Aiding wars in the hope of achieving peace

The US has recently cleared a $95-bn package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. It’s ironic that there is more aid for fighting than for rebuilding and humanitarian assistance
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.Express illustration | Sourav Roy

The US has three areas of major strategic interest among warlike standoffs around the world—Ukraine-Russia, Israel-Iran and China-Taiwan. Backing allies in regional military engagements is always a risk for the US. If that backing ends in an engagement far longer than anticipated, the bankrolling also becomes the US’s responsibility.  President Joe Biden has been attempting for a year to garner legislative backing for financial support for the provision of sufficient funds to cater to the security of its allies Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, in that order of precedence. Conceptually, Biden wished to balance this with a display of humanitarian support to ward off inevitable criticism about the support in the kinetic domain. The Republican opposition has been needling the president for over a year but has at last helped pass the bill into law. Ironically, it’s happening just when campuses in the US are going berserk with protests about the Israeli operations in Gaza.

The package totalling $95 billion includes $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion for Taiwan. It is a substantial package that can make a major impact, particularly to Ukraine and Israel’s capability. With everything in readiness due to the long-anticipated clearance by the lawmakers, the weapon packages can be rolled out instantly to Ukraine, where the situation is obviously very tenuous. The passage of the bill bears huge scope for psychological messaging related to the US’s loyalty to its allies, a sense of commitment that it will not turn its back on them.

The Ukraine front is the one that needs the infusion of military resources fastest, if kinetic war has to continue. A brief analysis of the status of the war is necessary. Two years down the line, resources on both sides have eroded substantially, down to the bare minimum. In World War II, nations declared emergency to meet the needs of the war. Factories multiplied, resources were rationed and luxury goods banned. That type of urgency is not being witnessed in Europe. A resource such as ammunition had almost run out and at one time had to be airlifted from Pakistan (almost $600 million worth of it). There is a mix of enthusiasm with relative reluctance about the war among various governments of Europe.

The interesting part about this war is that none have a clear idea who is winning and who could ultimately win. Vladimir Putin’s Russia bears the confidence that its president exudes, giving out threats with brazen regularity. Human and material resources to fight the war are not coming easily. It has been receiving material military support from North Korea, Iran and Belarus, none of which is such that it can prove to be transformational through its usage. China, which has displayed an element of psychological support all this while, has hardly opened its military warehouses for extending support. Analysts believe China is clear that if the Russians lose or are stalemated while using Chinese equipment, it would amount to financial and strategic harakiri for their arms industry. They are awaiting some kind of breakthrough by Russia before they extend their military backing.

Logistics and political support have, however, been available all along. Many analysts believe China has been afraid of potential sanctions against many of its industries by the US and by some NATO countries on the lines Russia has been sanctioned. Chinese linkages are intricately woven into the US commercial system and sanctions would cripple much of this to the detriment of the Chinese economy, already not in a very good state of health.

Anyone observing this war and its nature can surmise that this one is made for achieving the status of ‘no war, no peace’. That would make victory by any side most unlikely, with the grey zone persisting for quite some time. Russia is in occupation of Donbas and much of the east, including Crimea. Evicting the Russians militarily is a tall order from an area where it has ethnic roots. The trial-and-error game of offensives and counter-offensives has demonstrated that success in terms of territorial gains is very little and expenditure of resources very high.

Similarly, Russia does not have the means to overrun the Ukraine army. Even if it attempts to shift the battle lines more towards Kiev from the north and south, continuity and victory in detail may yet not be available. It is the exchange of missiles and rockets that could characterise the Ukraine war in its next avatar, bringing destruction and casualties for no major military gain.

The US is primarily providing battle tanks, air defence interceptors, anti-tank guns and artillery pieces along with ammunition to the Ukrainians. All these are useful, but to take the battle into adversary territory, what the Ukrainians need is missiles and rockets. Gingerly, $6 billion worth of missilery of the Patriot variety has now been sanctioned as part of the $61-billion package. It will give Ukraine a leg-up in the anticipated battle of rockets and missiles, which the Russians are likely to employ to pound Ukraine’s resources and cities, on the lines that Israel is doing in Gaza.

The $26-billion package to Israel prioritises defensive capabilities, providing more than $5 billion to replenish the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Iron Beam defence systems. An additional $2.4 billion is directed to the current US military operations in the region. Approximately $9 billion is supposed to be for war-torn regions; of this, only $2 billion is likely to reach Gaza. The humanitarian aspect of the aid package is shrouded in some kind of vagueness. Perhaps it will go to agencies post a final ceasefire, with some percentage used for immediate relief. It is ironic that there is more aid for warfighting than for rebuilding and humanitarian assistance. The least Joe Biden could have done was to place the conditionality of stopping operations against Rafa and have some transparency and assurance about humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.

President (elect) Lai Ching-te of Taiwan highlighted that the $8-billion funding allotted to the nation would bolster peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and foster regional confidence. It does come with the right timing when new leadership assumes charge and the fires are yet temporarily far from the Indo-Pacific.

(Views are personal)


Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) | Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps; now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir

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