Global Security Mandates Victory in Ukraine

national interest​​​

by Richard Levine 

    True evil often begins with a masquerade. The most vicious regimes in history have depended on the pretensions of benevolence and the avowal of a higher purpose. The Kremlin asserts that Ukraine is not a country but part of Russia that was lost after the Soviet Union fell. This is untrue.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin rules a nation and threatens the world. He does so by inculcating fear and luxuriating in indifference. America cannot be indifferent to this scourge, for Russian success in Ukraine will place Putin at the heart of an axis composed of Russia, China, and Iran. We must not allow this murderous phalanx to be revivified after having been weakened by the astute actions of the Trump administration.

    Any accord that substantiates Russia’s domination of Ukrainian provinces, including parts of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts, as well as Crimea, is unacceptable. The annexation of these Ukrainian territories, when coupled with Moscow’s influence over Transnistria in Moldova since 1992 and its suzerainty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia since 2008, will set the template for China’s invasion and intended dominion over Taiwan and areas of the South China Sea, for it would control parts of the First Island Chain.

    For Iran, territorial domination may be represented not by an absolute command of foreign nations but through terrorist acts designed to destabilize Israel and the Arab Gulf states. Thus, anything resembling a Russian victory in Ukraine will resound across the world, imperiling free nations on distant continents.

    Actions

    Decisiveness and intrepidity by the United States are required, not lassitude and perplexity. U.S. President Joseph Biden promised to burnish other nations’ respect for America at his inauguration. Nevertheless, his administration made several critical errors in its first year, with disastrous repercussions. It executed a deadly and calamitous retreat from Afghanistan that both armed and invigorated our nation’s enemies; risked our energy independence to please environmental extremists; fortified the Kremlin by restricting American hydrocarbon production and approving the Russian Nordstream II pipeline; and impaired Saudi Arabia by delisting Iran’s Houthi proxies as a terrorist organization. The Houthis remain the scion of Iran, the rogue state with which the president sought to reestablish a discredited nuclear agreement.

    Should the Biden administration’s failings continue, such enfeeblement may serve to greenlight the next war by demonstrating a weakness of purpose and negligence in planning. We must contest aggression, not signal our incapacity to forestall it.

    Decisiveness can be defined as unrepressed action pursuant to an objective. Clustered around this word are others: resolve, certainty, determination, firmness, grit, and power. These are words Putin understands. Anything resembling negotiation constitutes nothing but a mask or pause that the Kremlin will repurpose to realize its goals of expansion, occupation, and domination.

    President Donald Trump exemplified decisiveness in his contestation of China and Iran, in his termination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, the murderous head of Iran’s Quds Force, and in his establishment of the Abraham Accords. I, therefore, believe that when Donald Trump speaks of ending the war in Ukraine in one day, he refers to his plan for resolute and immutable action in his conduct of America’s international relations and not to any accommodation of Moscow’s aims. It is decisive American support for Ukraine that will end the war on terms acceptable to Ukraine and NATO.

    Had President Trump won the 2020 election, it is extraordinarily doubtful that Putin would have had the temerity to invade Ukraine in 2022, for the abhorrent and ill-planned retreat from Afghanistan would not have occurred. Though we cannot undo the past, we should be mindful of our words. It is one thing to say that protecting America’s borders is of equal or greater importance than protecting Ukraine’s. It makes no sense to argue, however, that if money is not allocated to protect America’s borders, Ukraine’s should be left molested. That is akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite his face. It is logically deficient since it ensures the worst possible outcome in each domain.

    Wisely, the House of Representatives rejected this trap and passed a crucial bill to support Ukraine on April 20, 2024. Legislators from both parties joined together in their appreciation of freedom, understanding that apathy, fear, and isolation do not define strategy; they presage defeat.

    In Ukraine, men and women of extraordinary courage sacrifice themselves to secure liberty for their children and fellow citizens, and they deserve our most sincere support. Field Manual No. 3-0 was publicly distributed by the U.S. Army on October 1, 2022. It stipulates a defining principle of combat, namely the importance of mass, or the integration of “all the elements of combat power and synchronizing their application against a decisive point.”

    Mass and concentration can create “overwhelming combat power at specific locations to support the main effort.” Regrettably, despite the positive steps taken by Congress, these precepts are absent from President Biden’s policies.

    In his classic treatise on strategy, Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz argued that in war, it is imperative not to waste time. The Biden administration’s recalcitrance in providing heavy armaments to Ukraine wasted precious time as it hindered Kyiv’s decisive application of mass.

    If the weapons that were subsequently supplied to Ukraine had been delivered in a timely manner, a pivotal advantage would have been conveyed to Ukraine. Long-range missiles are essential to modern warfare but were not provided in the first year of combat. Such weapons are vital to hold Russian formations at risk, thereby greatly complicating the Kremlin’s plans for enveloping engagements.

    In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022, portable weapons, which included the Javelin anti-tank missile provided by the Trump administration, should have been bolstered immediately by the delivery of M1 tanks—held in storage—as well as fourth-generation fighter aircraft, such as the F-16. The early introduction of the M1 and other comparable German and British tanks would have allowed Ukraine to institute more effective combined-arms tactics, fusing these heavy tanks with infantry and other vital components of warfare before the proliferation of Russian drone swarms, which must now be countered.

    The F-16 first flew in 1974. Only now, years after Russia’s invasion, are a number of these planes headed to Ukraine. Had significant quantities of technologically advanced systems been transferred to Ukraine immediately after Russia’s invasion, such rapidity would have saved lives by facilitating Ukraine’s mastery of the battlespace.

    Commitment

    By supporting Ukraine, we prevent a larger European war that may involve America’s military due to our Article 5 treaty commitment to the integrity of NATO member states. By helping Ukraine, we prevent Russia’s reconstitution of its old empire, which would act in accordance with Iran and China, to dictate world fossil-fuel prices, causing cascading economic strife in America and across the globe.

    Freedom is not an afterthought. It is a rare condition throughout history and remains the most precious commodity that humanity has ever attained. In light of the stakes involved, we must allow Ukraine to dictate the terms of any peace. The global geostrategic dangers leave our nation no choice but to support Ukraine’s crusade to recapture all of its territory.

    Context

    Sweden’s and Finland’s ascension to NATO membership mandates our consideration of the post-war European landscape. The Three Seas Initiative and other groups of nations that border Ukraine must consider shared security goals after Russia’s objectives are defeated. Such steps constitute a necessary prologue to NATO membership for Ukraine, which can only be realized after victory and the establishment of borders that are permanent and free of Russian intrusion.

    By empowering Ukraine to reestablish control over its sovereign territory, we rupture China’s designs against Taiwan, thus helping to prevent an assault that would shatter the living standards of the world by crippling supplies of essential goods such as semiconductors. Therefore, we must act in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity lest we undercut our nation’s own interests.

    By aiding Ukraine, we undermine the creation of a Chinese-Russian axis bent on exerting military and economic hegemony, which would devastate our economy. In the Middle East and Africa, a Chinese-Russian axis would fuse with Iran and other terrorist forces to form a machine of conquest and influence.

    The calamitous war in Ukraine is the result of Russia’s mechanisms of subjugation, which have been allowed to feed on the world’s (Europe’s in particular) demands for natural gas and other hydrocarbons. Russia’s energy sector, which rests on oil, coal, and natural gas revenue, funds a significant part of its federal budget.

    If Russia is allowed to exert dominion over the Donbas and Ukraine’s coast, the Kremlin will next seek to control the energy resources of other independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Empire. Russia will become a juggernaut, dominating fossil fuels in addition to its present lead in supplying nuclear power plants to recipient nations across the globe. This is what is at risk. It is thus imperative that the principles of American military and energy dominance be advanced, as must our restraint in the use of force that commits our country to battle, for our nation’s armed forces must not fight in Ukraine.

    Comprehending that Russia is in inexorable decline due to its endemic corruption and its demographic collapse, Putin covets the natural gas and coal of the Donbas and Ukraine’s untouched oil fields that may be opened to fracking. “Also sought are Ukraine’s warm-water ports and pipelines that Putin seeks to control permanently,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

    America and the West must acknowledge the centrality of hydrocarbon energy to world geopolitics and to humanity’s ability to adapt. A cornerstone of life, adaptation results from prosperity, which is made possible through the use of fossil fuels.

    Russia and China understand this. Many advanced countries, however, do not, for we have become enraptured by unrealistic narratives. Energy is the fundamental basis for everything we consume. If energy prices spiral further, the economies of all nations will collapse, leading to a massive worldwide recession and authoritarian regimes coalescing their power in a time of strife.

    Had the current administration maintained American energy dominance rather than prostrate itself to radicals, the United States could have led the way in securing the world’s hydrocarbon needs during the prelude to this war. America abdicated this vital role due to President Biden’s actions to restrict hydrocarbon development on our continent, causing the war in Ukraine to compound the pain that consumers feel. We must not send America’s military into this war, but we are compelled to aid Ukraine, for to do so is in America’s manifest interest.

    Stratagem

    Vladimir Putin abrogated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for the elimination of Kyiv’s nuclear arsenal. This treachery provided a stepping stone for Russia’s strategy, which, in Ukraine, has sought victory at any cost.

    Putin has endeavored to compensate for his nation’s military failures, as demonstrated in the cities and steppes of Ukraine, with nuclear threats. The Kremlin realizes that an attack with conventional weapons against any NATO state will result in the overwhelming defeat of Russia’s forces. Moscow, however, believes, with some justification, that the West is hobbled by indecision. This is why Putin asserted Russia’s nuclear might through explicit threats. We must not succumb to Putin’s or his successor’s disingenuous ploys.

    The Biden administration’s fear of escalation is, in fact, inherently destabilizing. It demonstrates weakness, which the Kremlin uses to its advantage. Fear has set the stage for increased carnage in Ukraine, a war that could have been won quickly by Kyiv if President Biden had provided weapons of decisive lethality expeditiously.

    The progression from clandestine assaults or limited incursions to war may or may not be recognized when such acts occur. The first use of a weapon of mass destruction may immediately change the battlespace, remain undetected, or be denied and concealed to stem escalation.

    The use of a tactical nuclear weapon may be seen as limited employment of an unprecedented battlefield weapon, or it may signal an escalation toward an apocalyptic nuclear conflagration. Nuclear war must be averted, but we cannot do so unless America and our allies possess the full range of arms that can deter an adversary’s nuclear options at any potential stage of conflict. The war in Ukraine underlines the inadequacy of NATO’s tactical nuclear forces.

    Should we lack the capability or will at a specific level of escalation, this will be exploited by an adversary either in an actual war or in the preliminary preparation of the battlespace. Putin’s avowed willingness to use nuclear weapons in the context of the war in Ukraine constituted his ploy to bolster the perceived military capacity of Russia, which has proven insufficient in a conventional war. The equation of war was thus posed by Putin to be viewed through the prism of Russia’s superiority in the number of tactical nuclear weapons it deploys. This stratagem was articulated to endeavor to deter the West’s actions in support of Ukraine.

    Tactical nuclear weapons may be considered battlefield armaments. In general, they possess lower yield and reduced range in comparison to strategic nuclear weapons. However, there is no hard line that separates tactical nuclear weapons from strategic arms in that their labels pertain to their use and their characteristics, though arms control treaties have attempted to delineate acute differences between the two classes of weapons.

    Risk

    A tactical nuclear weapon employed by a belligerent against a civilian population center would immediately be classified as a strategic attack, for the protection of a nation’s citizenry is paramount in any democracy. A tactical nuclear weapon used to attack a key communication or energy node may present a gray area. Depending on the nature and circumstances of the attack, the affected nation may construe it as either strategic or tactical in nature.

    A leader’s statements, a nation’s force structure, the choice of the delivery system, the yield of the weapon, the target, and the context or stage of the battle in which the strike occurs all weigh upon the determination of the nature of the assault and the appropriate response. Given these factors in assessing the quality of a nuclear attack, the range of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons our adversaries hold must be met with reciprocal and countervailing capabilities. This is necessary to support deterrence and to provide the means to respond in a limited way without increasing the scale of conflict. Every step upon the ladder of nuclear escalation increases the likelihood of a general nuclear exchange.

    The employment of a low-yield, tactical nuclear weapon by Moscow in Ukraine is possible but extremely unlikely, in part because of the many layers of military command and control between a political decision by Putin to employ a tactical nuclear weapon and its actual use by Russia’s armed services. The oft-repeated threat of employment by Putin is a sign of weakness that should not deter NATO’s support of Ukraine.

    On June 2, 2020, Russia’s president promulgated Executive Order 355, titled “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence.” This document is the Russian Federation’s public description of its nuclear policies.

    Most of Putin’s executive order concerns the employment of nuclear weapons by Russia in response to a nuclear strike. There are, however, exceptions. The document states, “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”

    In the case of Ukraine and in the case of any independent nation that Russia’s military threatens, the United States must warn the Kremlin that actions to liberate parts of Ukraine held by Russia under the charade of false referenda or areas in other nations, such as Transnistria, do not constitute an attack on Russia, for Putin’s claims of dominion are false. To provide teeth to this doctrine of nonrecognition, we must hold China accountable economically and financially if Putin were to detonate a nuclear weapon, for China has facilitated the Kremlin’s onslaught against Ukraine.

    China has not condemned this assaultive war nor made it difficult by imposing sanctions on Russia. Instead, it continues to purchase Russia’s energy and minerals in vast quantities. If the Kremlin should employ a nuclear weapon, China would be incentivized to attack Taiwan, for the Chinese Communist Party would believe that America’s attention would be focused on Europe, conveying enhanced freedom of action to China’s military.

    Deterrence is a concept often asserted but infrequently grasped. In my new book, Pillars for Freedom, I wrote, “The concept of deterrence may be defined as the prevention of aggression due to the fear of unacceptable counteraction. It is to avert armed conflict by the establishment of the certitude that any first strike by a belligerent force will be unsuccessful in its aims and be disastrous for the aggressor.”

    I further explained that “Unilateral restraint can signal weakness, which may begin a dangerous cascade of responses by nations that believe they are unbound.” Deterrence, however, need not be realized just by a palisade of arms: Economic tools may, at times, also deter aggression.

    Chinese dependency on bilateral trade dwarfs ours; this fact underscores the credibility of this deterrent. After Putin first threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, China should have been put on notice by the Biden administration. Our president should have declared that if China’s client resorts to nuclear arms in its war against Ukraine, our nation will terminate trade and capital investments involving China, devastating its economy, as part of our multidimensional response.

    There is no public indication that the Biden administration adopted this prudent course to promote deterrence. It is thus imperative that China understand that a Republican administration will hold it accountable for Russia’s use of any nuclear weapon.

    The war in Ukraine is a clarion call. Before us, we see the interdependence of the four pillars of national power: our strategic and tactical nuclear forces, which deter escalation; our economic security, which must protect the American worker and farmer; our requirement for energy dominance, which deflates our adversaries as it fuels our might; and our conventional forces and alliances, which must block the ambitions of those who seek freedom’s destruction.

    We must be concerned that if the weakness manifested by the Biden administration’s string of catastrophic actions and circumventions continues, our homeland’s safety will be placed in grievous jeopardy. A change in American leadership is necessary to ensure the present tragedy in Ukraine is not replicated in the Indo-Pacific and throughout the Middle East.

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