In February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose to launch a war of conquest against his country’s neighbor, Ukraine. The responsibility for starting that war rests squarely on Putin’s shoulders. America’s top priorities should be to help bring the war to a quick end while solidifying its national security and protecting NATO’s eastern front. What Washington appears to be doing, however, is nearly the opposite. It is keeping the war on life support to extend it as far into the future as possible. Simultaneously, it is weakening America’s own national defense capacity.
As the war rolls deeper into its second year, the United States still has no war-termination strategy. Washington does not even have a vision for how the war might end, and it resists any effort to seek a negotiated settlement through diplomacy.
The prevailing sound bite that permeates the U.S. government is the ill-defined phrase that the U.S. will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” Everyone from the president and the secretary of state, to the secretary of defense and many lawmakers in Congress, cites this mantra constantly. None has a definition of what it means or a substantive answer for how the phrase protects American interests.
These convoluted, unfocused, and rudderless efforts to support Ukraine with U.S. military equipment and money serve only to perpetuate the war. They do nothing to bring it to an end. One might hope that America’s painful — and recent — history of providing open-ended support for wars of marginal interest to U.S. national security would provide a guide on how to avoid repeating failures. Thus far, unfortunately, such hope appears to be in vain.
Sad History of Supporting Perpetual War
America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was ostensibly rooted in fears of “the domino theory,” which stipulated that if the North Vietnamese communists defeated the South, other Asian governments would subsequently fall to communism. There was never a war-termination strategy, nor a concept for achieving victory. As it turned out, North Vietnam did defeat the South, yet the fear that communism would sweep Asia never materialized.
As has now exhaustively been chronicled, Washington’s two-decade disaster of a war in Afghanistan likewise lacked a war-termination strategy. The U.S. knew how to get in, knew very well how to stay indefinitely, but had no idea how to get out. Only abject defeat solved that, and U.S. security is no worse two years after its departure from Afghanistan than it was during 20 years of pointless war.
The U.S. had to go to war in Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush claimed, because otherwise Americans would “live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” There were no weapons of mass destruction, yet even after that became clear, the U.S. government did not have a war termination strategy, and it just continued fighting. Outside a three-year hiatus, American servicemembers have served in Iraq ever since, with no prospect or strategy for ending that military mission.
Lethal military operations in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria likewise all had enthusiastic beginnings, yet lacked any vision for ending the conflict. The U.S. now stands at a crossroads in its support for the war in Ukraine: Continue the six-decade trend of blindly supporting war with no idea how to end it, or take advantage of the many lessons learned and form a war-termination strategy.
Frankly stated, there is no likely viable path to a military victory for Ukraine. To continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” is no strategy at all. It is merely continuing, month after month, to send gear, ammunition, and other combat support to Kyiv. Doing so may prevent an outright military defeat for Ukraine, but no matter how much support the U.S. and NATO provide, Kyiv’s troops will almost certainly never drive Russia from its territory. What such support will do, however, is keep the war going, at the cost of sometimes many hundreds of Ukrainian troops daily.
‘Support Ukraine’ Won’t Keep Us Safe
Many suggest that by helping Ukraine we help ourselves. Lindsey Graham, for example, said supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia was “the best money we’ve ever spent,” in part, he later said, because “Russians are dying.” Seeing Russia weakened is an explicit objective articulated by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Yet here is what’s critical to understand: A weakened Russia does not improve U.S. national security.
American national security now is not any better than it was the day before this war started or will be on the day the war ends. The reason? Because American conventional military power, and that of the NATO alliance, dwarfs anything Russia had, has, or will have. “Killing Russians” does not make Americans any safer and is therefore a poor use of American resources. Open-ended support for Ukraine will, perversely, diminish our conventional military capacity over time.
According to the latest accounting from the Pentagon, the U.S. has to date given Ukraine an astounding list of military equipment. A partial list includes: Patriot, NASMS, and Hawk air defense systems; 38 HIMARS systems; 270 howitzers (of 155mm and 105mm) along with 2.8 million shells; and more than 240 mortar systems, with 400,000 mortar rounds. In terms of combat vehicles (M1A1 Abrams, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Strykers and other wheeled and tracked platforms), the U.S. has given over 5,000, along with more than 300 million bullets of various caliber.
It is not merely the money the U.S. has spent, but the reduction of its physical inventory of weapons, armored vehicles, and ammunition that has had a corresponding reduction in America’s physical capacity to wage and sustain war. Many are suggesting the United States continue providing Ukraine with additional armored vehicles and ammunition indefinitely. What these advocates rarely mention, however, is the cost to our own national security capacity that such contributions impose.
If the U.S. were to suddenly find itself in a major war, its military would be dangerously low on howitzers and artillery ammunition. One cannot reduce inventories by almost 3 million in a year and a half and expect anything but a negative impact on the ability to sustain a war. We are currently producing a paltry 24,000 shells per month in America, and we hope to be up to 85,000 per month in 2025.
If the U.S. stopped giving Ukraine any shells today, it would take four or five years to replace what has already been lost. One must ask why so many advocates of perpetual support to Ukraine seem unconcerned with the perpetual reduction of U.S. warmaking potential. Helping Ukraine defend itself is an understandable aspiration. But there are real-world consequences for doing so at this rate, and the trends are definitely negative for the United States.
The U.S. is thoughtlessly drifting toward repeating many of the worst mistakes Washington has made in the past half century. We lead with our emotions and support the Ukraine side in its war with Russia — a war that shows no sign of ending soon — yet without the requisite sober and honest analysis of what that support will cost us, what our strategy should be, or what achievable outcome we seek. We merely try to send tranche after tranche of support to Kyiv without any thought to the cumulative effect on our country.