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Ukraine war

Ukrainian soldiers inspect a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 8, 2022 (Photo: Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Experts Say Long War of Attrition in Ukraine Is a Dangerous Path

"By expanding support to Ukraine across the board and shelving any diplomatic effort to stop the fighting, the United States and its allies have greatly increased the danger of an even larger conflict."

Brett Wilkins

While the United States lavishes Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military aid as part of a stated goal of not only defending an ally against Russian invasion but also of weakening Russia itself, peace-minded voices this week warned against the existential dangers of pursuing such policy.

"The longer the war, the worse the damage to Ukraine and the greater the risk of escalation."

In a Wednesday New York Times opinion essay, journalist Tom Stevenson, who reported from Ukraine during the first weeks of the war, wrote that "at first, the Western support for Ukraine was mainly designed to defend against the invasion. It is now set on a far grander ambition: to weaken Russia itself."

"Presented as a commonsense response to Russian aggression, the shift, in fact, amounts to a significant escalation," he continued. "By expanding support to Ukraine across the board and shelving any diplomatic effort to stop the fighting, the United States and its allies have greatly increased the danger of an even larger conflict. They are taking a risk far out of step with any realistic strategic gain."

The dangers of such policy are more than just military in nature. Writing for Project Syndicate, progressive economist Jeffrey D. Sachs said that "the adverse economic fallout from the war and sanctions regime will also reach dire proportions in dozens of developing countries that depend on food and energy imports."

"Diplomatic efforts ought to be the centerpiece of a new Ukraine strategy."

"Economic dislocations in these countries will lead to urgent calls worldwide to end the war and sanctions regime," he predicted, while noting that the International Monetary Fund "now forecasts a 35% contraction of Ukraine's economy in 2022, reflecting the brutal destruction of housing, factories, rail stock, energy storage, and transmission capacity, and other vital infrastructure."

Nevertheless, said Sachs, "the risk of nuclear war" remains "the most dangerous of all."

"If Russia's conventional forces were actually to be pushed toward defeat, as the U.S. is now seeking, Russia might well counter with tactical nuclear weapons," he warned. "A U.S. or Russian aircraft could be shot down by the other side as they scramble over the Black Sea, which in turn could lead to direct military conflict. Media reports that the U.S. has covert forces on the ground, and the U.S. intelligence community's disclosure that it helped Ukraine kill Russian generals and sink Russia's Black Sea flagship, underscore the danger."

Sachs continued:

The reality of the nuclear threat means that both sides should never forgo the possibility of negotiations. That is the central lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place 60 years ago this coming October. President John F. Kennedy saved the world then by negotiating an end to the crisis—agreeing that the U.S. would never again invade Cuba and that the U.S. would remove its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba.

That was not giving in to Soviet nuclear blackmail. That was Kennedy wisely avoiding Armageddon.

Stevenson concurs, arguing that "diplomatic efforts ought to be the centerpiece of a new Ukraine strategy."

"Instead," he lamented, "the war's boundaries are being expanded and the war itself recast as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. This is not just declamatory extravagance. It is reckless. The risks hardly need to be stated."

"The longer the war, the worse the damage to Ukraine and the greater the risk of escalation," Stevenson cautioned, adding that "indefinite protraction of the war... is too dangerous with nuclear-armed participants."

The experts' warnings came as the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved $40 billion in additional aid, much of it military in nature, for Ukraine. The vote was 368-57. All the dissenting votes were Republicans.

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