Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on the Ukrainian government’s recent shake-up to fight corruption. “The dismissals appeared to reflect Mr. Zelensky’s goal of reassuring Ukraine’s allies — which are sending billions of dollars in military aid — that his government would show zero tolerance for graft as it prepares for a possible new offensive by Moscow,” according to the Times. Why did it take Volodymyr Zelensky 11 months to address the corruption issue? There have been signs of the problem for many months now.
Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., who at the beginning of the invasion was very supportive of Ukraine, more recently began to question Zelensky’s administration. Spartz wanted to have greater oversight on American aid to Ukraine, for which she was criticized by many in both parties.
With the recent removal of several officials, it appears there were grounds for questioning where the funds were being spent in Ukraine. The United States has been by far the largest supporter of military aid to that country, despite the European Union having similar GDP and 100 million more in population. Military equipment is the most important aid to keeping Ukraine’s military armed and fighting, which might be why Zelensky is trying to address corruption now.
With Republicans having control of the House of Representatives, several Republicans want greater oversight of the money being sent to Ukraine. It is unfortunate that it took a change in House leadership to make sure American taxpayer money is being spent properly overseas.
U.S. Military Production at Risk
The state of U.S. military production was another news story that broke this month — and this story should be more concerning to the American public than Ukraine’s problems. The Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank released a report on the U.S. defense industry and military aid to Ukraine. The report found that the United States’ “defense industrial base is not adequately prepared for the competitive security environment that now exists.” The United States is ranked third in casting production, which is necessary for creating weapon systems, and the lag time for the production of most weapons is more than a year.
CSIS believes the United States would run out of precision missiles and other advanced technology in less than a week in a Taiwan Strait conflict. If that were to happen, the United States would have to resort to more crude weapon types, just as Russia has resorted to in Ukraine. The 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the United States sent to Ukraine could be replaced in about three years depending on the production surge rate. HIMARS have been very effective in Ukraine, but this highlights the continued danger of the United States’ ability to produce weapon systems. If America needs many of these weapon systems in short order, it appears the capability is not there to produce them.
A Depleted Military Can’t Overcommit
This is not a debate about aid to Ukraine but rather a debate on U.S. military production capabilities. The war in Ukraine should be viewed as a sideshow for the United States by capability alone. More than $100 billion in aid has been sent to Ukraine. This is not a small amount, but with a defense budget of more than $700 billion annually, the Ukraine war should not be straining our military. If a conflict did arise that threatened the United States, it would certainly expend more munitions and weapon systems than the Ukraine-Russian war has spent.
For a historical example, the battles fought over Ukraine in World War II committed roughly a third of Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s armies on the Eastern Front. If there is a larger conflict today, the United States would have to commit many more weapons in more theaters than just Ukraine.
Without a strong production capability, the United States would have to sacrifice its commitments in several regions throughout the world. Many Americans don’t want to hear this, and many policymakers ignore this reality, but unless the industrial production gets stronger, we might see many more Afghanistan withdrawals and friendly nations subjugated by great power rivals. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wrote in December to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that there was a $18.7 billion weapons backlog for Taiwan. If the United States is falling behind in its support during peacetime, it would certainly fall further behind during a war.
For years, the United States ignored its industrial weakness and capability, and media outlets and politicians mocked the idea of shipbuilding and fleet sizes, only to find it a valid concern 10 years later. If the United States wants to compete in the coming decades on the world stage, it needs to address this clear weakness in its military. For the past 30 years, the United States has waged war on rogue nations and terrorists in distant regions. The world has changed, and those wars that were fought over the past decades should not be viewed as the standard for defense planners.
The CSIS report also mentions how high inflation is damaging U.S. production. Policymakers need to get the United States economy back on a strong footing, with a stronger dollar and a robust energy sector.
Hope in Historical Precedent
The good news is that this has been done before. In 1968, the United States was in a fairly similar situation as today. The Johnson administration had spent much on both domestic and foreign policy. The war on poverty and the Vietnam War had drained our nation’s budget, weakened its economy, and constrained its movement in the world. Throughout the 1970s the United States had high inflation, severe energy shortages, cultural divisions, and a defeated military. Due to the paralysis of the United States, the Soviet Union took advantage in the 1970s and expanded its influence in the world.
With the right reforms, the United States under President Ronald Reagan was able to challenge the Soviets by the mid-1980s and eventually win the Cold War to become the sole superpower in the 1990s. This is not that far off from where the United States is currently. The war on terror and war on Covid expended many of our nation’s resources, just as our chief rivals are becoming more aggressive.
The bad news is that the United States might not have long to right the ship. We need leaders and policymakers who can quickly make these important adjustments and have a clear and honest vision of what the future holds for the United States.