Military aid & ROI
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°193 | 31 January 2023
Last (fiscal) year, Joe Biden approved a total of $41.3 billion in military aid for Ukraine. We’re now less than a third of the way through FY2023 and Biden’s already invested $45.7 billion in the conflict, based on my tally. All told, the US has spent $86.9 billion on related military assistance programs since Russia’s invasion in late February 2022 ($255 million per day, on average).
The executive branch authorized a fifth of this total unilaterally: Biden used his presidential drawdown authority on 28 different occasions to transfer to Ukraine $18 billion worth of matériel from US stockpiles—well over the authority’s standard $100 million annual cap. The rest of the military aid was appropriated by Congress through four pieces of legislation (fun fact: emergency pandemic relief was stripped from each of these same four bills).
^Alt text for screen readers: Biden has approved $87 billion in military aid for Ukraine. This chart has time on the x-axis and U.S. military aid to Ukraine since February 24, 2022 on the y-axis. A single purple line that resembles a very poorly-drawn staircase shows that over 11 months, total U.S. military aid has reached $86.9 billion. Data as of January 31, 2023 via Public Laws 117-103, 117-128, 117-180, 117-328 and the Office of the Federal Register.
The ROI argument
Rapid cost growth has brought about heightened public scrutiny. In response, a particularly gruesome defense of the increasingly expensive policy has emerged, and is quickly gaining popularity.
The argument is that the payoff of degrading Russia’s military forces is worth the cost. So much so that it’s a bargain; a no-brainer investment. There are many examples to choose from, but last month, Biden’s (outgoing) chief of staff Ron Klain and over 30,000 others liked a tweet sharing the article “It’s costing peanuts for the US to defeat Russia.” The author, Timothy Ash, says the war presents a “prime opportunity for the US to erode and degrade Russia’s conventional defense capability” at such a negligible cost that it’s reasonable to “wish Russia to continue deploying military forces” into Ukraine.
This perspective is too flippant about human life to be of any value and ought to be condemned. Consider what one has to willfully ignore to say it’s a low-cost conflict. Below, I plotted out civilian casualties recorded by OHCHR in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in late February 2022. Due to the difficulty in collecting this information and the sometimes-lengthy verification process, OHCHR’s figures are almost certainly undercounted. Credible estimates for military personnel losses are harder to come by, but the consensus seems to be that both sides are at or over (potentially well over) 100,000 casualties each. It’s grim.
^Alt text for screen readers: Civilian casualties in Ukraine: 7,068 killed and 11,415 injured. This chart has time on the x-axis and civilian casualties since February 24, 2022 on the y-axis. A single red line that climbs up and across the chart in an arc shows that in just 11 months, total civilian casualties have reached 18,483. Data as of January 23, 2023 via the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.