some sort of aggressive force is laughable. putin, like stalin, fears democratic, prosperous slavic peoples on his borders. stalin conducted mass-migrations in an attempt to ‘homogenize’ the USSR, since he hated and feared ethnic enclaves, and these Russian pockets still exist outside the Russian Fed.

  12. The Gaffer

    May 21, 2022 at 8:44 am

    “Putin bears overwhelming responsibility for the war in general”

    Really? Why?

    Following the fall of the Soviet Union Russia had one demand, Ukraine would not be a member of NATO and host NATO (US really) missiles and forces on its border.

    “It is a matter of record that in 1990, the U.S. Secretary of State James Baker promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that it would not expand NATO into the formerly communist states of Eastern Europe.”

    https://truthout.org/articles/claims-over-broken-promises-about-nato-simmer-at-the-heart-of-the-ukraine-crisis/

    First Globalists like Soros and Obama, who hate a nationalist administration in Moscow, overthrew the Ukraine’s elected president.

    https://www.conservapedia.com/Maidan_coup

    Then, in December, they made sure Russia knew Ukraine would become a NATO member state.

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/blog/2022/02/26/stunning-discovery-evidence-suggests-u-s-intel-baited-russia-in-december-by-telling-china-ukraine-was-coming-into-nato/

    So, who is responsible for the war? Obama/Biden/Brennan/Soros or Putin?

    The border we need to defend is to our south, not in Urkaine.

  13. Boris Soroker

    May 21, 2022 at 6:24 pm

    > But that does change the core fact that Putin is the primary instigator of this conflict, seeks to dismember democratic Ukraine, and has tolerated (encouraged?) widespread war crimes.

    Should it be “does not”?

    • The Gaffer

      May 21, 2022 at 9:00 pm

      Putin responded to provocation. Soros and co. want christian nationalist Putin removed. Care little about human cost so long as war puts Putin under pressure at home.
      Do your own homework. Who armed the nazis attacking pro-russians in eastern Ukraine before Putin sent troops in?
      US should back off and investigate who in DC has gotten money from Ukraine.

      • Tony K

        July 15, 2022 at 2:11 pm

        Same old Putin narrative: Soros evil, US arming Nazis in Ukraine, Putin saving Christendom from Satan, Biden is in on the grifting, lather, rinse, repeat. News Flash: Putin is (not was) KGB. Tigers don’t change their stripes. That means, he’s playing “dirty pool” (literally “cheating at billiards” for the non-Americans). He’s a crook running a crook’s paradise called Russia, taking advantage of his position, laying waste to Ukraine, and getting lots of his own countrymen killed along the way.

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