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To Defend Itself, Ukraine Must Emulate Israel

06 Jun 2022
By Dr Ted Gover

For decades, Israel has educated the American people on its security needs through regular outreach to the U.S. Congress and successive administrations. Now, as U.S. public support wanes, Kyiv should adopt a similar strategy.

As Volodymyr Zelensky’s courageous defence against Putin’s war of aggression enters its fourth month, American public support for Ukraine remains high. According to a 25 April – 1 May, 2022 Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of U.S. adults approve the decision to provide weapons to Ukraine and 64 percent support the decision to station large numbers of American forces in NATO countries near Ukraine.

The poll’s findings are one reason why Ukraine is now the top recipient of U.S. military aid, with President Biden signing an additional $20 billion weapons package on 21 May. Yet, U.S. public support of foreign wars often wanes over time. Although the American people appear to back Ukraine for the moment, this enthusiasm will taper off at some point.

In fact, a decline in American willingness to help Ukraine is already underway. A 24 May Morning Consult poll found that only 45 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. has a responsibility to protect Ukraine, a five percent drop since early May.

According to the poll, Republicans were 23 percent less likely than Democrats to think that the U.S. has a responsibility to protect Ukraine. This data point should give Kyiv pause given that Republicans are favoured to win the U.S. House of Representatives in this fall’s midterm elections, and possibly the U.S. Senate as well.

To hedge against the inevitable ebbing of American voter support, Ukraine should follow the example of Israel in a few key ways. Ukraine must firstly implement a sustained campaign to educate the American people on why its security matters to the U.S. Ukraine must then secure multi-year military aid packages and adopt deterrence measures in order to safeguard both its territory and its people from Russian aggression.

It is no secret that Americans are hesitant to become directly involved in another foreign war after over 20 years of difficult fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin understands this dynamic and, according to estimates by the U.S. intelligence community, is likely preparing for a protracted war.

The assessment is that as his forces continue their assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, Putin is betting that U.S. and its NATO allies have neither the will nor the capacity to withstand the war’s challenges during this time of inflation, high energy prices, and an approaching worldwide food crisis.

Like other U.S. adversaries over the years, Putin seems to have deduced an obvious point: American voters have a limit on the amount of attention, weapons, and financial assistance that they are willing to provide to foreign states. Mr. Putin’s analysis likely involves a quick study of U.S. wars that were ended after significant voter opposition: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Ukraine’s case, it remains to be determined where the limits to American public support lie.

Amid this reality, Ukraine would be well served to emulate Israel’s successful efforts over the years in informing the American public of the stakes involved with its survival as a nation-state, the exigent need to preserve liberty, and the two states’ shared values as democratic peoples. The American Jewish community’s important work in this area on behalf of Israel has involved the mobilisation of special interest groups which lobby Capitol Hill on key legislation. This has consisted of identifying candidates on both sides of the aisle worthy of backing and urging Members of Congress for support through government partnerships, foreign aid, and joint security efforts.

Ukraine needs to adopt similar practices. Supporters need to be mobilised to back pro-Ukraine candidates for Congress with their time, donations, and votes. Similar to pro-Israel advocacy over the years, Kyiv’s need to educate the American people and lobby Congress on sustained support of Ukraine should be viewed as an ongoing, long-term endeavour.

Another dilemma facing Ukraine is how to protect itself against the existential threat of Putin while not enjoying membership in either NATO or the European Union. Just as Israel does not have a formal defence treaty with Washington or membership in a multi-state alliance while facing threats from larger adversaries in its region, Ukraine is required to find ways to secure itself against a weightier neighbouring enemy.

Ukraine should endeavour to negotiate multi-year military aid agreements with the U.S. modelled after U.S. support for Israel. The current U.S. military aid package for Israel is approximately $3.8 billion per annum over ten years in addition to loan guarantees.

Given the vagaries of Washington politics, such multi-year agreements would remove the U.S. Congress from the politically costly burden of having to make frequent votes in support of Kyiv’s efforts to defend itself as Putin’s war of aggression grinds on.

There are other ways Ukraine could emulate Israel to enhance its security against Russia. One option would be to employ nuclear deterrence either by developing its own indigenous weapons program or by being placed under Washington’s nuclear umbrella. Yet, such arrangements are highly unlikely given opposition among many in Washington’s security establishment, the Biden administration’s reticence towards escalation with Putin, and the Republican Party’s increasing isolationism.

Given these stark realities, the closest thing to nuclear deterrence that Ukraine can probably hope for would be securing Washington’s commitment to respond militarily if Russia were to use weapons of mass destruction or nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

Zelensky could make a strong argument that such a commitment by Washington is warranted given the Clinton administration’s role with the UK and Russia in persuading Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons in exchange for a security guarantee in the form of a United Nations Security Council referral, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum agreement. It bears saying that Putin violated this agreement with his invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

The stakes of Putin’s war are high for free peoples everywhere. A failure by Ukraine to implement the necessary measures to blunt Russia may embolden others to change existing security balances through coercion and force.

Such outcomes would likely result in a world that is less free and less prosperous, with diminished opportunities for peace in our time and in coming generations.

For these reasons, Ukraine would be well advised to take a few pages from Israel’s playbook.

Dr Ted Gover (@TedGover), writes on foreign policy and is Director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.