- - Thursday, February 2, 2023

Republicans seem increasingly skeptical, or even opposed to, U.S. military support for Ukraine. This is especially true of newer, younger Republicans. For those of us conservatives who came of age during the Cold War, this attitude is completely mystifying. It is also completely wrong. Strong American support for Ukraine is in the national security interest of the United States.

Let’s consider the main arguments against support for Ukraine. First, critics argue that we should not be protecting Ukraine’s borders while we are not protecting our own. This is a clever but entirely rhetorical argument. There is no good reason we are not protecting our southern border; the Biden policy is a disgrace. But what does Ukraine have to do with this? We can — and should — protect our own border and support Ukraine. The two issues are not connected.

Second, critics argue that we should not be helping to defend Ukraine because it has a history of corruption. We should of course, monitor our aid carefully. But the war is changing many old habits of Ukraine, just as it has changed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself. Even in the midst of war, Mr. Zelenskyy is taking steps to deal with Ukraine’s corruption problem, and if Ukraine has any hope to one day be admitted to the EU or NATO further progress will be required.

Third, critics argue we are depleting our own stock of weapons by transferring them to Ukraine. The U.S. is indeed drawing down its stock of certain weapons systems, and it will take time to bring them back to their pre-Ukraine war level. But the U.S. has an enormous capacity to produce additional weapons, and no country should want to be in a contest with the U.S. over its surge potential.

Using these weapons against Russian expansionism is one of the two major purposes for these weapons in any event. The other, of course, concerns a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The types of weapons we are transferring to Ukraine would have some, but only limited utility with regard to Taiwan, where the aim would be to repel a Chinese attack with air and naval forces. And by the way, we should increase production of the kinds of weapons that would be needed in the Pacific as well.

Fourth, alarmists worry about the potential for nuclear escalation. The Russian use of even one tactical battlefield nuclear weapon would change everyone’s calculation. But there is no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin will go down this course, which would produce a horrendous outcome for him. What little international support he has would evaporate, and the U. S. has many ways — excluding non-nuclear responses — to respond to such an event.

Finally, in what comes close to pure apologetics for Russia, some armchair theorists claim that Ukraine is in Russia’s “sphere of interest.” Ukraine is a neighbor of Russia, of course. But what is to be inferred from this? That the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians who support independence have no say in their future because Russia is their neighbor?

Canada and Mexico are neighbors of ours. Are we then to suppose that because we are larger and stronger, it would be justifiable to invade these countries with 200,000 troops? Neither country is a threat to us, and for one very good reason: we are not a threat to them. This cannot be said of Russia, which is an ever-present threat to many of its neighbors. A fully liberalized Russia, which is admittedly hard to imagine at the moment, would be no threat to its neighbors. And its neighbors, including Ukraine, are no threat to Russia either.

Meanwhile, critics who are overly impressed by Mr. Putin’s imperial claim to Ukraine should ask themselves if this extends to Russia’s behavior in this war. Bombing civilian targets, torture, rape and looting are hardly the actions of a government that sees Ukraine as an integral part of its own sacred history.

Far more than the security of Ukraine is at stake. America has a strong interest in a stable and prosperous Europe. Twice during the twentieth century, we sought to stay out of Europe’s problems, but each time inevitably, we were drawn into them. And when we were, it was far more costly in terms of lives and treasure than it would have been had we acted earlier. Those less familiar with history seem to have forgotten — or perhaps never knew — that strong American leadership has been required to guarantee peace since 1945.

What if we left Ukraine to the tender mercies of Mr. Putin? Flush with having taken over Ukraine, would he be content? Given his actions in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea and now the balance of Ukraine, there is no reason to think so. NATO allies Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, some of which have Russian-speaking minorities, are, in Mr. Putin’s view, legitimate targets, especially to link Kaliningrad to the rest of Russia. An attack on them would almost certainly trigger direct U.S. military involvement under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, not just the provision of arms.

It is a shame that both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are dying in the current conflict. They have done nothing to deserve this. Is it not better that so long as they are willing to fight for their independence, we help them when it requires only our treasure and not American lives?

• Jeff Bergner served as staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Assistant Secretary of State.

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