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What Arms Shipments to Ukraine Imply for US Security

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

The U.S. has contributed to Ukraine’s defense since Russia’s February invasion, ambiguously framing the conflict as a battle for democracy and sending billions in military aid to “weaken” Russia. Now, Congress has overwhelmingly approved an additional $40 billion in aid to Ukraine – even more than the $33 billion President Biden originally requested. In the first set of aid to be delivered through this package, the US will provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems, a request which had previously been denied given the escalation risks. While there is a case to be made for assisting Ukraine in some capacity, the surge of weapons is increasingly risky as the environment becomes more unstable and the weapons become more advanced. This strategy is creating additional security concerns, while depleting U.S. economic and military resources.


Even before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was a risky arms recipient. Ukraine had a score of 66 in Cato’s 2021 Arms Sales Risk Index, making it in opportune times about as risky as Venezuela (67), a state on the brink of failure, and only slightly less risky than Saudi Arabia (71), an authoritarian state perpetuating a military and humanitarian crisis. Ukraine’s risk score can be attributed to corruption and state fragility. For 2021, Ukraine scored in the “warning” category in the Fragile States Index, while the Corruption Perceptions Index suggests a significant degree of corruption. Publicly, Ukraine has been the subject of concern for years due to issues with weapons trafficking and its ability to safeguard the weapons it receives. These existing concerns, combined with the fog of war, reasonably indicate that the riskiness of sending arms to Ukraine has increased significantly over three months in.

In continuing to deliver large volumes of weapons to Ukraine regardless, the U.S. helps prolong what was initially anticipated to be a short conflict. Fueled by arms shipments, the conflict becomes riskier and more damaging the longer it goes on. This is despite these weapons having limited prospects for influencing the outcome. That the arms shipments have enabled the Ukrainian military to fight this long does not indicate a clear path to victory. Mariupol was recently lost and Russia is nearing control over all of the Luhansk region. Both come after several weeks of fighting and at high casualty and humanitarian costs.


At the same time, the U.S. risks being perceived by Russia as a participant in the war. Russian leadership has repeatedly hinted at escalation, including to the nuclear level, should there be interference with its actions in Ukraine. Russia is also treating arms shipments as legitimate military targets. With the announcement of rocket systems, the risk of escalation is only increased. The US is sending rockets with an approximate reach of 50 miles, while the systems themselves have an even longer range. In sending these systems, the U.S. is relying on Ukrainian assurances that they will not be used to reach Russian territory, which is a risk in itself. The announcement has already generated a response from Russia, including nuclear drills and a claim that the U.S. is “directly and intentionally” fueling the conflict. Russia’s threats were falsely dismissed as bluffing prior to the invasion. It would be a mistake to continue to do so. There is real risk for escalation both within Ukraine and towards those supplying arms.

Outside of the short-term escalation risks, arms shipments create risks to U.S. security in the long-term.

Economically, at least an additional $20.4 billion will be allocated in military assistance – a sum beyond what the U.S. can reasonably spend and what Ukraine can reasonably absorb. Economic strength is a basic element of national security and a prerequisite for military power, making such significant investments in Ukraine worrisome for future U.S. security. Sen. Rand Paul acknowledged the security risks in expressing his opposition to the bill. The U.S. cannot afford to finance another endless war. Yet there is no expectation of this conflict is ending soon given the current surge of weapons into Ukraine. This reinforces the call for more weapons, which will then require additional funding requests that the U.S. cannot afford.


Militarily, weapons are being sent to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles using presidential drawdown authority. According to the DoD, the most recent package including rocket systems marks the eleventh drawdown for Ukraine in less than a year. Continued drawdowns have the potential to jeopardize military readiness, demonstrated by the U.S. depleting its stockpiles of Javelin and Stinger missiles. Neither of these stockpiles can be quickly rebuilt. While the world’s attention is turned to Ukraine, there are threats in other regions that require US attention. In the background, diplomacy with Iran may be failing and North Korea has increased its missile tests. China’s long-standing ambitions towards Taiwan should also not be forgotten, which has the potential to demand U.S. resources in a way similar to Ukraine. Any weapons sent to Ukraine now may preclude the U.S. in its potential defense or response to conflicts that could arise in the future.

Washington and Kyiv face a mismatch of interests in responding to Russia’s invasion. Washington has not clearly defined an objective for the outcome, instead choosing to arm Ukraine despite the high risk of doing so. Kyiv will ostensibly continue calling for weapons for the foreseeable future. While this may serve Ukrainian interests, continuing to answer this call threatens U.S. security on multiple fronts and is out of alignment with U.S. interests and resources. As weapons shipments raise the risk of confrontation with Russia, the U.S. urgently needs a clearer objective that defines how far it is willing to go and must rethink military aid to Ukraine accordingly.


Karina Mariotti has a bachelor’s in political science, with coursework in foreign policy and international security.

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