Today the Biden administration requested a whopping $33 billion aid package for Ukraine. This is on top of a $14 billion Ukraine aid package enacted last month.
While Russian aggression in Ukraine has been appalling in its violence, this is nonetheless a historically large aid package that is worth putting into context.
For starters, if Congress signs off on this new request the U.S. will have authorized $47 billion in total spending to Ukraine. That’s more than the Biden administration is committing to stopping climate change and almost as much as the entire State Department budget.
The vast majority of this new aid package, $20.4 billion, is for “additional security and military assistance for Ukraine and for U.S. efforts to strengthen European security in cooperation with our NATO allies and other partners in the region,” according to the White House.
"Coupled with the $3.7 billion in military assistance already made available to Ukraine since Russia‘s invasion, President Biden's proposal of an additional $20 billion would make Kyiv the largest yearly recipient of U.S. military aid of at least the past two decades,” explained Elias Yousif, a security assistance expert at the Stimson Center.
“The amount is more than twice the largest yearly total ever provided to Afghanistan — where the U.S. was actively at war — and approximately seven times Israel's annual military assistance package,” continued Yousif.
This aid package is also more than the U.S. spent on the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account during the first year of the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan, and more than the total amount of money all but 13 countries in the world spend on their military, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
In addition to Ukrainian fighters, one of the primary beneficiaries of this aid package will be Pentagon contractors, whose CEO’s have explained how the Ukraine conflict is good for business and have seen their stock prices soar since the war began. According to Taylor Giorno of OpenSecrets, the top five defense contractors spent more than $16 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2022 alone, and their CEO’s met directly with Pentagon leadership earlier this month to discuss Ukraine security assistance.
While Ukrainian fighters will benefit from these arms it’s vitally important for the U.S. to consider the risks of these arms transfers as well, not the least of which is the potential for getting the U.S. into a direct military confrontation with Russia. As Seth G. Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the New York Times, “the risk of a widening war is serious right now . . . Russian casualties are continuing to mount, and the U.S. is committed to shipping more powerful weapons that are causing those casualties.”
There is also the possibility that U.S. arms will fall into the hands of U.S. adversaries, as they have in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
In addition, there is the direct economic cost to U.S. taxpayers who, ultimately, have to foot the bill for this historic aid package. Part of that cost could come from the kinds of fraud, waste and abuse that groups like the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) have uncovered in other cases where billions of dollars were being shoveled out the door in the name of national security without adequate oversight or coordination.
Helping Ukraine defend itself is one thing, but it should be done with an eye towards limiting the risks of escalation and unintended economic and security consequences. The administration’s latest aid request should be carefully debated and scrutinized before it is allowed to sail through in its current form.