It merely explains why the Russian government acted the way it did, and why further U.S. military assistance to the Ukrainian security forces would be ill-advised. In fact, one could make a convincing case that providing hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to the Ukrainian government wouldn’t help the situation at all, and might lead Kiev to delude itself into thinking that Washington will come to its immediate military aid in order to stabilize the battlefield.
The debate over arming Ukraine hasn’t changed much since the conflict first started in 2014. Hawks insist that the U.S. must throw weapons at the problem regardless of the consequences for Ukraine, and their opponents emphasize that doing so will make matters worse and potentially lead to heightened tensions and escalation. I have made the latter case many times. Today I want to make a different point that often gets lost in this debate: no U.S. interests are served by taking sides in this conflict, and the U.S. has no obligation to take sides.
The senators’ letter misrepresents the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship when it describes Ukraine as “our ally.” Ukraine isn’t a treaty ally, the U.S. has no legal obligations to aid in its defense, and it is wrong to suggest otherwise. If the U.S. were bound by treaty to offer assistance, that would be one thing. It might still be unwise, but we would at least have to take that obligation seriously and consider it. But there is no such requirement, and no one should be tricked into believing that there is one.
Many states are referred to as allies that aren’t, and that can have pernicious effects when we debate whether the U.S. should provide them with military assistance, and we’re seeing that at work in this letter. The senators say that the U.S. must “prevent America’s commitment to its allies and ideals from being called into question,” but no commitment to allies or ideals is at stake here. Indeed, applying the label ally to a state that isn’t a genuine ally tends to blur the distinction between allied and non-allied states in a way that puts the former at greater risk than they should be.