US Aid to Ukraine: The Importance of For As Long As It Takes

Over the past year, Biden administration officials have consistently pledged to continue supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion “for as long as it takes.” This commitment, which involves pledging oneself to a course of action and surrendering control over future behavior, can put important qualities such as honor and self-respect on the line. The impact of reputation on international politics is a contentious issue, with some arguing that past commitments attract future allies, while others contend that altering reputations is challenging due to the embedded identities of states.

The “for as long as it takes” mantra is effectively and likely purposefully ambiguous, as it can be interpreted in multiple ways and affords a measure of flexibility in making future moves. US material support is meant to reinforce the vocal support as a tangible sign of commitment, with the vast amount of weapons, equipment, training, and money providing a necessary punch alongside such pledges. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the US has been the largest single-country donor to Ukraine, providing over $75 billion in direct aid and $38 billion in war-related funding, according to Zelensky’s visit in September 2023.

The US has provided $46.6 billion in total military aid to Ukraine, with the majority of this aid coming in the form of in-kind donations of weapons and equipment from existing stockpiles. The Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) is the most significant source of aid, estimated to be $23.5 billion. This mechanism allows the president to quickly withdraw defense articles from Department of Defense stocks, making it the fastest way to deliver military assistance in a crisis scenario. Since August 2021, the Biden administration has used PDA forty-four times for Ukraine, enabling the swift transfer of various hardware, including surveillance drones and night-vision devices.

This has allowed Ukrainian forces to quickly employ US weapons and hardware on the battlefield against Russia. The Biden administration has also used PDA to support Taiwan and Israel’s defense needs. Other US military aid to Ukraine includes security assistance, grants, and loans for purchasing weapons and equipment, totaling $18.3 billion and $4.7 billion, respectively. The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative provides training, logistics, and intelligence support, while the Foreign Military Financing Program funds equipment sales. Additionally, the US has provided Ukraine with $26.4 billion in financial assistance through the Economic Support Fund, a State Department-managed account aimed at advancing US foreign policy goals.

The United States has provided $3.9 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, primarily for emergency food assistance, healthcare, and refugee support. The Ukraine war has caused 5.1 million internally displaced people and 6.2 million crossing into neighboring countries. Eastern European countries, particularly Poland, have welcomed the most Ukrainian refugees. However, US support is limited, with Europe surpassing the US in promised aid, including substantial commitments from non-EU countries.

US aid to Ukraine is historically low compared to past wars like World War II, Spanish Civil War, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as other US military expenditures. Eastern European countries’ support to Ukraine has been particularly generous, especially when considering the cost of hosting Ukrainian refugees. The Baltic states, Poland, and Bulgaria, as well as the United States, are among the top ten donors as a share of donor GDP. Despite US aid enhancing Ukraine’s ability to fend off Russia’s invasion, future financial, military, and humanitarian assistance may be in doubt due to the House of Representatives’ removal of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker. In 2022, four legislations were passed, with future legislation pending House Republicans’ support, who argue that Ukraine aid should be spent on domestic priorities, and declining US public support for Ukraine aid.

A dramatic drop in US aid to Ukraine could have significant military consequences, weakening its warfighting capability and potentially causing Europe to step up. The loss of US aid could fracture transatlantic political solidarity and resoluteness against Russia, potentially damaging the US’s credibility. Perceptions of reputation are fluid and changeable, as seen with West Germany’s 1955 accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Biden administration cannot guarantee continued support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, and must continue to convince Congress and the American public that assisting Ukraine enhances US national security. The task of securing future aid to Ukraine will become harder as the 2024 presidential election comes into focus. The Biden administration will need to balance international commitments with domestic imperatives, and the road ahead is likely to be bumpy in an already polarized political environment.

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