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Has the US military overcommitted itself to the Ukraine War?

Jul 11, 2023

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The United States plans to send a new military aid package valued at $2.1 billion to Ukraine, which includes certain controversial munitions, such as cluster bombs. To deliver this aid, the U.S. must also invest in upgrading outdated weapon technology, which could be costly and time-consuming.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan argues that providing these weapons to Ukraine will not overwhelm the American military; instead, it presents several advantages to the United States.

Excerpted from Peter’s July 11 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

More than a few countries out there couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time…but the U.S. isn’t one of them. Today’s question in the ‘Ask Peter Series’ looks at whether or not the US has stretched itself too thin in Ukraine to deal with another major conflict.

Yes, the U.S. has given the Ukrainians a couple of shiny new toys, but most of the stuff has been obsolete hand-me-downs. And how often do you get to test your new weapon systems in a real-world setting? So the only thing in the mix that throws up any red flags for me is the cluster munitions (and those were going to be retired soon anyways).

This war hasn’t impacted U.S. military preparedness, and if China wanted to try its luck, they’d get an ass-whoopin’ compliments of Uncle Sam. The big piece here is that the people doing the walking and chewing the gum are entirely different. If anything, our involvement in Ukraine has been a proof of concept for how the U.S. will fight the wars of the future.

Hey everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from an incredibly green Colorado, we’ve gotten double our annual precipitation before we even hit April that hasn’t stopped yet. 

 

Today, as part of the “Ask Peter” series, we’re gonna talk about chewing gum and walking at the same time. The concern is that in supplying weapons to the Ukrainians the United States might be stressing its bandwidth to be able to deal with a major conflict, like say, with China. 

 

The punchline is no, this is not something I’m worried about at all, for the simple reason that the people would be doing the gum chewing and the walking are different people. Any sort of military conflict that the Americans are going to get involved with the Russians are going to be primarily on land, first and foremost, in Ukraine itself. That’s an army job. And any conflict that’s gonna involve the Chinese is gonna be on the high seas. That’s the Navy’s and to a lesser degree Marines job. 

 

So, United States is perfectly capable of fighting two wars if they’re very different sorts of wars. So I’m not worried there, number one. Number two, nothing has happened with Ukrainian war yet that has really hit American military preparedness. 

 

So let’s hit this first one, the weapons point of view, it’s already been given. Most of the weapons systems, almost all the weapons systems, that the United States has provided to the Ukrainians are things that the United States, you know, most of the stuff that the Americans provided to the Ukrainians are things that the US military hasn’t used itself since at least the 1990s, and in most cases further back. 

 

This is army surplus that is better to technologically behind the military uses. And so really, the Ukrainians are just going through our hand me downs. Now, we would have given these things to the Allies. That’s what we did at the end of the Cold War, for example, but most of the militaries in Europe had been downsizing or skipping a generation maladie just left all the stuff like him ours in and around warehouses. 

 

So with a couple of notable exceptions, these are not things that the US uses at all. The notable exceptions, there are currently two Patriot batteries operating in Ukraine, that is very close to the top of the aircraft that the United States has right now. I would argue that even though taking those out of American service might hit the strategic issue for us a little bit, it’s worth it because we’re getting real time experience with US technology in third party hands against top of the line Russian equipment, most notably the Kinzhal cruise missiles. And we now know for certain, that even without American personnel operating them, the Patriots can do things the Russians have. That was a great bit of information that we didn’t have before. 

 

The other thing is artillery shells. Now, the United States has not been engaged in a massive war to Vietnam. Even when you look at the Gulf Wars, they were very short little events. And so we haven’t had to use artillery in volume for a very long period of time in the United States, which means that our production of artillery cells has been paired to the bone. And we are going through we —  the Ukrainians — are going through more artillery shells in a month than the United States can produce in a year and Europe is even further behind when it comes to munitions. 

 

So that has prompted the United States to get Ukrainians weapons systems that we are in the process of phasing out. And most notably, that is the cluster munitions that you may have seen in the news recently. Now a cluster munition is one single piece of explosive, there are dozens or hundreds of little bumps spread over an area. The Ukrainians had been on the receiving end of these weapons since the beginning of the war, Russians have preferred to use the cluster munitions whenever they’re targeting a city. They’ll use them when they’re going against things like tanks. And so there’s already hundreds of 1000s, if not 10s of millions of these little bomblets, some of which haven’t exploded, scattered across all of eastern and southern Ukraine. 

 

Human rights advocates aren’t thrilled, but from the Ukraine, it’d be like, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, because they knew where they can get and hopefully they’re going to use cluster munition on their population centers. That’s the job for the Russians. 

 

Anyway, these are weapons for things that are for a little distasteful, and the United States Army was in the process of phasing them out anyway. So again, this kind of falls in the category of surplus stuff, even if it’s not quite kind of there. Anyway, bottom line, US military preparedness really hasn’t been affected by this war, to this point. If anything, it’s proving to be a useful proof of concept for how the US is likely to fight wars in the future. 

 

In the aftermath of the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no political support in the United States for a mass deployment for anything except for top level, national defense. That’s not seen as an issue right now. No one’s dumb enough to attack the United States directly — at least I don’t think that’s going to happen — which means that US strategic policy is going to be operating through third parties, and or using special forces. And so with the Ukraine war, where you have a motivated third party, who is very willing to be an ally accept our equipment, and we’re finding out how well that works, and getting some expertise in figuring out what to do better than next time around. 

 

So all in all, in a weird sort of way, you can kind of thank the Russians for getting the United States to where it needs to go, with both getting rid of its opp weaponry and learning how to fight for the next century. All right that’s it bye

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