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The Price Tag to Protect Freedom & Sovereignty Runs into Billions– & Counting

US weapons to Ukraine include 100 M-113 armored personnel carriers and 50 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. Credit: US Department of Defense (DoD)

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2023 (IPS) - The overwhelming political, economic and military support for war-ravaged Ukraine seems never ending—even as the Russian invasion moved into its second-year last week.

The US and Western allies have vowed to help Ukraine “as long as necessary” with no reservations or deadlines.

According to a report in the New York Times last week, the total amount of US humanitarian, financial and military aid approved for Ukraine has risen to a hefty $113 billion.

But still, it has been never enough, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky keeps asking for “more, more, more– and faster, faster, faster.”

Asked how much longer this would continue – and perhaps reach $200 billion or $300 billion over the years?– US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “This is going to have to go on as long as it takes for Ukraine to defend itself and for Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine”.

In an Interview with Roland Martin on the Black Star Network, she said: “And I think we’ve heard it said over and over again: freedom is not free. We have to pay for freedom. We have to fight for freedom. And that’s what we’re fighting for”.

“Ukraine is a smaller country having been attacked by a larger neighbor. Russia is a bully, and if Russia gets away with bullying Ukraine, then who will be next? And then who will be next after that? And suddenly we’re all engaged in this,” she declared.

The rising costs of the war in Ukraine comes amid complaints from the United Nations of a massive shortfall in funding, mostly from rich donor nations, for sustainable development, including climate change and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the world is failing to protect people from the disastrous impacts of climate change—particularly in the world’s poorer countries.

“Adaptation needs in the developing world are set to skyrocket to as much as $340 billion a year by 2030. Yet adaptation support today stands at less than one-tenth of that amount,” he said last November.

“The most vulnerable people and communities are paying the price. This is unacceptable,” he declared. According to a UN report released last year, progress on climate adaptation has been “slow and spotty”.

Since Russia’s invasion last February, Ukraine has become far and away the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

“It’s the first time that a European country has held the top spot since the Harry S. Truman administration directed vast sums into rebuilding the continent through the Marshall Plan after World War II”, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The uninterrupted flow of US and Western weapons has also triggered a debate among academics and civil society organizations (CSOs).

But defense contractors argue it has boosted the American arms industry and will provide employment to hundreds and thousands.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, told IPS there are huge risks in an endless continued supply of military materiel to Ukraine.

“Although the Biden administration asserts that the government of Ukraine has committed not to transfer the weapons we’re supplying to other countries or unauthorized users, that’s not the only risk associated with these transfers,” she added.

There is a significant risk of weapons being stolen or captured. The more weapons that are transferred, the more difficult it is to assure that they aren’t falling into the wrong hands, she warned.

It’s not at all clear how the US government thinks that this war will end, or when. In a recent interview, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated, “This is going to have to go on as long as it takes for Ukraine to defend itself and for Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine.”

“That statement seems to assume that Ukraine can win this conflict, but doesn’t indicate whether US officials think that this is likely to take weeks, months, or years.”

“It also doesn’t make clear what it means for Ukraine to defend itself. Does that mean gaining back all of the territory lost in the last year, all of the territory lost since 2014, or something else?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Meanwhile, the White House released its long-awaited Conventional Arms Transfer policy on February 23, 2023.

One highlight of the policy is the establishment of the standard that the United States will not authorize arms transfers when the US government assesses that “it is more likely than not” that the arms transferred would be used to commit or facilitate the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

The Biden administration’s new conventional arms transfer policy raises the standard for US arms transfers. This is evident in contrast with a State Department fact sheet issued just three days earlier that dealt with using Presidential drawdown authority to release materiel from Defense Department stocks.

That fact sheet had a significantly lower standard: “…the Department works to ensure assistance does not go to units credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights.”

Elaborating further, Dr Goldring said that US military contractors continue to profit extensively from the war. Remarkably, they’re even willing to admit publicly that the war suits their business purposes.

Last week, at an international arms exposition in Abu Dhabi, a US defense contractor told CNBC that “From our perspective, Putin is the best weapons salesman there is.”

This ghoulish statement, she pointed out, treats weapons sales as simply another commodity to be sold, like computers or toasters. It doesn’t consider the human costs when these weapons are used.

The Biden administration’s new conventional arms transfer policy has welcome language on giving human rights concerns a higher priority when deciding whether to transfer weapons.

But the real test will be how the policy is applied. Which transfers that were previously approved would not be allowed now? Will this new policy have any effect on the seemingly open-ended supply of weapons to Ukraine?, asked Dr Goldring.

A Fact Sheet from the US State Department provides a long list of American weapons to Ukraine, including: 20 Mi-17 helicopters; 31 Abrams tanks; 45 T-72B tanks; 109 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles; Over 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; Over 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems; Over 54,000 other anti-armor systems and munitions; Over 700 Switchblade tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; 160 155mm Howitzers and over 1,000,000 155mm artillery rounds; Over 6,000 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds; Over 13,000 grenade launchers and small arms; Over 100,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition; Over 75,000 sets of body armor and helmets; and approximately 1,800 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The Western European states have collectively pledged over $50 billion in financial aid, and played host to more than eight million refugees from Ukraine.

As of September 9, 2022, nearly 50 allies and partner countries have provided security assistance to Ukraine.

Among their many contributions to Ukraine, were 10 long-range Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 178 long-range artillery systems, nearly 100,000 rounds of long-range artillery ammunition, nearly 250,000 anti-tank munitions, 359 tanks, 629 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 8,214 short-range air defense missiles, and 88 lethal UAVs.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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