Ukraine Has Earned Our Respect and Our Trust: We Need to Fully Arm Ukraine to Defeat Russia
By Dan Rice, MS.Ed. and Colonel (Retired) Lee Van Arsdale
Dan is the President of Thayer Leadership and a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served as an Airborne-Ranger qualified Field Artillery officer, and later voluntarily re-commissioned in the Infantry to serve in Iraq and received the Purple Heart. Dan is an unpaid special advisor to General Valeriy Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Lee is a 1974 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During his 25-year Army career, he served 11 years in the First Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Airborne), participating in numerous classified combat operations, on a global scale, while in a leadership capacity. He served as CEO of Triple Canopy, the largest security company in Iraq with 6,000 employees during the peak of the Iraq War. He was awarded the Ranger Tab, Special Forces badge, Silver Star, Purple Heart, and many other recognitions. Lee is a Thayer Leadership faculty member.
The prevailing attitude here in Kyiv is that many in the U.S. government do not yet trust the Ukrainian people. It’s a sentiment that we believe is correct and needs to be remedied immediately in the best interests of U.S. national security. We have personally traveled the battlefields with the Ukrainian Armed Forces commanders in Kyiv, Moschun, Bucha, Iripin, and the Donbas, so we have unique insights into their attitudes and values. The Ukrainian military deserves our ultimate respect and our trust. As such, the U.S. should fully arm Ukraine as if it were arming U.S. troops to fight against the entire Russian Army. Continuing to approve and send small amounts of arms and ammunition at a time could result in a catastrophic loss for Ukraine, and by extension, the United States.
Why should Ukraine have our respect and trust? Ukraine has been at war for eight years with Russia, ever since Russia forcibly took Crimea and infiltrated eastern Ukraine in 2014. While under-reported in the West, the fact is that the fighting did not stop in 2014. And now, every day, 100-200 Ukrainians die in artillery barrages in the east and the south, not to mention suffering tremendous structural losses. They have earned our respect and trust the hard way. Ukraine is combat proven. NATO is comprised of 32 countries and was originally formed to deter and/or combat the Soviet Union, now Russia, through a united coalition. Now Russia has targeted one country – with 10% of Russia’s GDP – and Ukraine is fighting off the 2nd largest army in the world – on its own.
Ukraine has clearly demonstrated its united will to fight against Russia, but it needs further support from the U.S. government to win. This is not a civil war with internal factions fighting amongst themselves, or a weak/ineffective central government, as we encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia is clearly an illegal, immoral, and amoral aggressor nation. After Ukraine, which country is next? One cannot help but to think of John F. Kennedy’s famous quote: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” The Ukrainian people are living that reality every day.
For Ukraine to have any chance of succeeding against this aggressor, we need to quit using a strategy of a slow drip weapons and supply what they need. Once the need for more weaponry was crucial after Kyiv was secured at the start of the war, the U.S. sent 4 multiple launch rocket systems (M142 HIMARS wheeled rocket launchers). Only 4 for a country the size of Texas. We have been increasing that number every few weeks, and now have given 16 and pledged 4 more for a total of 20. We need to give more.
Ukraine is not asking for U.S. combat troops; they take great pride in fighting this war themselves. However, they make no pretense that they have anywhere close to adequate arms and ammunition to succeed. They are extremely grateful for the assistance the U.S. government has given to date but need much more in the near term. The daily loss of Ukrainian life could be reduced significantly if we would step up the pace of assistance.
A powerful argument can be made that the United States previously incurred a moral obligation to provide the maximum support that Ukraine now needs, because we were instrumental in convincing them to give up control of its nuclear arsenal and the Black Sea fleet when the Soviet Union collapsed. Ukraine complied and gave up its nuclear weapons, at significant peril knowing those weapons were a deterrent against Russia.
Russia poses as one of America’s largest threats today. As Putin drains Russian blood and treasure in Ukraine, it simply makes good strategic sense for us to support Ukraine to further weaken Russia. To not do so could result in the opposite outcome – a stronger Russia, a defeated American friend and ally, and a weakened U.S. in the eyes of the world.
Ronald Reagan famously said “Trust but verify” with respect to Russia. At this point, we can trust Russia to act more brutal, at great cost to Ukraine and the world. As we trust Ukraine with more weaponry, we should also verify its proper use by sending U.S. Special Forces advisors, trainers, and monitors. Ukraine is inviting the U.S. to send advisors to showcase their logistics and tracking all weapons and ammo. Our forces will also gain valuable lessons learned about fighting a near peer competitor with minimal risk. This would address the concerns of those focused on Ukrainian accountability with our assistance and allow us to send them what they need now. This would also address the real concern about historic Ukrainian corruption, which must factor into the equation. 38 million freedom loving people must not be sacrificed because previous Ukrainian governments have received failing grades for corruption.
Delaying these large shipments of weapons extends the war, costs more Ukrainian lives, and will cost the west more in the long run. The economy of Ukraine has been destroyed by the Russians and the west is currently funding $5 billion/month to keep the Ukraine government funded. Ending the war will help get Ukraine back on its feet economically so the West does not have to continue funding $5 billion/month.
Ukraine has asked for 100 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), and we have only pledged 20. Ukraine has requested 300 M777 howitzers, and we have only provided 126. Ukraine has requested the long-range MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), committed to only targeting Russian positions within Ukraine – not to attack inside Russia. We have not given them any ATACM but need to, so Russians will have nowhere in Ukraine to hide. There are obviously additional needs of drones, armor, vehicles, suicide drones, but since Ukraine has forced Russia into a long-range artillery duel, in which they are badly outnumbered, the above weapon systems represent the most pressing and urgent need. These Howitzers and HIMARS systems are also being processed from the Presidential Drawdown Authorization, meaning they are used, excess inventory from our Army, so they can be immediately shipped and into the fight to make a difference and start saving Ukrainian lives.
Putin and his generals only respect force. The Russian army in Ukraine has behaved as an immoral, amoral, well-armed terrorist organization. Let us continue to act to stop them, now. We should send Ukraine the number of weapon systems they need now, not piecemeal, before it is too late.