The Fate of Ukraine Has Become a War About America’s Power

The Fate of Ukraine Has Become a War About America’s Power

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There are many ways to show strength. You can show a positive strength by projecting your power to protect others. Or you can do it a negative way. Prove you are indispensable by withdrawing your protection, and make others fear and tremble for fear of losing you. At its extremes this sort of negative power can slide into self harm by smashing up the building that you built just to show how grand you are.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a war about America—and the different strains of American strength. In post-World War II Europe, America was often known for the first kind of strength. Now it is hurtling towards the second. The ongoing threat of a faction of the Republican party to cut funding to Ukraine and leave it to be destroyed by Russia is also a way of showing how powerful America is: when America takes away its power, nations die.

We know from recent polling that many Americans, and especially MAGA Americans, feel it’s critical for America to be the world’s strongest country. After two decades of defeats in the Middle East, the self-confidence to project positive power has drained, and for many this negative use of power is all that remains. Of course this sort of “power” is self-destructive. It will be a triumph for Vladimir Putin, whose regime is obsessed with taking revenge for losing the Cold War and destroying America as the world’s pre-eminent force. It will help America’s rivals, especially Beijing, make the argument that America is unreliable and pull many more countries into its orbit. It will mean less orders for military equipment from America, less trust of the U.S. dollar, fewer friends and fewer markets. America’s most prosperous decades, its global economic pre-eminence, have been intrinsically connected with its power as protector of global stability. But sometimes the desire to feel powerful now, to smash things up, can take hold of a nation. It is self-destructive, but self-harm is also a form of control.

But in this bleak moment, there is a path to real strength, where America can lead its historic friends to fend off Putin and his network of dictators.

The most urgent move is to pass the Foreign Aid Bill sitting in Congress, which pledges $90 billion to support and stabilize Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel. The $60 billion meant for Ukraine will be largely spent in the U.S., used to replenish U.S. ammunition and weapons stocks, and get desperately needed ammo to the front lines. Russia is now being armed by killer drones from Iran and missiles from Norther Korea. In terms of artillery, RUSSIA is currently outgunning Ukraine five or even seven to one. As Sam Cranny-Evans, an associate fellow fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, described to me, each shell is a 3 foot, 100 pound steel missile filled with explosives, which on detonation bursts into a thousand fragments each traveling up to 5000 feet per second. They kill and maim anyone within a radius of ten football fields. Imagine 24 of these landing around you within 75 seconds. That’s the experience of a Ukrainian soldier on the front lines—and they can barely fire back.

At this rate Russia can likely break through Ukraine’s lines. This will lead to more mass murder in occupied territories, more torture of anyone who dares speak up for Ukraine, and more repressions of religious minorities, especially evangelicals, who the Russians target as “agents” of America.

It will allow Russia to set terms for Ukraine’s subjugation. As Cranny-Evans argues, Russia will then be able to free up arms and men to threaten NATO countries, forcing the U.S. to spend far more on bolstering and supporting European defence.

Maybe a neo-isolationist America, or outright pro Putin America, will not help defend Europe. But then we can expect to see mass turbulence as Russia destabilises America’s largest trading partner and damaging Euro-Atlantic prosperity. As allies and non-aligned countries across the world realise the extent of America’s isolationism, they will be tempted to seek new measures of self-defence. Some will spin into China’s orbit. Others could seek nuclear weapons.

 All these dangers can be mitigated if Ukraine receives military support.

But the Foreign Aid Bill is just a start to a more stable future. Only America has the ammo to enable Ukraine to defend its freedom at this crucial hour. But Europe is belatedly getting its security act together. In total aid supplied to Ukraine, the E.U. has so far provided $92 billion, another $50 billion has been promised. $30 billion has been spent on military supplies and will largely be replenished through buying more NATO and U.S. gear. Poland alone is spending over $30 billion on new equipment, much of it with U.S. companies. When America projects positive power, others are drawn to investing here.

18 NATO allies will spend 2% of their GDP on defence this year—a record since the end of the Cold War. New ammunition factories are being built in Finland and Hungary, factory expansions are underway in the U.K., Norway, and Sweden. A new munitions factory in Germany will reportedly double production in 2025, with capacity to triple it if needed.

Beyond that we can glimpse the vision of a new age that will make us all more secure. It will recognise that in the knife-fight of the 21st century, we can no longer afford the risk of selling arms and technology vital for our security to our adversaries. We will need to ‘friendshore’ our supply chains: stop including enemy or unfriendly states in our defense supply chains. Ukraine should be one the countries at the sharp edge of conflict where technologies are developed and advanced, and where security investment is focused.

If we stick together, we can stop Putin, and degrade the ambitions of his gang of dictators, terrorists and chaos agents. Taken together, the GDPs of America and her allies is vastly superior to Putin’s. And behind his propaganda bluster Putin is weak. According to Cranny-Evans, Russia’s production of 152 mm ammunition will reach 1.3 million in 2024—that’s only enough for 130 days of fighting at current rates, and not enough to sustain the war. By 2025 Putin’s advantage in ammunition could wane. Russia is desperately refurbishing Soviet-era armoured vehicles: they have enough for 2025, but will begin to run out in 2026.

But if Putin is not stopped now then another paradigm of ‘strength’ will become ever more popular across the world. At The Reckoning Project, the war crimes NGO I helped found at the start of the war, we have been collecting hundreds of testimonies of Putin’s victims in Ukraine. What emerges is not just the horror of the individual cases of torture, rape and indiscriminate bombardment, but the larger, coordinated pattern they reveal. Putin, like the Soviet totalitarian regime he emerged from, feel strength when they can erase whole nations with impunity; can abduct a generation of children, forcibly split them from their families, and enforce a new identity onto them.

If America retreats from the positive projection of power that made it prosperous, if it retreats into a negative power that shows its size by smashing up what it has built, then then a different kind of strength will become even more dominant in the world: one that destroys whole peoples, and murders while it smiles.

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