Washington should emulate Great Britain’s gutsy military support for Ukraine


Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly hold a sidebar meeting during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (David Dee Delgado/Pool Photo via AP)

Once again, it is Great Britain, rather than the United States, that is poised to call Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bluff and provide Ukraine with yet another set of capabilities that it desperately needs.

Washington has been exceedingly reluctant to provide Kyiv with the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) surface-to-surface missile, whose 300-kilometer range is about six times that of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) system that the U.S. has shipped to Ukraine.

Yet on May 4 the UK Ministry of Defense announced that it had just closed the window for company expressions of interest (EOI) to provide “missiles or rockets with a range 100-300 km; land, sea or air launch.” A week later, the UK announced it would transfer Storm Shadow air-launched missiles to Ukraine; the weapon has a 250 km range. In other words, London was offering the Ukrainian forces its equivalent of the American ATACMS.

Britain issued its request, like many of its previous efforts to support Ukraine, through the International Fund for Ukraine, which the Ministry of Defense administers on behalf of a multinational executive panel comprising the UK, Norway, Netherlands and Sweden. Evidently the Fund’s other three members were comfortable with the prospect of Ukraine’s acquiring these systems.

Britain has provided $2.5 billion in military and economic support to Ukraine, second only to the massive amounts of aid that Kyiv has received from Washington. Unlike the United States, however, it has been in the forefront of providing ever more capable systems to the Ukrainian armed forces.

In particular, Britain was the first state to announce that it would transfer main battle tanks to Kyiv. In contrast, at the very time, the White House worried that sending the armored vehicles Ukraine so desperately needed could provoke Putin to make good on his threats to fire off a tactical nuclear weapon in support of his war effort. Undeterred, London went ahead and transferred 14 challengers and three Challenger Armored Repair and Recovery Vehicle (CRARRV) to the Ukrainians.

There is considerable speculation that the Challengers will operate near the beleaguered town of Bakhmut to help relieve the pressure on its outgunned Ukrainian defenders. In any event, the Challengers, together with Leopard 2 tanks from Germany and Poland that likewise have arrived in Ukraine, will buttress Kyiv’s highly anticipated counteroffensive. So too will the arrival of British long-range rockets.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who arrived in Washington for talks with his counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken, did not directly address the MoD request to industry for the rockets; he left it to his colleague Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to confirm the transfer. Nevertheless, in his remarks at the Atlantic Council, he acknowledged that there is no guarantee that the counteroffensive would result in what he termed “a lovely ending.” It was certainly possible that counteroffensive might not meet Kyiv’s expectations for a decisive breakthrough. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of meeting Kyiv’s military needs “here and now,” and that every effort should be made to achieve the goal of ending the war with a Russian withdrawal.

It is noteworthy that all three major British parties support the Ukrainian effort. Sir Keir Starmer, whose Labour Party just won a smashing victory in Britain’s local elections, has been no less fervent than the Tory government in his support for Kyiv. And the Liberal Democrats, who fared surprisingly well in those elections, have been even more strident in arguing for the speedy transfer of military resources to the Ukrainian forces.

Britain is no less concerned than the United States about the possibility that Putin will revert to his nuclear threats in the face of a Ukrainian counterattack. Cleverly made that very clear. Nevertheless, Britain has not given Putin any agency by deterring itself from going ahead with its arms transfers. Nor does it seem that its partners in the International Fund for Ukraine made any serious effort to stymie London’s efforts.

Why Washington should be more fearful of Putin than the Europeans remains something of a mystery. Indeed, every time the U.S. has shipped more sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine, Putin has done nothing more than fill the airwaves with his bluster.

It is even more puzzling that the White House apparently feels that with Britain transferring long range missiles to Ukraine there is less pressure for America to do so. On the contrary. Washington should move swiftly to buttress the British effort and provide ATACMS as well. And while it is at it, it should permit, indeed encourage, its NATO allies to transfer F-16s to Kyiv, even if it sadly remains too timorous to do so as well.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy undersecretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.


  1. “Why Washington should be more fearful of Putin than the Europeans remains something of a mystery. Indeed, every time the U.S. has shipped more sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine, Putin has done nothing more than fill the airwaves with his bluster.”

    I guess it takes a while before old sleepy wakes up and realizes that the last delivery of weapons didn’t end in a nuclear holocaust. And, so it goes on, slowly, sleepily, lethargically, cowardly.

  2. It quotes the UK as giving $2.4 bn. Actually it’s twice that in military aid alone. The same amount has already been set aside for this year as a minimum.
    On top of that, we also provide economic support, medical support and a host of other things of undetermined value.
    Our assistance to Ukraine is nowhere near high enough, but as a proportion of GDP is the same as the US. As a proportion of our military budget, it’s far higher than the US.
    There are as yet unconfirmed rumours of F16’s coming from Holland and decommissioned Mirages from France.
    So far, France has been as tight as a duck’s ass as far as donations to Ukraine are concerned. It’s time for them to pull their weight.

    • Sir Scradgel no one can minimize the enormous support in every category that Great Britain had done for Ukraine. Great Britain was first for everything period full stop.

    • That’s right. Compared to their economy/population/military size, they’ve contributed very little. Macron has been and still is a cowardly frog. I bet he has a white flag in his car at all times, like most frogs.

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