When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine in February of this year, the international community was swift to condemn his premeditated war of aggression. Nine months later, however, much of the initial support for Ukraine has waned. Despite making significant inroads militarily, a Ukrainian victory is still far from guaranteed. Many observers attribute Ukraine’s success to the historic levels of military aid the United States has delivered since the start of the war. Ukrainian forces have relied heavily on the near $18 billion in U.S. security assistance, and with the war projected to last several years, progress will largely hinge on the continued contribution of foreign aid.
In the Information Age, it’s rare for any singular event to remain relevant in the mainstream media for long, and war is no exception. At the outset of the war, the plight of Ukraine and its unlikely champion, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, elicited sympathy and support from around the globe. While Ukraine has fought to counter the Russian incursion and successfully launched a counteroffensive in several key cities, much of the American public’s interest in the war’s outcome has dwindled. This is a troubling development, as a Ukrainian victory is not only vital to the prosperity of the Ukrainian people, but would also serve to advance U.S. interests more broadly.
According to a recent Pew Research Survey, the share of U.S. adults who are extremely or very concerned about a Ukrainian defeat is down from 55% in May to 38% today. Likewise, the proportion of Americans who say they’re not too concerned or not at all concerned about a Russian victory is up from 16% to 26%, according to the survey. Approximately four-in-ten Americans (37%) suggest the U.S. is providing sufficient aid to Ukraine, while 20% say that figure is too much, compared to 7% in March.
Apathy towards Ukraine has also increased amongst congressional lawmakers. Republicans such as Rand Paul (R-KY) have argued that enhanced oversight mechanisms are necessary to combat corruption and ensure that aid is delivered to the appropriate recipients. Aside from increased accountability, there is a growing contingent of Republicans seeking to curb additional aid to Ukraine. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently hinted that a Republican-controlled House would be unlikely to write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) expressed more blatant skepticism of the war effort when he asserted that aid to Ukraine is “not in America’s interests.”
Both McCarthy and Hawley are advocates of the “America First” approach to foreign policy popularized by former President Donald Trump. Driven by a rejection of multilateralism, supporters of the “America First” approach reflect a new wave of isolationism that seeks to limit U.S. intervention abroad and redirect foreign aid to domestic policy priorities. Hawley in particular has embodied this philosophy, as he was the only senator to vote against adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. Hawley has argued that “we must do less in Europe in order to prioritize China and Asia,” and therefore opposes the expansion of U.S. security commitments to NATO.
Although Hawley’s concern over China is well justified, his depiction of U.S. commitments as a zero-sum competition between competing interests is flawed. Contrary to Senator Hawley’s claim, the war in Ukraine is directly tied to U.S. security interests in Asia. In an increasingly interconnected world, conflicts no longer exist in a vacuum, and it’s clear that the war will have far reaching implications beyond Europe, including in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, it is crucial that the U.S. continue supplying aid to Ukraine in order to strengthen democratic resolve across multiple geopolitical spheres.
At a time when democracy is under attack globally, denying victory to a despot like Vladimir Putin would illustrate that democratic powers remain capable of coordinating an effective response to unprovoked violations of state sovereignty. On the flip side, a Russian victory in Ukraine would further entrench Putin’s power and embolden his fellow autocrats, namely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has already begun ramping up its preparations to retake Taiwan. At the CCP Congress in October, President Xi Jinping further aligned the party with his foreign policy objectives by replacing his few remaining rivals in the Politburo Standing Committee with loyalists. Following this significant consolidation of power, many observers now predict that President Xi is expediting the timeline for an eventual invasion, as evidenced by his efforts to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and conduct increasingly frequent military drills in Taiwanese airspace.
There are clear parallels between Putin’s actions in Ukraine and President Xi’s ambitions in the South China Sea. Ukraine’s military success has already caused the PLA to reconsider its approach to a possible invasion of Taiwan. Although Xi appears poised to invade Taiwan, a rebuke of Russia would signal to the Chinese leadership that unjust territorial expansion can backfire when faced with resistance from a broad-based, U.S.-led coalition.
The war in Ukraine could also impact U.S. relations with another Pacific power: India. Drawing on its history of strategic neutrality, India has hedged its bets by maintaining friendly relations with both the U.S. and Russia. India abstained from the vote on a UN resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion and has continued to buy Russian oil while other U.S. allies have halted such purchases. A Russian defeat could inspire India to put more chips in the American-led democratic basket. Coincidentally, this would also strengthen deterrence against China, as India is a member of “the Quad,” a burgeoning security pact that also includes the U.S., Australia, and Japan. The Quad has the potential to counter Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific, but only if its members can commit to developing a unified, multilateral coalition of resistance. Thus, weakening Russia through continued aid to Ukraine could convince India to further integrate itself into the Quad, which may ultimately help forestall a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Although the outcome of the war in Ukraine remains to be seen, it’s clear that the implications extend far beyond eastern Europe. By continuing to funnel military aid to Ukraine, the U.S. can help orchestrate a Russian defeat, reassert liberal order in the face of authoritarianism, and improve the Quad coalition’s capacity to counter Chinese aggression. In short, the United States and its allies have an opportunity to project strength at a time when global democracy, like Ukraine, is in desperate need of a morale boost.