Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Steelmanning Support for Ukraine

Why providing American military aid and not pushing for peace might make sense

In the run-up to war, I angered a lot of people by saying that Ukraine should surrender. I was of course wrong, like everyone else was, in overestimating the competence and capabilities of the Russian military. But from the perspective of the interests of Ukraine itself and taking a purely materialist view, I don’t think there is any doubt that the country would have been better off surrendering a good chunk of territory and pledging not to join NATO in order to avoid a war.

Consider that Ukraine officially had a population of 44 million as of 2020. If you excluded Crimea and parts of the Donbas that were occupied, and took into account recent migration, it was probably closer to 37 million. According to the UN, 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded across Europe since the start of the war, and 7.7 million have been internally displaced. I don’t know how much double counting there is in these numbers, but we can say that something like 25%-40% of the population has been forced to leave their homes. The economy is now expected to shrink by about 45% in 2022, which seems way too low given how many people have left, but this is all pretty much guesswork. The coldest months of winter haven’t yet arrived, and Russia in recent months has been having success in taking out Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, meaning that the worst is probably yet to come. Even if the war ended today, Ukraine would still face a long and uncertain path towards matching the same living standard it had in 2021. That’s putting aside all the dead and injured, which is estimated to be at least 100,000, not counting civilians.

Some have argued that Ukraine was fighting for the principle of self-determination, but that principle is violated all the time and nobody ever argues that aggressors should always be resisted no matter the consequences. The US invading Iraq may have been a crime under international law, but was it a good idea for Iraqis to resist? Definitely not. Sure, being occupied by the US is certainly better than being occupied by Russia, but either is preferable to having the US or Russia tear your country apart in frustration because it can’t achieve its aims.

That being said, in part due to my discussions with Chris Nicholson, I think there is a steelman case for the US supporting Ukraine, which I define as providing it at least enough to weaponry to maintain the current war effort and make advances and not pushing Kiev too hard to reach a settlement in the near future. It has nothing to do with the well-being of Ukraine itself. That nation has been destroyed, and as already mentioned, it’s impossible to imagine a situation in which it wouldn’t have been better off just letting Putin dictate the terms of its surrender. That being said, one could respectably make the case that supporting Ukraine has been a benefit to humanity.

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