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How Much Cash and Bullets Should America Give Ukraine?

Russian T-90 tank firing its main gun. Image Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.

According to several U.S. media reports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet in Washington on Wednesday with President Biden, and is tentatively scheduled to address a joint session of Congress. The purpose of the visit is clear: to obtain for Ukraine yet more financial and military support from the United States for his war against Russia.

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Since the beginning of 2022, the United States has already provided, by far, more money and military support to Kyiv than any other single country. Before the president and Congress get too eager to give away yet more American taxpayer dollars, Congress should require of the White House a clearly articulated explanation of how any further contributions are in support of America’s vital national interests.

According to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker, as of November 20, the United States has thus far contributed over $50 billion to Kyiv’s war effort. The total contribution from the 27 members of the European Union is $55 billion – but the single biggest contributing nation on the continent is Germany at approximately $15 billion.

The Biden Administration had requested an additional $37 billion from Congress to send to Ukraine, but lawmakers appear set to offer even more than the request—to the tune of about $45 billion. That would push the total American contribution to over $100 billion. Before Congress allocates one more penny of American taxpayer money to another foreign government, they should at the very least do so only after Europe has agreed to match our offer. Both the United States, Europe, and Ukraine have all become quite content to allow America to shoulder, indefinitely apparently, the primary burden for funding European security.

That should not be. European security cannot be more important to the United States than it is to European countries. The U.S. can wish Ukraine well and strongly back them with major financial and military assistance. But so long as Congress and the White House are eagerly willing to shower Kyiv with money, then European capitols will remain only too willing to sit back and applaud.

I can understand Zelensky’s desire to come to Washington to press Biden and the Hill for more money and military hardware. His country has been invaded. His need is both urgent and critical. But one truth must not be lost in this process: Ukrainian vital national interests are not synonymous with American vital national interests. In a video Zelensky made during his recent trip to visit his troops in Bahkmut, he issued a barely-veiled demand of the United States.

His troops “handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on” to the “American Congress, to the president of the United States,” Zelensky said in the video. Ukraine is grateful for the support the U.S. has thus far given, Zelensky admitted, “but it is not enough. It is a hint – it is not enough.” With all due respect to the Ukrainian president, it is not enough by what standard?

The United States is supportive of the Ukrainians and more than sympathetic to their cause. We have given over $50 billion in support, some of our most modern rocket launchers and howitzers, over a million 155mm artillery shells, tens of millions of rounds of other ammunition, tens of thousands of missiles and rockets, training of Ukrainian troops, and targeting intelligence to help Ukraine identify and destroy Russian forces in the field.  We have done far more than any other single nation – many times more than the closest friendly country – and all this for a country that isn’t even a treaty ally.

In short, we are not obligated to provide anything to Ukraine. That we have given already vast amounts of money and military hardware, without any treaty or obligation for Kyiv towards us, should be considered a major effort by the United States. For Zelensky to quip that “it is not enough” – while making no equivalent demands of his European neighbors – exposes the reality that Washington has become too eager to send its money overseas. This does not support American vital national interests.

We have the still-painful experience of what happens when American financial and military resources pour into another country with little to no relation to U.S. national security interests at stake when we spent nearly $2 trillion on 20 years of war in Afghanistan – while gaining nothing for our country.

Before members of our House and Senate get too caught up in emotions welling up from a fiery Zelensky speech and commit to yet more billions of dollars to a war that may not serve our national interest, legislators should conduct a rigorous evaluation of how much money our partners and allies in Europe are contributing, and carefully consider what – if any – vital national interests of the United States are at stake in Ukraine that warrants such massive spending. We may find that its time to put the brakes on the spending and consider alternatives to never-ending flows of U.S. money to support another foreign war.

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A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

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Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.