They are not, or at least not yet, a majority of GOP officeholders, but in a recent vote, 57 House Republicans and 11 GOP Senators opposed military aid to Ukraine in its struggle to defeat Russian aggression. Nearly half of Republican voters say the United States provides too much assistance to Ukraine.
When the war began, these GOP opponents mostly followed the rationale of their party’s leader, Donald Trump: Ukraine wasn’t worthy of aid, and Russia, a bulwark of traditional Christianity, wasn’t our enemy. Before the invasion, Senator Ted Cruz held up Russia’s military as a role model compared to America’s woke armed forces. Trump even hailed Russia’s invasion as a “genius” and “savvy” when it first began in 2022.
After Russian attacks on civilians, kidnappings, and deportations of Ukrainian children, it became evident to Republicans that their rationale for opposing aid to Kyiv wouldn’t wash with the public. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had called Moscow’s invasion a “territorial dispute,” hastily decided that Vladimir Putin was a war criminal.
The marginally more sophisticated reasoning of Republicans like Senators Josh Hawley and J.D Vance is that sending arms to Ukraine depletes our munitions so that the U.S. cannot deter China from invading Taiwan or defend Taipei in case of war.
The argument has plausibility. Since the war began, the U.S. has transferred about 1.5 million 155 mm artillery rounds to Ukraine. In various forms, this essential armament has been used since World War I. Annual U.S. production of the round is less than a tenth of the amount it has sent to Ukraine. Even with a production surge, the Pentagon estimates that it would require five years to rebuild the inventory, which is produced in a century-old factory.
Replenishment time is equally daunting with other munitions sent to Ukraine. It would take five-and-a-half to eight years to rebuild American inventories of the Javelin antitank missile. With the HIMARS-guided rocket, it would take two-and-half to three years. (The acronym is for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.) The replenishment could run an astounding six-and-a-half to 18 years for the Stinger antiaircraft missile. The Pentagon cannot supply weapons to a third party for a conventional land war of moderate size and intensity for much longer than a year without depleting its stocks, absent some surge in production.
So, munitions production is a legitimate issue. But the Hawley-Vance argument is not grounds for hoarding armaments and depriving Ukraine. We must clearly understand the optimum use of those arms in a complex strategic environment involving Russia and China, two potential national security threats.
The Republican rationale for squirreling away munitions echoes the argument of isolationists between the first shots of World War II in September 1939 and U.S. entry into the war in December 1941. First, the isolationists maintained that involvement in another European bloodbath was not in the U.S. interest. Anglophobia animated their resistance to aiding London. Anti-aid advocates, then as now, also argued that Europeans should handle a European problem. In addition, isolationists posed a strategic argument that American defense production of aircraft, artillery, and ammunition was a mere fraction of what would be needed were the U.S. to enter the war. Nevertheless, President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy was to send as much military aid as possible to Britain, reasoning that if Germany forced the United Kingdom’s surrender, it would capture the British royal fleet and use it against America.
It wasn’t just isolationists who opposed FDR’s generous aid policies. His military service chiefs were wary of sending the bulk of U.S. military production straight off the factory floor into a conflict that seemed to be going Germany’s way. In mid-1940, General George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, believed Britain would collapse, and American supplies would fall into Nazi hands. U.S. security, he argued, is best protected by reserving armaments to defend our hemisphere. Roosevelt, fortunately, prevailed in that dispute. The president had a sounder strategic vision than Marshall: Keeping Britain in the fight kept the German threat across the Atlantic and bought time, perhaps the most valuable strategic commodity when a nation readies for war.
Had the U.K. lacked the tools to fight, Germany would have harnessed the industrial base of the European continent and Great Britain. Adolf Hitler would have a forward maritime base to dominate the Atlantic. The weapons that Marshall wanted to withhold would not offset the geostrategic advantage Germany would have gained. A British surrender and the U.S. facing a strengthened Germany and an imperialist Japan would have been a strategic nightmare. Aiding Britain was a gamble, but it was the only sensible strategy. Today, the security advantage of a front line with Russia in the Donbas rather than Poland is worth temporarily depleting U.S. munitions.
Over a century ago, British geographer Halford Mackinder called Ukraine the geographical “pivot” of the Eurasian supercontinent: Control of its territory amplifies a power’s influence over Europe and inner Asia. His insight was vindicated by Ukraine’s unique role in two world wars.
The Tsarist Empire’s collapse in 1917 allowed Germany to seize Ukraine’s grain and minerals, replenish its military, and stage a Western offensive that nearly captured Paris. Two decades later, Hitler’s vision of Lebensraum was predicated on forcibly occupying Ukraine. Even today, when information technology is supposedly all-important, the wartime reduction of Ukraine’s grain exports yields hunger in Africa, disrupts global supply chains, and exacerbates worldwide inflation.
U.S. military aid has kept Kyiv in the war against Russia, which has more than three times Ukraine’s population and a geographical reach to envelop the besieged nation militarily.
Were the U.S. to follow the recommendations of Hawley, Vance, et al., the chances of a Ukrainian defeat would be substantially greater. In that event, NATO leaders could become demoralized. The impulse to appease Putin, never entirely suppressed among some leaders like Emanuel Macron, the French president, could become chronic. Pro-Russian movements in Slovakia, Austria, and elsewhere, already on the rise, would be galvanized by Moscow’s victory. In those circumstances, NATO could face fragmentation and dissolution, which is Putin’s long-range goal.
If America cut off Ukraine, Beijing would likely believe U.S. security guarantees to Taiwan were worthless.
The stance of MAGA-Republican politicians towards Ukraine, then, is the faux-Realpolitik of those who think betraying one’s friends is a masterstroke. As George Orwell said about such reasoning, “’Realism’ (it used to be called dishonesty) is part of the general political atmosphere of our time.”
Fortunately, Ukraine’s vigorous defense has cracked the unity of Russia’s oligarchy, as Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion demonstrated. China must wonder if it backed the wrong horse when Xi Jinping and Putin declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022.
With a Sino-U.S. war almost unthinkable given the interwoven nature of the world’s two largest economies, supporting Ukraine, maintaining deterrence against Beijing in the South China Sea, and inflicting significant military losses on Russia will make Putin less useful to Xi’s regime and make us much stronger.
The Biden administration has navigated a complex crisis by following FDR’s model—aiding willing allies to create a breakwater against aggression as far from our shores (and the heart of Europe) as possible. But to ensure that this strategy will work in the future, the administration must make munitions surge capacity its top defense priority. The Arsenal of Democracy, it turns out, is not an obsolete concept.
Author: Mike Lofgren