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Geopolitics

American military aid to Ukraine: the "apocalypse" approaching?

Międzynarodowe szkolenie żołnierzy z Ukrainy, Polska 2023
Photo. Jacek Raubo, Defence24

There are still visible disputes in the US Congress over the designation of further financial resources in the field of military aid for fighting Ukraine. Moreover, the coming year appears to be a moment of potential breakthrough for the US attitude towards Ukraine and Russia due to Donald Trump’s possible takeover of power in the White House. However, is the conventional „time of apocalypse” coming, or maybe the next 12 months will be an excellent opportunity to understand the specificity of the US actions in the new global conditions, as by its European partners?

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At first glance, the US cannot afford Ukraine’s defeat, as it could deteriorate the global position of each subsequent administration in the White House and of each ruling party in Congress, especially since it would not only mean an individual weakening of the American position vis-à-vis Europe and Russia but would have wider global repercussions. It also applies to the strategic Indo-Pacific region, given the importance of which we can today notice some unity among essential Democrats and Republicans (including those under the conventional MAGA/Trump flag). But the state’s strategy may be overshadowed by something much more important for an ordinary politician trying to win in the USA, i.e., the pragmatics of an election year. Therefore, we should recognize that the United States can, unfortunately, afford to play with providing military aid to Ukraine in 2024 due to political campaigns« emotions.

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Russia is part of a broader catalog of US strategic challenges.

We already know this American election year will be intense and naturally include international affairs. But the latter must not be limited only to the attitude towards Russian aggression. The US is a global power, and whether we like it or not, in Europe and on NATO’s eastern flank, the US will still be involved in other areas. It applies primarily to the highly complicated Middle East policy, where questions about the attitude towards Iran are already being revived, especially since the authorities in Tehran continue to ostentatiously support terrorist organizations that attack not only American regional interests but directly the Americans themselves.

Moreover, Iran continues to raise the question of overturning the Middle East table if it announces its nuclear potential. As a result, the entire region will naturally ask about the possibilities of developing atomic weapons resources and has technological possibilities for this, assistance from other actors with military solutions in this area (Pakistan, China, India, Russia), and, above all, financially.

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It cannot be forgotten that for American strategic interests in 2024, it will be essential to formulate its response to Iranian (direct and most often indirect) attempts to destabilize maritime security. Finally, there is the issue of Israel and aid for this country, which is heating American politics like never before. Therefore, conventional US Middle East policy will be an element of the spectrum of considerations on American foreign policy in the election year. And yet, there remains a whole range of topics related to the Indo-Pacific, and more precisely, direct relations with the People’s Republic of China (People’s Republic of China), defining not only the mentioned region.

We also must remember that it is still crucial for an American politician how his country will approach matters related to South America and Central America. We have seen this clearly in two examples in the last year. Namely, when it comes to the attitude of the Venezuelan regime towards Guyana, but above all, when it comes to the situation on the southern border of the USA with Mexico. One may get the impression that, from the European point of view, these are often illegible issues or placed below the „big” issues, led by Russia and the People’s Republic of China.

The US is a global actor, but it also has its internal problems.

However, this is a big pitfall and problem for our perception of American political attitudes. First, border security is a dual problem for Americans - internal (referring, among others, to HLS - homeland security ) and international. It covers bilateral relations with Mexico and regional ties, demographic and economic processes, and the synergy of threats from powerful non-state entities in the form of criminal groups and cartels. At the same time, remember that there are elements of great politics in all this, such as the access of criminal groups from the region to the chemical production facilities in the PRC. We also need to remember the close relations of some officials and functionaries of countries such as Venezuela with drug smuggling. In all this, in the vast corridors of American congressional politics and, more broadly, Washington agreements, the issue of aid for Ukraine and transatlantic relations led by NATO must now be found in 2024.

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We need to know this exceptional year and the exceptionally complicated international situation viewed by American politicians and their voters, media, etc., actors of broadly understood decision-making processes. Therefore, we should ask a direct question: whether 2024 is a lost cause for the issue of military aid for Ukraine, and does it even entail a specific change in American policy towards Europe? The answer will be as complicated as the picture of the American international affairs agenda politicians in Washington will face in 2024.

Because there is no clear answer, especially if we look at the specifics of behind-the-scenes actors influencing American political processes. Of course, at the outset, it should be recognized that it will be crucial to obtain greater flexibility on the part of the ruling team in the White House regarding security matters on the country’s southern border. Let us note that the Joe Biden administration failed to play for the entire stakes by trying to confront Republican politicians who support a tightening border strategy.

Ukraine and aid for this country were positioned as one of the tools of influence by both sides. We can decide whether it was a good move from a moral point of view, but both Democrats and Republicans took a highly pragmatic approach to the issue in the context of the upcoming campaign. Because, especially for Donald Trump’s supporters in the Republican environment, the failure of a robust border agenda would be problematic for their strategy both inside the party and towards opponents from the other side of the political scene. But also for the Democrats and, above all, Joe Biden, any concessions in his vision of border security were unacceptable, and they were probably trying to play on the topic of war and military aid to influence political opponents.

Republicans and Democrats are fighting for votes and their political agenda.

It remains an open question: who will now have to look for a new hand, i.e., revise their approach, which has been hardened over and over again? In an ideal situation, a consensus could emerge based on the actions of both sides, but politics is not a perfect world. We can, therefore, assume that the Joe Biden administration and the Democrats will have to look for a new opening, even at the expense of part of their political agenda, because the president currently in power has invested more political capital in helping Ukraine, including a visit to Kyiv. The proverbial military collapse of the Ukrainian ally may be downright disastrous for his potential re-election, especially if we remember (which will probably be recalled during the US election campaign) that the American way of leaving Afghanistan has long been questioned.

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Events such as the fall of Saigon and the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran always have long-term repercussions on the political scene in this country. But both the Republican mainstream and MAGA must take into account the potential need for changes in their policy towards military aid for Ukraine in 2024. It happens for several reasons, and the first of them is the position of the US in the world, which they are building in their election programs. If unfavorable strategic processes in the transatlantic space had occurred during Joe Biden’s contractual rule (e.g., the fall of Ukraine and the military and political victory of Russia), the subsequent starting position of the new administration would have been problematic. That is why all intra-American think tank campaigns, media debates, and promoting the importance and effectiveness of military aid for the long-term global system, including the role of the US in the world, are so important.

Moreover, it should be recognized that Europe has much to achieve in this consideration, especially regarding the abovementioned assistance to Ukraine. Of course, there are great and noble elements, including the defense of an attacked country, but there are also a number of other aspects, including, for example, the arms industry. Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression has become a presentation of Western armament solutions against the background of Russian ones. Therefore, if the American area of military aid weakened and Europe managed to achieve its own aid goals more boldly, it would be an uncomfortable position for America’s world-leading arms companies. It is not without reason that for some time now, discussions on military aid in the USA have included comments that, in addition to the effectiveness (cost-effect) in terms of stopping Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions et consortes, there is also the matter of contractually leaving investments in the arms industry to individual states.

Thus, thanks to the restart of the American arms industry, it will be possible to increase employment, and investments will be made in developing the defense sector and its cooperating industry. Therefore, the capabilities to deter other potential US opponents worldwide will be increased. In a sense, even the most ardent Trumpists cannot afford a strategic defeat for Ukraine, at least in an election year, because international repercussions may limit their possibilities after a potential victory in Congress and, above all, in the presidential race.

Isolationism is an illusion.

Pure isolationism in today’s international environment, especially given America’s position in the world, is a mere illusion. Of course, it is possible to show off in the case of solid election emotions, but it is impossible to implement in practice (especially when you consider expert debates behind both political parties). Republicans and Democrats are de facto doomed to maintaining US strength in global relations, and one (important, but not the most important) element of this is the influence on NATO and other allies in Europe, including Ukraine. Quite recently, General Milley (former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) mentioned this, emphasizing that, especially in the current conditions, the US cannot count on any respite from building the defense capabilities.

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However, this way of thinking does not guarantee the kind of military assistance the Ukrainian side would expect to pursue its strategic goals. Especially since in 2024, Americans must realistically consider the possibility of other needs when it comes to military assistance for their allies in other regions of the world. It cannot be ruled out that Israel will try to weaken the potential not only of Hamas terrorists but also of Hezbollah. The needs of partners in the Indo-Pacific may be more than expected - from Taiwan (the Republic of China in Taiwan) to the Philippines, Australia, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. Moreover, the Pentagon must recognize its needs, which grow with the possibility of a full-scale war scenario. Therefore, the fight for military aid for Ukraine in Washington is not only a conventional attempt to combat obstruction by the Trump and MAGA camps. It is necessary to integrate into a complex system of military, political, social, and economic dependencies of a global power such as the USA.

Washington needs to regroup politically, medially, and informationally.

However, even the takeover of power by the Republican tandem in Congress and the White House does not necessarily mean a disaster for Ukraine. First of all, it will be crucial at this point to achieve a new quality in communication with Congress, which controls the federal budget. Today, we can again see a hard lesson of Washington’s pragmatism, where the primary strategic goal of countries lobbying the US for their interests is a skillful approach to members of Congress. Because the White House, the Pentagon, and the Department of State alone do not guarantee the necessary financial resources, even with great support. Therefore, 2024 is primarily a year to test the flexible policy towards the US Congress, which is only sometimes understandable in European countries. Although Turkey, Israel, and other countries from the MENA region have understood this for a long time.

Another critical battle for Ukraine is maintaining interest in the issue of war in the US social and media space (from think tanks to the media - let’s remember how great and arduous the Atlantic Council is doing work for transatlantic security and assistance to Ukraine). It means that the strategy known from 2022 must be revised, especially under the influence of the experiences of 2023. It will be crucial, especially if we take into account how pro-Russian circles and even Russian propaganda mouths have regrouped in the American infosphere. But again, everything is still possible, and apocalyptic visions should not obscure the possibilities. It is crucial due to Trump’s possible creation of a new administration, which will need to find communication channels different from those during his first presidency. In the case of the American political system, there is nothing more tragic than focusing on one political solution and one politician. Therefore, if we accept the zero-one variant for the presidential elections, we may be surprised by their results later.

Europe cannot be dependent on the outcome of the US elections.

To conclude, 2024 will be the most challenging year for maintaining military assistance to Ukraine and containing Russia with its aggressive policy planned for years to come. However, simplifications may lead us to wrong conclusions and, above all, the need for necessary multi-variant actions. With this, it is indeed easy to succeed in Washington, the capital of a country that looks globally and is often focused on its own (non-European) internal problems. Because the USA is not the proverbial player looking only at world maps and playing big games, it is also a complex internal state with its citizens and their everyday problems. Americans cannot afford to let go of both aspects, but omitting one of them is why, in Europe, we are so often surprised by changes in American policy.

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Finally, regardless of the United States, it is high time for the European continent to take more responsibility for security - from arms production to increasing the number of armed forces in individual countries. It is not a strategic whim of France, which refers to the concept of strategic autonomy (controversial in other countries), but a requirement of reality changing our regions and global politics. A strong Europe is also an advantage in all discussions with the US, regardless of the arrangement in Congress or the White House, and this is where all discussions about the future of aid for Ukraine should begin. 2024 should be the year when we also check our aid possibilities. When we discuss that Americans do not provide a decisive solution to Ukraine in its defense war with a smaller scale of support, we should start asking why Europe will not guarantee this. Observing election cycles in Washington cannot be an alternative to action within the European continent.

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