Sascha Hume '23
The West’s mostly unified response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is impressive. After some initial hesitancy, the United States and Europe have coordinated in imposing sanctions on Russia, thereby crippling its economy, and providing weapons to help Ukraine fight off the invasion. However, Western countries can and should do more to ensure a Ukrainian victory, for two main reasons. First, the West has a moral obligation to defend Ukrainian independence, democracy, and human rights from Russian oppression. I do not think this point is controversial. Second, a Russian defeat in Ukraine would deal an enormous blow to Russia, one of the West’s most powerful rivals. Russia has already become an international pariah thanks to the invasion, with foreign businesses pulling out and tens of thousands of highly educated young Russians leaving the country. An outright loss in Ukraine might not spell the end for Putin’s regime, but it would certainly make him think twice before attempting any future aggression.
It is worth remembering that Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine is just the most recent in a long line of Russian invasions and military interventions over the past twenty years, which have been largely successful and have drawn little response from the West. Most recently, the Russians have helped the Syrian government under Bashar Al-Assad regain substantial amounts of territory in the Syrian Civil War. President Obama promised in 2012 that the US would intervene in Syria if Assad used chemical weapons, but when Assad killed 1,400 people with sarin gas in 2013, no intervention came. The “red line” fiasco made the US look weak and unwilling to back up its words. If the US had actually intervened in Syria and stopped Assad’s advance, Putin would probably have been less likely to move on Ukraine. Regardless, the same principle applies to the current situation: stopping Russia in Ukraine will substantially weaken its capability to project power around the world.
Containing Russia is important because it would allow the West to focus more on Asia. Whether Russia likes it or not, it is not nearly as powerful as China, and thus does not pose the threat to the West that China poses in the long term. However, the West has been hitherto unable to pay sufficient attention to China; NATO was founded as an anti-Soviet alliance, and still primarily acts as a deterrent to Russian aggression. If said Russian aggression is finally contained, the alliance would finally get a chance to shift its attention to Asia, deepen its strategic cooperation with its partners there, and shore up Taiwan’s defenses to prevent a Chinese invasion.
So what should the West actually do differently from what it is already doing? First, Western countries should provide Ukraine with whatever military equipment it needs to fight off Russia. The Ukrainian government said a few weeks ago that they needed 500 Stingers (anti-air missiles) and 500 Javelins (anti-tank missiles) per day as they risk running out of arms. While these demands outstrip current US production, both of these weapons offer an incredibly high return on investment due to their effectiveness against Russian vehicles and aircraft, so the United States should commit to meeting Ukraine’s request with support from NATO allies. Additionally, as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pointed out on Monday, Ukraine needs heavy weapons like tanks, artillery, and planes in order to level the playing field with Russia. Stingers, Javelins, and NLAWs are great at picking away at the Russians, but Ukraine will have trouble withstanding major Russian offensives, like the one probably starting soon in the Donbas, without heavy weapons. If Russia successfully captures all of the Donbas, they can claim victory and set up defensive positions, so it is imperative that Ukraine halts the coming advance. I applaud the US’s Thursday decision to send vehicles, artillery, and helicopters to Ukraine, but European countries need to step up their support. German chancellor Olaf Scholz has been delaying tank shipments to Ukraine on the grounds that Germany needs them for its own defense, a rather ridiculous explanation given that Ukraine is actually fighting a war at the moment, and Germany is not.
Second, the West should step up its military aid beyond just weapons shipments. The US announced an expansion of its military intelligence sharing with Ukraine on Thursday, but is still unwilling to share intelligence which would allow Ukraine to target Russian territory. US intelligence sharing has helped Ukraine tremendously so far; it should be expanded as much as possible to give Ukraine an edge against Russia. Additionally, a limited, humanitarian no-fly zone over critical civilian infrastructure must be seriously considered. Opponents of a no-fly zone argue it would cause World War III because if Russia shot down a NATO plane enforcing the zone, it would trigger NATO’s collective security requirements. However, a tactical incident such as the shooting down of a plane would not necessarily count as a NATO member being attacked, and thus NATO could reasonably not retaliate without losing face.
Third, the West can attack the Russian economy more severely. The sanctions that the West has placed on Russia, while tough, can still be tightened. More banks can be blacklisted from SWIFT, and carveouts and exceptions to the existing sanctions can be eliminated. More important, however, is addressing Germany’s continued importation of oil and minerals from Russia. Sanctions against Russia will not work properly if Russia continues to make plenty of money exporting its natural resources. Germany’s foolish decision to abandon nuclear energy a decade ago is coming back to bite them, as they are currently shutting down their last nuclear plants amid an energy crisis. While Germany undoubtedly needs energy, they should still move to end Russian imports as soon as possible.
The Ukraine war should be a turning point for the West. What we have done so far is definitely good, and better than what I would have expected. But we can do better. Now is not the time for moderation, or for “multilateralism” with illiberal states like China. Now is the time for the West to prove its resolve, and to deal a convincing blow to tyranny. Otherwise, we will lose this new cold war we find ourselves in.
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