UBN: The US Needs to Wake Up

UBN: The US Needs to Wake Up
Washington needs to wake up and provide Ukraine with the aid it needs if Ukraine is not going to lose the war against Russia. / bne IntelliNews
By Mark McNamee of UBN in Kyiv April 19, 2024

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” – George Orwell, England Your England, 1941

Take away the ‘highly civilized human beings’ part, replace it with ‘missiles/drones’, and I could write similar words as George Orwell did in 1941 in England.

It’s 4am and I am lying in my apartment in central Kyiv, awakened by the latest air raid siren. Dozens of Russian missiles and drones are aimed at targets across Ukraine. Tonight, thankfully, we are protected by US Patriot and other Western missile defense systems, and the toll is limited.

But for how long will I and others here in Ukraine remain protected?

Also as I write, the US Congress continues to withhold aid that could save Ukraine, defeat Russia, and uphold the US-led global order. The assistance is being withheld out of a combination of cynicism, partisanship, and careerism. The costs to the US taxpayer would be paltry, the benefits massive, and the damage – if aid is not given – is beyond calculation for the United States and the broader Western world if the existing international order is allowed to collapse and Russia, China, and their partners begin dictating rules to us and impact how we live.

The World has changed irrevocably, but the West doesn’t seem to get it.

This may seem like an extreme exaggeration, but it is not. We in the West – and particularly in the United States – are painfully blind to the sharp transformation of the international order occurring before our eyes. One of the most fascinating – and concerning – takeaways from my daily interactions over the last two years with top Western business executives is the lack of appreciation for the irrevocable change for the international system that took place with Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, when Putin violently closed the chapter on the US-led order that had existed since the end of the Cold War in 1989. A perusal of media headlines and conversations with Westerners back in the Western world further confirm this. Its tragic and dangerous.

The previous era has ended conclusively and a new era has commenced, with new rules being written each passing day with generational implications. Just as in the previous shifts in the global order set off by World War I, World War II, and the end of the Cold War, policy decisions made currently will set the foundation for the burgeoning global order that will determine the trajectory of events decades from now.

While this may seem too abstract and conceptual, it is not. In plain terms, dependent on our current policy decisions, our everyday lives in the West will be dramatically impacted in the coming years. And – should the wrong decisions be made – very negatively impacted, and entirely unnecessarily.

What’s at stake?

We simply need to imagine the implications of a Russian victory in this war to understand what is at stake for Western civilization. In brief, should the West allow Russia to win (i.e. achieve Putin’s explicit goals of seizing more Ukrainian territory, unseating Zelenskiy, and installing a puppet regime):

– Tens of thousands more Ukrainians would be killed, millions more flee Ukraine and into the EU, and an endless insurgency begins in Ukraine as Ukrainians would rather die than live under Russian-rule.

– Millions of Ukrainians would flee into the EU and remain for years, destabilizing the economy and severely worsening the existing political and societal divisions in this populist/anti-migrant era.

– Having probed and exposed Western weakness, Russia would have no reason to stop its aggression as Moscow explicitly seeks to overturn the Western-led order in which it believes it has been mistreated. The US and the EU would face further aggression, not less.

– NATO and EU would be discredited and severely weakened at a minimum, and perhaps not survive over the long term. Other Western security guarantees, as in Asia, would no longer be trusted by allies or respected by adversaries.

– Having witnessed the West’s inability to uphold the order it created in the face of Russian aggression, China would be emboldened to act with impunity, confident its aggression would not be resisted by an impotent West.

– The rules-based order in which the world’s borders (however seemingly arbitrary and artificial) are respected begins to fall apart. A might-makes-right mentality (on demonstration currently in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine) would come to define the global order. Insecurity and violence would escalate as major powers impose themselves on neighboring weaker powers, ala the eras that preceded and then caused World War I and World War II. (It was a result of these wars that the rules-based order of respected borders was in fact created in order to avoid a repeat of these cataclysmic wars.)

– In the absence of a stable, predictable security environment once provided by the West, nations in desperate search of security would try to obtain nuclear weapons to protect their sovereignty, leading to an era of nuclear proliferation. As some of the primary powers that currently possess nuclear weapons – Russia, China, North Korea (and potentially Iran soon) – are hostile to the US, the nuclear threat to the US would rise notably.

– To deal with this fragmenting order and the innumerable new security threats that arise, the West will have no choice but to support a dramatic rise in defense spending, crowding out funding for infrastructure, healthcare, education, environment, etc… as deficits and debts rise further. Funding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is already a major problem under current conditions, the problem would be exacerbated immensely.

– Green initiatives would be relegated to a low priority in a world focused on national security and defense.

– Global trade in an era of heightened security and political conflicts would assuredly fall as food, energy, metals, and other commodity prices rise and persist at an elevated level, sustaining high inflation and high interest rates, hurting living standards in the US and around the world.

– As a result of these dynamics and the weakness of Western nations, the dollar, euro, and pound would depreciate, further pushing up inflation and interest rates, weighing notably on investment and consumer spending for the long-term.

Briefly put, a Russian victory would have a major impact on our lives in the West. Lower GDP, less investment, less consumer spending, a weaker dollar/euro/pound, persistently higher inflation, persistently higher interest rates, higher defense spending, less social spending, a dirtier and hotter planet, drastically greater threat of nuclear war, loss of global influence, and greater fear and uncertainty in a world transitioning from one accepting of rules and borders to one where raw power dictates all.

We need to wake up in the West.

This would be the world the US and the rest of the West created, yes blindly and unconsciously, but created nonetheless as we seemingly slept through the global transition occurring in front of us. Future generations and most of the rest of the world would never and should never forgive us.

Fortunately, all of this is entirely and relatively easily preventable. And even the proposed costs are exaggerated: the $61 billion (just ~5% of total defense spending) proposed to help Ukraine is itself a severe overestimate as most of the equipment, vehicles, and weaponry were made decades ago and have far less value in reality than assessed. In addition, much of this materiel is obsolete and set for destruction if not used in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of this money is spent inside the United States, creating jobs. Thus, the costs are insignificant and the return on investment huge, while waking up too late to these realities above would be incomparably more expensive as we then seek to deter an emboldened and increasingly aggressive Russia and China (and others).

There is no alternative.

And Putin is not going to bail us out on this one. Why should he? As Napoleon’s maxim states, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake’. He enjoys watching us sleepwalk into the collapse of our own system. While believing he is winning and confident in his victory over the long run, he has no interest in voluntarily ending the fighting until he has not only destroyed the Ukrainian nation but more broadly the Western order, with which he has explicitly said Russia is at war. A man not particularly well-known for his charitable, humanitarian instincts is not going to offer peace out of the largesse of his heart. He must be met with force.

But will we meet him with force and protect the Western order?

So as I have numerous times before, and so many Ukrainians countless times for more than two years, I turn over and try to fall back asleep, unconsciously trusting that the West will prevail.

While Americans need to wake up, it’s hard to fall back asleep here in Ukraine.

Mark McNamee is based in Ukraine and the UBN Network Co-Founder. He tweets at @mmcnameefsg.