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The Arguments Against Aiding Ukraine Still Fall Flat
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The Arguments Against Aiding Ukraine Still Fall Flat

The United States is better off helping the country thwart Russian aggression.

A HIMARS launches a rocket in the direction of Bakhmut on May 18, 2023 in Donetsk oblast, Ukraine. (Photo by Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)

Russia’s brutal military assault grinds on, Ukraine perseveres in its counteroffensive, and Congress will soon consider yet another aid package for Ukraine’s defense. Those who oppose that aid make three arguments against it: that there is insufficient oversight of aid, that spending money there takes money from Americans here, and that focusing on European security distracts us from the China threat. These matters have been argued and researched over the course of the war, but it’s useful to assess their merits as the war continues.

Take the first argument, that Ukraine remains a corrupt nation and the support Americans send is not being put to its intended use. Like all nations, and especially democracies formerly under the heavy hand of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has worked to maintain a government that keeps the trust of its people and demonstrates that public officials are bound by law. One consequence of the tragedy of the Russian invasion is that Western scrutiny, and the vigorous information warfare of the Russians, has put intense pressure on the Ukrainian government to have a zero-tolerance policy for corruption. By siding with Ukraine and leading a coalition effort to conduct oversight of the operations, the U.S.-led effort could leave Ukraine not only better able to deter aggression and defend itself, but also to serve as an example of anti-corruption practices. 

The American oversight of the weapons flow is likewise unprecedented in modern warfare. The United States has a strong interest in oversight for several reasons. One, although the war is Ukraine’s, the outcome has significant bearing on U.S. interests. The United States is observing Russian battlefield behavior to continually learn and try to best inform how to assist Ukraine and credibly protect NATO members. Two, because Russia is a top-tier adversary of the United States, the U.S. military is assessing how U.S. weapons, operations, and associated activity fare against the Russians. And the third reason is so that Americans at home can be confident that the weapons produced by U.S. companies and purchased by the government are being used for their intended purpose—destroying Russian targets. Lt. Gen. Tony Aguto, the senior American officer overseeing the effort to disperse weapons, has regular discussions with Ukrainian forces to ensure the U.S is not simply taking the word of a handful of political leaders. For its part, Congress appropriated $41 million to Ukraine oversight last year, and there is now an extensive, whole-of-government operation of more than 160 staffers in 20 federal organizations focused on tracking U.S. assistance to Kyiv. The United States failed to do this during its campaign against Islamists in Afghanistan, and Congress is applying lessons from that mistake.

The second claim holds that the problems at home require the United States to cease its support for Ukraine to spend money domestically. But Americans benefit from security in Europe, and the sooner the Ukrainians can compel the Russians to end their aggression, the better it is for all Americans. The increased cost of everyday items like gas and food stems from several factors, but it is compounded by Russia’s intentional weaponization of global commodities to weaken the United States and Western markets. If Russia is left possessing territory it seized through conquest and is in a better position to launch subsequent campaigns, it will persist in menacing Europe and disrupting markets that affect American families.

Beyond the more general connection to Americans, U.S. military packages are not “taking” from America and given as charity to defend Ukraine. The weapons packages are purchased by the U.S. government from American companies and those companies’ subcontractors and suppliers, which puts money into the American economy, pays American workers, and supports families and communities. These packages are also playing a substantial role revamping the defense industrial base after years of atrophy. Rocket launch systems like HIMARS and GMLRS, and Stinger and Javelin missiles are among some of the notable weapons whose production lines have seen a boost over the last 18 months. The production rate for 155-mm artillery shells has increased from 14,000 per month in February of 2022 to 20,000 per month now, soon to reach 28,000. By fall 2025, the rate is expected to surpass 80,000 shells per month.

Some of the spending packages goes directly to Ukraine’s war effort, while a significant portion is for replenishing U.S. stocks. Some of the weapons Ukraine is using on the battlefield, like HIMARS and the Patriot missile defense system, have performed so well in the hands of Ukrainians that other ally nations are placing orders for those weapons. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both encouraged allies to shore up their own defenses to contribute to collective defense, and this is precisely what countries are doing now, with a renewed sense of urgency, by purchasing American weapons.

Lastly, opponents claim that U.S. support in Europe weakens and distracts us from preparing to deter an increasingly aggressive China that is intent on undermining American power and security. But several unexpected phenomena have occurred since Russia invaded in February 2022 besides motivating the United States to quickly shore up our defense industrial base. One is that Asian allies of the United States recognize that their own security correlates with stopping Russian aggression and siding with NATO and Ukraine.

South Korea has pledged $2.3 billion in long-term aid to Ukraine for humanitarian and rebuilding efforts, while ramping up defense exports to Eastern Europe. Seoul’s arms exports rose 140 percent last year, and 70 percent of those articles were purchased by Poland. Taiwan has fostered closer relations with the Baltic nations. All three chairs of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committees of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia visited Taipei last month to discuss strengthening cooperation in a number of realms. And Japan has repeatedly provided diplomatic and material support to Ukraine. When Xi Jinping was dining with Vladimir Putin in Moscow this spring, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

In the recent trilateral meeting at Camp David, the United States, South Korea, and Japan affirmed their support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia. These nations’ assessments make sense when one considers Beijing and Moscow’s “no limits” partnership. Russia is China’s junior but most important partner. They see a strong shared interest in weakening the United States while Americans are divided at home and while China is in a stronger position to contest the U.S.

This China-Russia axis seeks to break up the alliance structure American administrations from both parties have fostered since World War II. That structure has enabled the American economy to grow and the United States to wield influence on the world stage and shape events toward American and allied interests. 

Americans do not have to agree with the Biden administration’s handling of foreign and defense policy generally. It is true that the administration has not done well explaining the war or developing a strategy to power Ukraine to victory. But it is also true that the risks of ending additional U.S. support to Ukraine now far outweigh the alternative. Rather than ending support, the more prudent path is to push the Biden administration to support Ukraine to victory—and the sooner the better.

Rebeccah Heinrichs is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.