A street art mural depicting a tug-of-war between a Russian and Ukrainian soldier.

A street art mural depicting a tug-of-war between a Russian and Ukrainian soldier is seen on a war memorial on September 28, 2023, in Izyum, Ukraine.

(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Ukraine Needs a Cease-Fire, Not Biden’s $50 Billion Escalation

There is a growing gap between the goals of Washington D.C.’s war lobby and the realities on the ground in Ukraine.

It’s clear that Ukraine needs more support. What isn’t clear is why the latest White House spending package includes $50 billion in additional military funding, which is more than Ukraine has received from the United States since the war began in early 2022. This could a very dangerous escalation of the risk of nuclear war, at a time when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock already stands closer to “midnight” than ever.

There’s a better way. The United States can take an active role in organizing a cease-fire, to be followed by negotiations toward a permanent settlement.

Unfortunately, so far President Joe Biden has made little effort to end the slaughter. In fact, there is serious evidence that Great Britain and the U.S. played a decisive role in blocking a 2022 peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. We also know now that the administration was aware the counteroffensive had little chance of success but kept it a secret from the American people. (They were reportedly “furious” when the deception was exposed.)

There is a growing gap between the goals of Washington D.C.’s war lobby and the realities on the ground in Ukraine. Some national security insiders have openly endorsed the idea of using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder for a dangerous proxy war against Russia. There have even been fantasies about overthrowing Russian President Vladimir Putin and plunging Russia into chaos, which would not bring around the America-friendly regime of neoconservative dreamers. Instead, it’s likely that Putin would be succeeded by the same generals who have been prosecuting his war.

A Lethal Quagmire

These are dangerous delusions. In reality, the war is a lethal quagmire. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not released casualty figures, but most impartial estimates suggest a high toll. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy insists that Russia can be beaten. “Nobody believes in our victory like I do,” he recently told Time magazine. “Nobody.”

Well, his generals apparently don’t. The New York Times reported “an emerging rift between the military and civilian leadership” in Ukraine after its commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, called the war a “stalemate” and said, “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”

And now, winter has arrived. At the start of last winter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley called it “a window of opportunity for negotiation” and added that “there has to be a mutual recognition that military victory is probably... is maybe not achievable.” The situation has only grown worse since then.

There’s no promise it would end then, either.

The U.S. has already spent 10 times as much on Ukraine as we spend on the Centers for Disease Control, after a pandemic that killed more than one million Americans.

The State Department reports that the United States has given Ukraine $44.2 billion in military aid since Russia invaded at the end of February 2022. At the current pace of spending, the additional military aid requested by the White House would keep the Ukraine war going until sometime in mid-2026—that is, unless there is a plan to intensify the attacks, which would increase the risk of a nuclear conflict.

Barring an increase in the rate of spending, the administration’s request suggests that it believes we are less than halfway through the war. This timeline illustrates that:

The High Cost of Endless War

The U.S. has reportedly spent a total of $111 billion on Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, If the supplemental spending package is approved, this is how spending on Ukraine will compare to some other items in the federal budget:

If this passes, the U.S. will have spent more in Ukraine than it spends to run the Department of Health and Human Services (excluding health insurance programs) for a year. Military-only spending for Ukraine will be greater than the annual budget of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration—combined.

The U.S. has already spent 10 times as much on Ukraine as we spend on the Centers for Disease Control, after a pandemic that killed more than one million Americans. That does not mean Ukraine doesn’t deserve to be defended, but it does raise serious questions about the direction of the war and our government’s priorities.

The Weapons Bonanza

Ukraine’s tragedy has become a bonanza for the weapons industry, with the United States government acting as a broker. As The New York Timesreports, “The Senate’s failed vote came as Ukrainian officials met with defense contractors at a summit sponsored by the Commerce Department to discuss Ukraine’s longer-term needs on the battlefield.”

The spending package has been promoted as a way to create American jobs, but that’s sleight of hand. Non-military spending creates more jobs at less cost than technology-intensive weapons manufacturing—and without profiting from the deaths of others.

Moreover, the military budget is already out of control. As policy analyst Stephen Semler writes, “Adjusted for inflation, Biden’s proposed military budget exceeds average U.S. military spending during World War II.”

Democratic-leaning economists prefer to compare military spending to the entire economy, rather than in dollars, now that one of their own is president. But the fact remains: Dollar-for-dollar, the U.S. is spending more now than it did in World War II.

Ukraine’s Pain

While Americans pay a financial price, the cost to Ukrainians has been and will remain far greater and more intimate. The Zelenskyy government has not released casualty figures; they are undoubtedly very high. And the trauma of war extracts a toll on the human psyche, especially for children.

And then there are the numbers:

Refugees: There are now more than 6 million Ukrainian refugees around the world, per the U.N. Refugee Agency, and more than 3 million internally displaced people inside Ukraine. That means that roughly 10 million Ukrainians have lost their homes since this war began.

Much of the countryside will remain unsafe for years to come due to the use of landmines, which were supplied by the United States over objections from humanitarian groups.

Basic Needs: 1.4 million housing units have been damaged, and roughly 500,000 of those homes have been destroyed. Meanwhile, at least 2.5 million people need vital humanitarian assistance for the coming winter (Norwegian Refugee Council).

Other Harms: Cultural landmarks have also been destroyed, UNESCO reports. They include 125 religious sites, 144 buildings of historical or artistic interest, 29 museums, 19 monuments, and 13 libraries. And Ukraine’s environment has been seriously damaged. Much of the countryside will remain unsafe for years to come due to the use of landmines, which were supplied by the United States over objections from humanitarian groups.


President Zelenskyy’s upbeat assessment of the war isn’t shared by his top generals, something which casts grave doubts on how well these funds will be used. Meanwhile, democracy appears to have been placed on hold inside Ukraine with the announcement that upcoming elections will be suspended. Ukraine has also boasted of assassinations and acts of sabotage in Russia, which could escalate rapidly and draw the United States into the conflict.

Wars should only take place when there’s no alternative, and when there’s a plan to win them. A cease-fire is a necessary first step toward a diplomatic solution without continued loss of life.

You can contact your House Representative or Senators by phone by calling the Capitol Switchboard and giving the operator your zip code to be connected to your elected officials’ offices.

Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Additional Information

White House Overstates Urgency: Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that “without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks.” According to The New York Times, however, Pentagon officials say current authorizations are enough to arm Ukraine through this coming winter. Per the Times, those officials “cast some doubt on claims by the White House that Kyiv is about to run out of American money.”

The administration is still authorized to send Ukraine $4.8 billion in stockpiled U.S. weapons, which Pentagon leaders say is enough to support the war effort through the winter. This suggests that the White House is misleading the public. And the administration has yet to explain why there is an urgent need, not only for military funding, but for more funding than Ukraine has received to date for the war.

Funding Commitments: The World Bank, together with the Ukrainian government, has estimated the 10-year cost of the country’s reconstruction at $411 billion. The United States should be prepared to pay a large percentage of that cost, given its role in triggering this conflict.

“Humanitarian Aid”?: President Biden, along with virtually all congressional Democrats, frames our involvement with Ukraine as a combination of military support and humanitarian aid. The numbers show, however, that two-thirds of the funding is military.

In the White House version of the $106 billion spending package, covering Ukraine, Gaza, and other regions, less than 8.5% of that money ($9 billion) consists of humanitarian aid. Ukraine would get roughly two-thirds of the total package ($66.1 billion). $30 billion would purchase weapons through the Department of Defense. $14.4 billion would be used for “military intelligence”—which could conceivably include more collaboration between the CIA and Ukrainian assassination squads (seeThe Washington Post for details).

The State Department would receive $16.3 billion for war-related expenditures. Slightly more than $9 billion in humanitarian aid would be divided between Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza, plus an additional small amount for unspecified other countries.

Very Little for Gaza Civilians: That leaves very little for the innocent victims of the onslaught in Gaza. If the package’s humanitarian aid is evenly divided among three countries, Gaza would receive $3 billion. That’s less than 3% of the total amount (and less than one-third of what Israel would receive in additional military aid, most of which will be used to inflict further harm there).

That made it particularly cynical for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to decry the loss of “humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza” after the Senate failed to pass the Democratic funding bill. 2.85% is a tiny fraction of the expenditure—and it isn’t even a rounding error for the United States military, which is currently unable to properly account for more than $2 trillion in assets.

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