The Case for Intervention in Ukraine

KYIV POST

By Robert Zubrin. Published April 22 at 3:21 pm

Sailors work next to F-18 Hornet fighter jets on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on February 14, 2018, as the carrier strike group takes part in a routine deployment mission in the South China Sea, one hour away from Manila. With a deafening roar and earth-shaking vibrations, the fighter jets zoomed off US carrier USS Carl Vinson as it navigated the waters of the South China Sea in what its admiral said February 14 was a tangible sign of American presence in the region. (Photo by AYEE MACARAIG / AFP)

Photo by AFP

If we don’t, Putin will escalate without limit

Robert Zubrin

The time has come for the US to intervene directly in Ukraine with air power. There are four reasons why we should do this:

  1. To secure Ukrainian victory.
  2. To minimize loss of life
  3. To prevent further escalation by Putin
  4. To deter China from engaging in military adventures of its own.

In what follows, I am going to discuss each of the above four points in detail. But before I do, I want to make clear exactly the form of US intervention I am recommending.

The US does not need to send ground troops. Ukraine has an extremely brave army of its own. What we need to do, in addition to supplying Ukraine with all the arms it has requested, is to provide the Ukrainian army with air cover and close air support so it can drive the Russian invaders out of the country. We should accomplish this by striking Russian ground and air forces inside of Ukraine, and Russian naval forces inside of Ukrainian territorial waters. We should not strike Russian targets outside of Ukraine. While from a strictly military point of view such strikes might be desirable, they are not necessary. Russian anti-missile batteries in Belorussia and Russia have not been able to stop Ukraine from flying its planes inside of country. They would certainly not be able to stop ours, which have much better technology for spoofing such systems. In this way the option of striking such installations or other Russian assets outside of Ukraine can be held in reserve as a retaliatory threat to ward off Russia from responding by striking NATO airbases outside of Ukraine. Our air intervention should aim to be conducted along the lines it was in Korea, where US aircraft based in Japan struck at communist air and ground forces in Korea, but neither side struck the others’ home bases outside of that country.

Furthermore, I am not proposing that we try, at this point, to set up a No Fly Zone to protect all of Ukrainian airspace from Russian intrusion. Ukraine is currently no place for peacekeepers. It is a place for warfighters. We don’t need to patrol the entire Ukrainian sky. We just need to fly to locations where Russian ground forces are to be found and destroy them. While we might choose to provide combat air patrol to protect selected cities or other strategic locations as resources permit, the overriding purpose of our initial air intervention should be to provide the Ukrainian army with the air cover and firepower it needs to repel the invasion. Once the invading forces are ejected, a broader program of long-term air protection for the nation may be considered, probably carried out by Ukrainian pilots trained to fly F-16s, which should be transferred to Ukraine in large numbers as soon as qualified pilots are available. But the immediate task before us is to help the Ukrainian army achieve victory on the ground.

That said, let us proceed to examine why such an intervention is needed to accomplish the four vital goals identified at the start of this article.

  1. It is needed to secure Ukrainian victory.

It is in the vital interests of the United States and its NATO allies that Ukraine prevail against Putin’s invasion. It can be seen by taking a glance at the map that Russian conquest of Ukraine would position Putin to directly threaten NATO allies Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. Furthermore, conquest of Ukraine would eliminate a strategic weakness that Russia currently has on its exposed southern flank, thereby greatly improving Russia’s position should it decide to attack NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as other pro-Western countries such as Finland. In addition, conquering Ukraine would not only add its resources to
those currently under Kremlin control, it would eliminate the large battle-hardened Ukrainian army, which if properly armed and backed by NATO air power would represent an enormous asset to the Western alliance in the event of any conflict with Russia.

Those who say that concerns over such consequences can only be justified if it can be proven that Russia has expansionist intent have the matter backwards. Aside from the fact that Putin has openly proclaimed his commitment to restoring the Russian and Soviet empires, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Historical_Unity_of_Russians_and_Ukrainians

in such a matter of national security, the burden of proof must rest on those who would so radically enhance our vulnerability, rather than on those who would guard against it. Before we could even consider allowing Putin to conquer Ukraine, we would need positive proof of his good intentions to behave peacefully afterwards. Claiming that we can be confident of any such assurance is manifest nonsense.

Given these stakes, our policy needs to be to insure Ukrainian victory. The West’s current policy of providing a trickle of arms to support Ukrainian resistance is not sufficient to achieve this objective. We could do much better in this regard. It may be observed that it was not until 50 days into the conflict that the Biden administration finally decided to send Ukraine any artillery, with 18 howitzers included in the most recent package. By contrast, within 7 days of the Dunkirk evacuation, FDR had assembled on the New Jersey docks a shipment of 500,000 rifles, 8,000 machine guns, 900 field artillery guns, and over 100 million rounds of ammunition to rearm the BEF, and these supplies then reached Britain within a month traveling on cargo ships with an average speed of 12 knots.

Yet, even if the Biden administration was to considerably upgrade its performance to match that of FDR’s arsenal of democracy, the fact remains that Ukraine is heavily outnumbered by Russia, and as the war drags on is running a deficit of $5 billion per month – equivalent, relative to national GDP, of the US running a deficit of $670 billion per month, or $8 trillion per year. Combined with a projected 45% drop in GDP due to the war, this threatens national bankruptcy.

Under these circumstances demanding that Ukrainians do all the fighting, with airpower limited to such old Soviet-made aircraft that former Warsaw Pact NATO countries might still have lying around is hardly a prescription for assuring victory. The Ukrainians have been fighting very well, and the Russian have been underperforming, so it’s possible that with greatly increased arms aid the Ukrainians might win. But our vital interests are at stake, we should do everything in our power to make sure that they do. Deployed in tactical support of the Ukrainian army, US airpower could do exactly that. US aircraft could easily destroy the trains and truck convoys Russia is using to move and supply its ground forces. We could wipe out their tanks deployed in open country is Ukraine’s east and south, flatten the artillery assembled to bombard Mariupol, sink every ship threatening Odessa, and deliver smashing bombardments to Russian forces while they are trying to resist Ukrainian counteroffensives. In short, with the help of our air forces, Ukraine could, and would, readily triumph.

  1. It would minimize loss of life.

This is pretty straightforward. The way to minimize bloodshed is repel the invasion and end Russia’s murderous occupations as quickly as possible. The longer the war goes on, the more people will die – and not only in Ukraine, but all around the globe as the elimination of the Ukrainian harvest drives food prices beyond the reach of the world’s poorest.

  1. It is necessary to prevent further escalation by Putin.

Many people would agree that US airpower would certainly improve the odds of Ukrainian victory, and that achieving that goal as quickly as possible is key to minimizing loss of life. They argue, however, that such intervention runs the risk of provoking escalation of the war by Putin.

It must be admitted that it is possible that US armed intervention might cause Putin to escalate. However it is not only possible, but virtually certain that failure to intervene will result in expanded aggression as well. The proof of this latter statement can be found in both experience and logic.

In the first place, it is exactly what we have seen so far. Starting with his devastation of Chechnya in 1999, then proceeding to Georgia in 2008, Syria in 2012, Ukraine in 2014 and then 2022, Putin, facing no constraints from the West, has escalated from one aggression to another. All attempts to dissuade him from expanding his warpath by offering Russia friendship, favorable trade deals, or bluffs – such as Obama’s unenforced  red line against his use of chemical weapons in Syria – have completely failed.

The reason why it failed, and must continue to fail was made completely clear by Putinite hard liner Igor Korotchenko, the editor of Russia’s flagship military policy journal, National Defense on February 23rd, immediately following a press conference held by Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki during which she reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to stay out of Putin’s way in Ukraine. In response to this guarantee, Korotchenko joyfully tweeted: “America has abandoned Ukraine. Jen Psaki says US will not send forces under any scenario to fight with Russia. So, let’s go!” So they went, with the invasion commencing just 24 hours later.

The situation is as plain as day. The Putin regime has no moral compass. It will only be prevented from wreaking havoc upon the world through deterrence – that is, the convincing threat of serious consequences for its actions.

This is not a novel idea. The US employed deterrence to prevent a general war for seven decades following WWII. We made that deterrent credible not only by spending an enormous amount of treasure to support vast armed forces and deploying them worldwide, but by showing our willingness to fight in Berlin, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, among other places. But when Biden chose to have our forces run away from the Taliban last August, he discredited our deterrent posture, making the current invasion totally predictable.

As I wrote in January https://www.nationalreview.com/2022/01/biden-slouches-towards-catastrophe-in-ukraine/“Good fences make good neighbors; deterrence is much better than war. By showing the enemy our back in Afghanistan, the Biden administration took down the fences that have secured general peace in Europe and Asia for the past seven decades.

It needs to put them back up again, and immediately.”

In January that could have been accomplished by taking advantage of the two months advance  notice we had of the pending invasion to arm Ukraine to the teeth. Unfortunately the Biden administration elected not to do that, sending only a token 600 tons of weapons of limited types. (For comparison, in 1973, when Israel, a much smaller country than Ukraine, was in trouble, the US sent 23,000 tons of arms. In 1940, when the BEF, which was about the same size as the current Ukrainian army, evacuated Dunkirk, it left behind 400,000 tons of equipment.) Then, as noted above, the Biden administration went further to virtually obliterate deterrence, by overtly guaranteeing Putin that we would not intervene in Ukraine “under any scenario.”

So, with that as our posture, why wouldn’t Putin use chemical, or for that matter, nuclear weapons in Ukraine? Answer: There is no reason whatsoever.

Putin will escalate without limit unless we draw the line. By vowing non-interference, we greenlighted the invasion. By continuing to shine the green light through the smoke of all the devastation that has followed, we are inviting nuclear war.

Furthermore, if America’s real red line is that we won’t fight, then the only constraint on Putin’s appetite for conquest is that offered by local armed forces. Ukraine has little ability to cope with such attacks on its own, and the Baltic States have even less.

If America won’t fight, then the fact that the Baltic States are members of NATO need not deter Putin. If we won’t fight, then we won’t fight. This is especially true since the cost of trying to defend the Baltic States would be far higher than Ukraine, and the odds favoring military success much lower. Ukraine has a strong army. We just need to provide it with weapons and back it up with air power in order to win. The Baltic States have no significant armed forces. To defend them, we would have send hundreds of thousands of American troops, and be willing to accept the massive casualties associated with large scale conventional ground warfare. Should Putin believe we have the stomach for such a desperate effort? He certainly won’t if we show we are not even willing to engage a few dozen fighter pilots to secure victory in Ukraine.

So if we stand by and let Ukraine be conquered, the Baltic States will fall too, and  NATO and all other US alliances will be completely discredited. This brings us to the subject of Asia.

  1. It is needed to deter China

If we abandon deterrence, then, instead of relying on our protection, large nations like Japan will rearm, while small countries everywhere will seek to cut the best deals they can with Russia or China. It will be the end of the Pax Americana and the start of an age of global chaos.

What would be the fate of Taiwan? We currently claim that, despite the 1994 Budapest memorandum in which we guaranteed Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity in exchange for that country’s surrender of its nuclear arsenal, we have no obligation to defend Ukraine because it is not a member of NATO. But, in contrast to Ukraine, Taiwan is not even a member of the United Nations, and we do not recognize its government. Furthermore, Taiwan lacks any semblance of the size of armed forces required to repel a Chinese invasion. In order to defend it we would have to risk our Pacific fleet to destruction by land based Chinese antiship missiles, and probably have to send the marines into battle as well. If we allow Ukraine to fall, would there be any reason for China to believe that we would take such a stand for Taiwan?

If you run from a mountain lion, it will give chase and attack. This is so because predators understand that those who run are prey.

Do we wish to be prey? If not, then we must start acting otherwise.

Dr. Robert Zubrin @robert_zubrin is an American aerospace engineer. His latest book The Case for Space, was recently published by Prometheus books.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.

4 comments

    • Unfortunately not with Biden in the White House. After watching his press conference yesterday I’m not sure the guy can tie his own shoe laces.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Agreed.

        “By vowing non-interference, we greenlighted the invasion.”

        who the hell does that? Why signal to Hitler that we won’t interfere? Would that not put a smile on his face? Sorry Joe, you godda go…man.

        Liked by 4 people

  1. To secure Ukrainian victory.
    To minimize loss of life
    To prevent further escalation by Putin
    To deter China from engaging in military adventures of its own.
    And, to kill Russians

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.