US to Deliver Lethal Weaponry to Ukraine: Wise Decision or Foreign Policy Gaffe?

US to Deliver Lethal Weaponry to Ukraine: Wise Decision or Foreign Policy Gaffe?

The United States will deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine. There is no question whether the arms will be sent but rather which exactly weapon systems are to be included into the package. The Joint Staff is working with US European Command to determine what lethal defensive aid to Ukraine might look like, said Air Force Gen. Paul Selva on July 18 during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing considering his nomination by President Donald Trump to serve another two years as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

«It will be more than just a military recommendation», the General said. «This will be a policy choice on whether or not we are going to give the Ukrainian government the tools they need to defend themselves against what we believe to be a Russian-supported insurgency movement in the Donbass».

Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the US top European commander, is another staunch supporter of the plans to deliver lethal arms to Ukraine.

Also on July 18, the Senate confirmed Patrick Shanahan as Deputy Defense Secretary – number 2 position at the Pentagon. Questioned by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services Committee’s Chairman, he answered, “I support lethal defensive security assistance to Ukraine.” Shanahan supported the idea of doing more in terms of supporting Kiev. Senator McCain has called  for the United States to send anti-tank missiles and other military equipment to Ukrainian forces.

There are growing bipartisan calls to arm Ukraine on Capitol Hill. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cuts the military aid to Ukraine from the initial $300 million to $150 million, but it provides permission for lethal arms supplies. The idea is strongly supported in the Senate. If the legislation goes through, the weapons could be legally sent to Ukraine starting October 1. The money could be used to deliver over 900 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles designed to strike armored vehicles, fortified ground installations and low flying aerial targets at a distance of 50-2,500 meters.

The supporters of the idea know what they are doing. The «Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act» is included in the budget’s proposal, which gives the US administration a choice either to sign the bill or to postpone adoption of the budget for the next fiscal year. That’s the tactics lawmakers use to push through controversial issues.

Russian officials have repeatedly warned against arms deliveries to Kiev, stressing that the move would escalate the situation in the eastern part of the country and undermine chances for the Minsk accords to succeed. Ex-President Obama remained unconvinced throughout his second terms that granting Ukraine lethal defensive weapons would contribute to crisis management. One of the reasons was gross irresponsibility and corruption among the country’s ruling elite.

European politicians, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have opposed the idea. Some NATO and EU members have expressed skepticism about extending economic sanctions against Russia – let alone sending weapons to Ukraine. NATO Military Committee Chairman Peter Pavel has spoken against lethal arms deliveries to Kiev.

Another question pops up. Ukroboronprom, the state arms production concern, produces every line of armament the country may need. Human engineering cadre is highly qualified. The country has developed aerospace sector, heavy machinery and aircraft engine manufacturing complex, astronautics production and rocketry engineering sectors. If so, why does it need the Javelin and other types of lethal weapons so badly?

After all, Ukraine is the ninth leading arms exporter in the world. Just think about it! The ninth world weapons exporter needs lethal weapons coming from abroad? Why no US official or lawmaker raises this question? With a large defense industry capable of producing a wide range of advanced weapons, the country is unable to satisfy its basic needs while the defense production is largely focused on exports to enrich a certain group of people.

A recently published RAND study, done for the Office of the President of Ukraine, analyzed Ukraine's security and defense sector from the ground up and emphasized the need for reform in Ukraine's security and defense institutions. The paper says that the country’s deeply embedded problems cannot easily be solved by foreign-provided weapons or assistance.

Ukraine’s defense structure lacks accountability and efficiency. No US lethal weapons would rectify the situation. Ukraine tops the world corruption rating. According to the 2016 Global Fraud Survey, 88% of Ukrainian employees thought that bribery and corrupt practices were widespread in the country.

US officials and lawmakers say the arms shipments to Syrian rebels are risky because they can get into wrong hands. Is delivering weapons to Ukraine, the country with sweeping corruption, less risky? Of course, there is a difference - Syrian rebels do not have the defense industry to make them leading arms exporters.

In January, a planeload of Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles destined for Iran was seized at Kiev’s Zhulyany Airport. These are the same type of missiles Ukraine asks the US to hand out. Since then, nothing has been leaked to Ukrainian media about the investigation of the incident. Neither US officials, nor lawmakers remember this story while discussing the military aid to Ukraine. The US would have done better by convincing Ukraine’s government to launch much needed reforms to benefit the people than sending the weapons few Ukrainians really need. 

Tags: Ukraine