Coen Nij Bijvank
Coen Nij Bijvank
Nearly 8,000 straight miles lie between Washington DC and Kiev. The war in Ukraine poses no immediate threat to the United States, yet they support the country with many, many more billions and military resources than European countries. And the flow of money is only increasing.
Why? And what does that say about America’s role in the world?
This war is a tragic but useful lesson.
Ben Hodges, former commander in chief of US forces in Europe, may be the best answer to that first question. “America is providing more and more military resources to help with deterrence,” Hodges tells news hour. “The US wants to prevent the Russians from thinking they can just attack a NATO ally.”
The US aid thus serves a broader purpose than protecting Ukraine. “This is also about Europe and European security,” agrees professor of war studies Frans Osinga. “The signal to other authoritarian regimes should not be that Russian President Putin gets away with aggression.”
Trump vs. Biden
Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, US President Joe Biden does see a major role for the US in this, says Osinga. “The US president is once again ready to strengthen the foundations of the liberal legal order.”
Well, America’s goals are pretty clear. But why does the country give so much and so much more than European countries?
The US has pledged €45 billion in aid, more than the rest of the world combined:
Simply because it is possible, according to military historian Christ Klep. “Both Democrats and Republicans are in favor of supporting Ukraine. That is not self-evident in American politics.”
The fact that it is possible – send so much money and military resources – is also due to the size of the American army. The country spends just as much money on Defense as the eight or nine countries below it. Osinga: “America just has a huge budget for these kinds of things, look at Iraq and Afghanistan.”
No war economy
America is, for the reasons Hodges and Osinga mentioned earlier, also willing to really deploy all those military resources now. “When the US takes something seriously, they put a lot of guns, soldiers and money on it,” Hodges said.
And, importantly, these are huge amounts, but expressed as percentages of the gross domestic product (GDP) you can still call the American support modest.
No country spends more than one percent of GDP on war:
You see: Eastern European countries supply a much larger share of their GDP to Ukraine. Osinga: “Eastern Europe is afraid. They fear: ‘soon it will be our turn.'”
You can also see in the graph: despite the large expenditures, there is no real economy in war mode in any country. “This is still more of an Eastern European war than a Western war,” says Klep. “The West does not see the war as an existential issue.”
The Americans see that they don’t really have to be afraid of the Russians.
In any case, the Americans believe that they are contributing enough to achieve their military goals. And to weaken Russia for a longer period of time, says Klep. “It seems they want to go beyond containment of Russia. They want to emasculate the country militarily in such a way that we won’t be bothered by it for decades to come.”
In that respect, the war is also a “tragic, but useful school for the US”, Osinga says. “We get a glimpse into Russia’s ability to conduct a large-scale offensive.”
The experts had estimated Russia’s military strength much higher. Klep: “The Americans see that they don’t really have to be afraid of the Russians.” For example, the Russian tanks appear to be very vulnerable, while the Western anti-tank weapons are very effective. Just like the western anti-ship missiles. “The Russian navy is terrified to get near the Ukrainian coast,” Hodges said.
One problem is: America is in danger of running out of supplies due to all deliveries. For example, the country has already sent thousands of anti-tank weapons and large quantities of ammunition to Ukraine. Most of the promised weapons have yet to be produced.
At the same time, it underlines the US’s long-term commitment to the fate of Ukraine and to fighting Russian aggression. America seems to be taking on the role of the world’s police officer again.
Klep: “The Americans really want to bring Ukraine back into the Western sphere of influence. They portray Putin as the great evil. Biden thus links a moral charge to the war. The stakes are high and then you can’t just go back.”