AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
- In December, President Joe Biden signed a bill with another $47 billion in aid for Ukraine.
- US leaders need to explain how US interests are being advanced by the money we’ve given Ukraine.
- Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former US Army lieutenant colonel.
Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became the first foreign wartime leader since Winston Churchill in December 1942 to address a joint session of the US Congress.
While he received a rousing standing ovation for his remarks and Biden has now signed a spending bill that includes $47 billion in additional support, it is now necessary for Congress to explain to the American people how US interests are being advanced by the nearly $100 billion we’ve given Ukraine to date, what this new support will be used for, and how we’ll know if the money has been wisely spent.
First, let’s examine what Ukraine got as a result of Zelensky’s trip. The marquee capacity was Biden’s formal announcement that the US Patriot air-defense system will be sent to Ukraine, along with over 200,000 rounds of artillery, rockets, and tank rounds.
While many in the US and Ukraine were excited about the Patriot announcement, it is important to understand what that one battery can and can’t do.
A US Patriot missile air-defense battery overlooking the Turkish city of Gaziantep in February 2013.
This was not long after Russia launched its ninth round of strategic missile strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since mid-October, crippling almost half of the country’s electric generation.
Zelensky has been pleading for air defense from the United States and West almost since the beginning of the war. In the past months, however, the West has been more than generous, providing large numbers of modern air-defense systems. The question: does adding this Patriot battery represent a game-changer for Ukraine? The honest short answer: no.
A Patriot battery ordinarily operates as part of an integrated defense system which may include numerous US and NATO systems. A battery requires a staff of 90 personnel, which will typically need 90 days of training before they can go into operation. A single battery, however, can generally defend a single point target.
It is possible for a battery to defend a large portion of, say, the capital city of Kyiv, but even then, not the entire city. As exposed in 2019 when the Saudi-operated Patriot system failed to stop a complex aerial attack from Iran, the system is not fool-proof even when operational.
The reality is that some number of months from now a single Patriot will go into operation at a selected location in Ukraine — but otherwise won’t change any dynamics of existing Ukrainian anti-missile capabilities from the current level of protection.
Ukrainian troops unload US-made Stinger missiles and other military assistance in Kyiv in February 2022.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
Secondly, since Biden has signed that omnibus bill that includes $47 billion in additional support, an examination of where that money goes exposes that only about $14 billion will go towards additional new weapons.
In a series of recent interviews in The Economist and Guardian newspapers, the top military and political leaders of Ukraine specified their minimum requirements in weaponry needed to have a realistic chance to move to the offensive in 2023.
Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said he needed at least 1,500 modern armored vehicles (including 300 tanks and 500 artillery pieces). During Zelensky’s Washington speech, he added “I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”
The fact that Zelensky left Washington and Biden remained silent on sending more than one Patriot battery and no tanks, armored personnel carriers or hundreds of new artillery pieces is telling.
An analysis of what the United States and NATO are doing — and what they are not doing — makes it clear that our primary objective is indeed to avoid any direct clashes with Russia that all too easily could spiral into a nuclear conflict. That is the right course of action and I commend the White House for their considered restraint.
However, that leaves another question unaddressed: what is America’s intended end state in this conflict and what is Congress’ strategy regarding future support?
A US airman prepares ammunition, weapons, and other equipment bound for Ukraine in January 2022.
Mauricio Campino/U.S. Air Force via AP
Including this most recent aid package, the US has spent over $100 billion on the war in Ukraine, which is $16 billion more than the entire Russian military budget for 2023. Congress owes it to the American people to explain how the expenditure of that much money for a non-treaty ally provides $100 billion worth of national security.
What does Congress expect that money to produce (in other words, what is the expected or hoped-for outcome)? How will we know if the money is a good investment — and what will Congress do in 2023?
These are not minor questions, because as we have seen from two decades of disastrous involvement in our own war in Afghanistan — where we squandered close to $2 trillion — Congress can often get carried away with the emotion of a situation. The stakes are too high to repeat that mistake with our support of Ukraine.
Before allocating another dollar in 2023, Congress should explain to the American people how this money advances vital national interests of our country. Or we need a new plan.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1