Yes, America Is the Biggest Military Donor to Ukraine

Yes, America Is the Biggest Military Donor to Ukraine

Politics

Disingenuous accounting does not change the fact that the U.S. is the main underwriter of this war.

In the course of the debate over President Biden’s most recent request for an additional $60 billion in “emergency” taxpayer support for Ukraine, a new argument has emerged: This aid package, while the largest requested so far, is actually not a disproportionate burden on America given how much Europeans have donated in both military and civil society support. Rather than trying to guilt the U.S. Congress into rubber-stamping this assistance, some of our European NATO allies would do better to come clean about their own contributions and accounting.

This line of reasoning ignores the simple fact that the United States remains the biggest contributor of military aid to Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker, the United States has given $46.33 billion worth of bilateral military donations to the Ukrainian government.

Germany is the second-biggest military donor to Ukraine. It has given $19.42 billion—almost half the total for all EU members, but still less than half what the U.S. has contributed. France, Italy, and Spain (respectively, the second, third, and fourth largest economies in the EU after Germany) have contributed very little. France’s military aid to Ukraine stands at about $700 million, Italy is at $730 million, and Spain is at $360 million. In comparison, Poland alone has given more than $3 billion in military aid despite being only the sixth-largest economy in the EU. Some European politicians are demanding America spend more on a war in Europe when France, Italy, and Spain have contributed about the same as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Some who support the United States sending more aid to Ukraine prefer to measure contributions as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). America’s total bilateral commitments to Ukraine’s defense come in at 0.32 percent, behind 15 other NATO members. By contrast, Estonia’s total bilateral contributions (military and non-military) are roughly 3.55 percent of its GDP, Latvia’s are 1.15 percent, and Lithuania’s are 1.54 percent. Critics praise these three for their substantial contributions, while claiming that the U.S. and Germany have done very little to help the Ukrainians. 

But this argument only makes sense from the point of view of a politician, not that of a military analyst or an economist. Smaller countries like the three Baltic states may have had larger contributions to the defense of Ukraine when considered as a percentage of GDP, but their economies are only fractions of the economies of the wealthy Western European nations or the United States. Their assistance, while admirable, is not going to be on the scale required to defeat the Russians. (Incidentally, using this metric, France, Italy, and Spain all stand at 0.07 percent.)

As stated before, the United States has contributed $46.33 billion of military bilateral commitments and Germany has contributed roughly $19.42 billion of military aid to the Ukrainian military. No other NATO member’s contributions even came close. Estonia comes in at $980 million. Given Estonia’s size, this is substantial and reflects the degree of support for Ukraine within Estonia. Nevertheless, this support has had comparatively little military effect when considered against the massive amounts donated by the United States (and, to a lesser extent, Germany). In the sense that matters most—the contribution of military aid in absolute terms—the United States is doing the most in Ukraine. Ukraine’s military would probably not have been able to hold against the Russians over the last two years without the massive amounts of military aid sent by the United States, and anyone making a military or economic argument about the biggest contributors must recognize this fact. 

These numbers represent bilateral commitments to the government of Ukraine—that is, money or equipment given directly to the government of Ukraine. The total for the U.S., both military and non-military, is $75.4 billion. This fails to include tens of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent in support of Ukraine, including operational and training expenses. Other countries such as Poland have also spent significantly more than the total bilateral commitments suggest, for similar purposes. 

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Those who believe that Europe has in fact been doing considerably more than America in terms of supporting civil society and humanitarian causes in Ukraine are missing a critical fact of accounting. Every dollar the United States has given to Ukraine has been in the form of a grant with no expectation of repayment. $65 billion of what European Union institutions have pledged to Ukraine in financial bilateral commitments, however, are in fact loans. In terms of grants, the United States has given more to Ukraine in financial support, having contributed just under $26 billion in financial bilateral grants, whereas European Union institutions have only given Ukraine about $18 billion in grants. 

The United States cannot care more about a European war than Europeans do, and has in fact contributed more than its “fair share” already. Meanwhile, the primary threat to American interests lies in the Pacific, a theater routinely downplayed by the foreign policy elites in Washington. While Russia is an opportunistic power that may seek power and advantage episodically, it is far less of a threat to U.S. national security interests than China. 

China is the only power with the desire and capability to overturn the current global system and establish itself as a regional hegemon in Asia, with an eye towards becoming the global hegemon. As such, it poses a clear and immediate challenge to the United States in a way that Russia does not. Our defense spending should be focused on deterring China, and while we can continue to play a supporting role we should not be emptying our magazines against what is, if we’re being honest, a secondary threat against which the Europeans should be able to take the lead.  » …
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