Crimea all but belongs to Vladimir Putin now, and a nervous Ukraine is looking to the U.S. for help. But while the Obama administration has pulled diplomatic levers to rebuke Russia and bolster Kiev, it has thus far rebuffed Ukraine's reported request for military aid.
And that's a mistake, according to a slim majority of National Journal's Security Insiders. Fifty-seven percent agreed that the administration should supply Ukraine with military aid, including weapons, ammunition, and intelligence support.
"It would get Russia's attention and send a clear message to Putin that he cannot continue to annex neighboring territories with impunity," one Insider said. "He must be checked before it's too late."
But 43 percent of Insiders said they opposed supplying Ukraine with lethal aid—albeit for different reasons. Some experts said it was too late to stop Putin, while others said lethal aid would be ineffective at bridging the gap between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries and could inflame tensions with Russia.
Lethal assistance could also open up a Pandora's box, another Insider said, at too steep a cost for the U.S. "Should we get sucked into a proxy struggle with Russia over a territory that isn't strategically important to us? No, we shouldn't," one Insider said. "History hasn't shown these sorts of endeavors to produce happy results. Before long we're throwing good money after bad, risking endless escalation with an adversary that has a lot more at stake than we do."
1. Should Washington agree to the request from Ukraine's interim government for U.S. military aid, including weapons, ammunition, and intelligence support?
- Yes 57%
- No 43%
"The West and Ukraine would benefit if Ukraine gained the capacity to inflict higher costs on its eastern neighbor if the Kremlin were to contemplate expanded aggression."
"[Military assistance] increases Putin's risk calculus. If he thinks that he cannot succeed without great cost, he may be less likely to try. The easier Putin thinks it is to continue to escalate in the short term, the more he is likely to do so. It is possible to deter without provoking."
"Limited military support is appropriate, but since it is not likely Ukraine will win a major military confrontation with Russia, every effort must be made to reach a diplomatic solution before matters get out of hand."
"We have a treaty, negotiated by Bill Clinton, guaranteeing the security of their borders. Failing to help here will undo much of the progress towards democracy that we've seen in the region. We won the Cold War without firing a shot. We will lose this battle without lifting a finger."
"To not provide at least intelligence support would be a total abdication of global leadership."
"The U.S. managed to supply Georgia when it was invaded by Russia without getting us into a war; Obama can do the same, but evidently lacks the will to do so."
"If Putin continues to bring in troops to Ukraine."
"We might want to build a Ukrainian government while we're at it."
"Yes. We have drawn a red line—now do the things necessary to be credible."
"Military and State Department planners should certainly be drafting plans and identifying aid needs and options, but military efforts need to take a distant back seat to the diplomatic process. The United States needs to wean itself off of the stick and regain its appreciation for and skill at deploying the carrot."
"It's too late. We need to negotiate a face-saving solution. We do not need another Cold War. Putin perceives Obama is weak. Sending arms will not convince him otherwise."
"Weapons and ammunition would not help bridge the yawning capability gap between the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. Though intelligence support may help, anything more would only further inflame U.S.-Russia tensions."
"We should not pretend Ukraine is within our/NATO's security sphere: It isn't. Providing military aid could encourage them to resist: They will be slaughtered. Better to work on reinvigorating NATO's defenses."
"We ought not edge any closer to war with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea."
"The forces are asymmetrical and the marginal benefit would not be consequential. If we want to play hardball, revisit our radar sites in Eastern Europe."
"Establishing more military ties between Ukraine and the West will only stimulate stronger Russian reactions."
"While it can seem like a travesty to not aid Ukraine as it requests, the U.S. and its NATO allies cannot barge into Ukraine at this time. Putin has the advantage right now because of interior lines and his capability to infiltrate forces into Ukraine without any effective response from Kiev. The NATO allies need to shore up their own commitments to the Baltic states (including considering requests from Sweden and Finland) before getting involved on the ground in Ukraine. Putin has done what the tsars before him did—swallow up those peripheral states along with all their internal problems, thus making them Moscow's problems (recall Chechnya in the 1860s?). Let him overextend himself for now while holding the line along the front-line states. Work diplomatically with Ukraine's military to improve their skills but do so by training Ukrainian forces in Poland. Consider holding Kaliningrad hostage through economic strangulation and water patrols. Let's get the conditions set first before offering Ukraine the NATO umbrella."
"We must never forget that the U.S. has no vital interests in Ukraine while Russia does. MAD still dictates a policy of caution in dealing with another nuclear state."
"No, we've already lost this battle. Putin is not pulling back. If we want to do something, it should be in combination with NATO aid and support."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Michael Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Janine Davidson, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Michael Leiter, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Gary Samore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, James Stavridis, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the March 21, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.