San Diego, USA
The U.S. is poised to send $40 billion in aid to Ukraine after the House approved the assistance package on Tuesday. Though the funds are temporarily stalled in the Senate due to an objection from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, the measure is expected to go through in the coming week, with nearly $15 billion for military aid. It will bring total U.S. support to Ukraine since the beginning of the war to more than $53 billion.
These numbers might seem staggering, but they pale in comparison to the amounts Washington spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in Vietnam for that matter. Yet the result has been vastly more effective.
Despite tens of billions of dollars spent rebuilding militaries from scratch in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter infamously melted away in 2021 before the U.S. could complete its withdrawal from the country. Meanwhile, Iraq’s military nearly collapsed after the Islamic State militant group emerged in 2013, requiring massive injections of foreign air power, advisers and financial aid to drive ISIS out of Iraqi territory. And after more than a decade of U.S. military support, South Vietnam fell to a North Vietnamese invasion in 1975 two years after the U.S. withdrew.
In contrast, Ukraine has been an immense success story. Why is that?
Well, to begin with, Ukrainian society as a whole was willing to fight in defense of its country. The government wasn’t reliant on the U.S. military to prop it up and to cajole reluctant recruits to defend it. And despite political divisions, over time, the Ukrainian people grew to favor closer relations with Western Europe and the United States. In contrast, arms, money and the blood of thousands of U.S. troops couldn’t infuse Western-oriented governments in South Vietnam and Afghanistan with popular support.
Ukraine’s spirit of national resistance has also meant that most of the U.S. arms transferred to local forces have been used for their intended purpose. In contrast, corruption and disloyalty (and ineptness) saw huge quantities of U.S. military aid to Afghanistan, Iraq and South Vietnam go missing and even end up with enemy forces.
In Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO are helping the country build on its existing strengths instead of reinventing the military top to bottom — as the U.S. had to do in Iraq when it foolishly disbanded the entire military after routing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In Ukraine, beginning in 2014 when the war in eastern part of the country broke out, Washington instead enabled Kyiv to make better use of its huge inventory of Soviet artillery and armored vehicles through modernized training and tactics.
It also focused on delivering mostly nonlethal systems that allowed Ukrainian troops to use the firepower they already had more effectively, such as counter-battery radars that have helped Ukrainian forces detect artillery attacks, night-vision goggles that allow Ukrainian units to operate at times Russian units can’t and secure communication systems that protect their troop locations.
When it became evident Ukraine was at high risk of being fully invaded by Russia earlier this year, U.S. and British defense officials correctly shifted to providing the kinds of lethal weapons that could be quickly delivered in large quantities and fielded rapidly for maximum impact. In particular, thousands of advanced portable Javelin and Stinger missiles that have light logistical and training requirements and have been ideal for ambushing Russian armored columns or shooting down low-flying helicopters and planes.
This is a smart change from giving Abrams tanks to Iraq and Blackhawk helicopters to Afghanistan that indigenous personnel struggled to maintain without copious support from American contractors.
# The opinions expressed in this article are of the authors’: Ed. Upadhyaya.
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