NATO and the United States soften their support for a Ukrainian victory
In August 1990, after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned US President George HW Bush: “Now is not the time to waver.”
His warning has been interpreted in various ways. Some Bush administration officials say the warning was tied to plans to fire on Iraqi ships in early August. Others suggest it was in response to Bush’s desire to delay the use of force until specific UN authorization was obtained in late August. Either way, the British leader sought to arm her closest ally and make it clear that the West would be focused hard on halting and reversing Iraq’s aggression.
Where is that steel today in the wake of Russia’s open aggression against Ukraine, if not that of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? The United States and NATO have been, quite frankly, slow to get behind Ukraine. Missteps, misrepresentations, and misjudgments failed to deter Russia from invading in the first place. President Biden’s mistakes in all of these categories have been remarkable, from seeming to invite a ‘minor incursion’ to finding it hard to utter the words ‘Russia must be defeated’ or ‘Ukraine must win’. .
Eventually, European NATO members signaled their willingness to openly support Ukraine, even as the United States continued to dither, seemingly more concerned with Russian threats of escalation than Russian actions of annihilation. In time, Mr. Biden would adapt to NATO’s bolder posture. His instinct is to follow, not lead. Unfortunately, there is evidence that NATO and the United States are beginning to soften their support for a clear Ukrainian victory.
Yes, the United States has funneled $54 billion in military aid to Ukraine, reducing our own war stocks. Similarly, NATO countries contributed $8 billion. And NATO and the United States provided shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapons that blunted Russia’s efforts to capture Kyiv and decapitate the Ukrainian government. But now the war has shifted to eastern Ukraine where more Russian artillery is targeting and exhausting Ukrainian forces.
The Ukrainians valiantly fought the Russians, even leading impressive counterattacks. But now the fulcrum has shifted in Russia’s favor as its massive artillery forces hammer Ukrainian forces and innocent civilian centers in the Donbass region. It’s good news that the US and NATO are trying to even the score by supplying Ukraine with both cannon artillery and four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) . But time is not on the side of the Ukrainians in what has become an artillery-centric war. The United States and NATO must do more and do it now, including approving the supply of more howitzers, rocket systems, and ammunition in sufficient quantities to defeat Russian artillery.
Russian guns, rockets and missile systems have become the tactical center of gravity of this war. Ukraine must counter it or face certain defeat. In addition, training on these new artillery systems for Ukraine must be accelerated. It’s one thing to provide the weapons. It’s quite another to speed them forward. Those in the United States and NATO responsible for this must get rid of the advance and put the steel in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers at this critical moment in the conflict. If the West fails to provide these systems with accelerated training, the current Russian artillery advantage will be magnified. In times of war, actions speak louder than words. However, the right words are also important.
Russia is determined to take the Donbass and feels that Ukraine is bent under the stress. If there was ever a time to signal Western support for Ukraine, it’s now. We must resolve to support Ukraine in word and deed even as its soldiers resolve to die defending freedom.
Unfortunately, some NATO members are becoming irresolute. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron seem more determined than ever to pressure Russia and Ukraine to end the war with peace talks before Ukraine can expel its invaders . Additionally, there is evidence that Mr. Biden has ordered his secretaries of state and defense to temper their rhetoric in favor of Ukraine, possibly offering Russia a “way out” to end its the war she started. It’s completely absurd.
What Ukraine needs now are weapons, not vague words of surrender. A negotiated settlement at this very hour of battle turning against Ukraine will virtually guarantee that Russia will be rewarded for its aggression. In the process, the aggressor becomes the victor and the vanquished the victim of defeatism. Moreover, the crumbling world order that once recognized the inviolable nature of territorial integrity will be catastrophically thrown out.
Margaret Thatcher is not there to stiffen the spine of American leaders. Where is a leader with his wisdom and courage to inspire the West to remain tirelessly resolute, not wavering?
• L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired US Army colonel and author of “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War” (University Press of Kentucky). He also served in the Virginia General Assembly from 2002 to 2018.