HomeOpinionOPINION: U.S. funds sent to Ukraine could yield a great return

OPINION: U.S. funds sent to Ukraine could yield a great return

By A.J. Morris

Guest columnist

About 60 miles. That’s how far it is from downtown Nashville up I-24 to the front gate of Fort Campbell, KY.

It is also roughly how much road you would need to line up, end to end, the 12,164 main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, supply trucks, artillery systems, and light infantry trucks that the Russian military has thus far lost at the hands of Ukraine.

Such an image is, perhaps, a helpful way to make tangible the cost and scale of the Ukraine war. In the days since Russia began its invasion, the United States has given $44.4 billion in military assistance and $113 billion overall to aid the people of Ukraine in defending their nation. It can be challenging to conceptualize such a sum, to analyze what effect it has had, and to develop informed opinions on further aid commitments. In this pursuit, looking at the war with context may help.

Simply put, the Ukraine war has cost Russia enormously. Strictly in terms of financial cost, a recent report by Forbes suggests that sustaining combat operations in Ukraine is costing Russia upwards of $300 million a day. It is estimated that over 575 days of fighting has cost Russia about $167.3 billion to date.

Battlefield effects of this soaring cost have been noticeable. Through the first year of its invasion, Russia was reported to expend around 50,000 artillery shells per day. Recent months, however, have seen that figure fall to an estimated 10,000 shells. Those numbers have led many to speculate that low ammunition totals are the cause for Putin’s recent meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jon Un. It is also likely part of the reason Russia now only controls 18 percent of Ukrainian territory, down from 25 percent shortly after the invasion began.

Russia is not likely to run out of money to finance its invasion in the short term. But the financial and human costs of the war have already taken an enormous toll. That’s true throughout Russia proper but especially on the frontlines, where some recent estimates by Western officials have put Russia’s current combat power in Ukraine at under 50 percent for the first time.

Regardless of the war’s outcome in Ukraine, it will take years, as a 2023 analysis by the RAND corporation concludes, and perhaps even decades for the Russian military and economy to recover from the damage already incurred.

Things do not seem to look good for Putin’s Russia. Some strategists have even begun questioning whether Russia, in its current form, can survive the decade. In a recent poll by the Atlantic Council, 76 out of 167 analysts said they expect Russia to break up by 2033.

U.S. aid to Ukraine has been a crucial factor in these realities. And while it has not been cheap, it has allowed a grand strategic return on investment without costing a drop of American blood for a veritable penny on the dollar of U.S. total treasure. Once again, context may help illuminate this moment in time.

The United States has historically excelled at “lending treasure” as an approach to foreign policy. Ironically, the very nation now threatening a U.S.-friendly Ukraine owes its existence to a massive influx of American aid during WWII.

U.S. assistance to the USSR in 1941 is a remarkable, if lesser known, feat. From 1941 until 1945, the U.S. sent 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 airplanes, 8,000 tractors, 13,000 tanks, and an entire Ford tire factory with which to make tires for Soviet military vehicles. In all, this aid amounts to the equivalent of $180 billion in today’s U.S economy. The aid caused Stalin himself to note in December 1943 that “the United States … is a country of machines. Without the use of those machines through lend-lease, we would lose this war.”

U.S. military aid to Ukraine represents not only a tiny fraction of the masses of materiel lent during “Lend-Lease,” but also a fraction of America’s military capacity in 2023.

The more noteworthy items on the list of U.S. aid to Ukraine include more than 2,000 “Humvees,” 186 M2 Bradleys, 38 HIMARS systems, 198 155mm howitzers, and 31 Abrams tanks.

This is no small amount of combat power, but for reference, the Tennessee National Guard itself operates 28 Abrams tanks, and the U.S. Army as a whole operates well over 200,000 “Humvees.”

In very rough terms, the U.S. has pledged about three Brigades worth of combat power to help Ukraine defend itself. Across all active and guard formations, the U.S. Army operates about 58 Brigade Combat Teams in total. For just three of those, and for just 2 percent of the U.S. federal budget, the U.S. has managed help seriously reduce, for at least a decade, the conventional Russian military threat that has overshadowed Europe for 70 years.

In grand strategic terms, this development and the war in Ukraine overall represents what Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called “a watershed moment for our continent.”

A growing chorus of Americans indicate that they are weary of sending any more support to Ukraine, despite the miniscule amount of America’s treasure it represents and the results it is achieving. To quit now would seem to be asking Ukraine, which has outperformed expectations at every phase of the war, simply to surrender because the U.S. is unwilling to help any further.

Such a sentiment Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed directly in 1941. In a speech to Congress to garner support for Lend-Lease, he said, “We cannot, and we will not, tell [the Allies] that they must surrender, merely because of present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have.”

U.S. treasure is not infinite. But FDR understood that America must not run out of patience to help before it runs out of capacity to help. Americans today risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory without understanding where both lines need be drawn.

AJ Morris is a native of Madison County serving in the United States military. The Jackson Post’s opinion/editorial page is meant to help launch public discussion of local issues or allow local people to discuss national or statewide issues. Publication of a column is not an endorsement of that column by The Post, its owners or any of its advertisers or employees. To join the discussion, send a guest column or letter to the editor to brandon@jacksonpost.news. Submissions for a specific week’s print edition need to be sent by Monday night. Sending does not guarantee publication that week as that is based on space availability.

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