Ukraine has suffered two terrible afflictions in recent weeks. First came the horrific Russian invasion, which has set off bloody conflict and outraged much of the world. Second is the American decision to send that suffering country massive amounts of advanced weaponry, which guarantees more suffering and death.
Never has the United States rushed so quickly to provide so much high-tech armament to a distant country already enveloped in war. Rather than sending diplomats in an urgent effort to reach an armistice and stop the bloodshed, the United States is fueling an already raging conflagration.
This week President Biden announced that he would send Ukraine a staggering $800 million worth of “our most cutting-edge systems.” His largesse includes 800 Stinger missiles, which are hand-held projectiles that can bring down a military jet or a civilian airliner, and 9,000 “anti-armor” systems, which can blow up tanks or trucks. They will not only be used to kill Russians, but also provoke Russia to respond by killing more Ukrainians. Given the number of mercenaries that both sides are recruiting from around the world, some of these weapons will almost certainly leak onto the global black market. Look for them to turn up in the arsenals of terrorists around the world.
Those of us who have seen war up close know that it is the worst thing in the world. It destroys innocent lives and shatters families and communities forever, long after political and military conflicts end. Yet for nearly everyone in Washington and for huge numbers of Americans, war is distant and antiseptic, something like a geopolitical video game with added fireworks. It isn’t. It’s about bodies blown apart and entire nations laid waste. The only winners are gleeful arms makers, for whom this war is a bonanza of bloodstained profit.
Our obsession with Ukraine is unlike anything in living memory. People who had never heard of that country a month ago, and who even today could not find it on a map, have almost overnight come to believe that the future of human freedom is being decided there. They boycott Russian vodka and display the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which most had never seen before. This tsunami of delirium will be rich fodder for future psychologists studying mass hypnosis, group frenzies, and the power of the media to whip populations into self-destructive fury. Less laughable is the Niagara of armament that is flooding into Ukraine. If Russian President Vladimir Putin needed any more evidence for his conviction that the West wants to use Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia, we are providing it.
Nearly everyone in Washington has succumbed to our new national hysteria. One exception is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who warned that escalating this war “does not help Ukraine, does not help the people of the United States, and does not make the world any safer.” An even more trenchant dissent came from the other end of the political spectrum. “What is the one thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together?” Senator Rand Paul asked. “War! They love it. The more the better.”
It’s bad enough that the United States and NATO have joined Putin in a mad escalation, recklessly fueling war and making no serious effort to reach peace. Even worse is that the peace formula is clear for all to see. It’s mind-numbingly simple: a non-aligned Ukraine without foreign troops or weapons. Call it the Henry Kissinger Plan, since 10 years ago he wrote that “if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.” By today’s standards, that makes Kissinger a “Kremlin stooge” who is “parroting Putin’s talking points.”
Our escalation in Ukraine will fuel counter-escalation. That intensifies a confrontation between two nuclear-armed powers. Every Russian weapon sent to Ukraine means horror. So does every American weapon. Our testosterone-fueled war fever invites disaster for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the world. A peaceful solution is within easy reach. We should grab it.
Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.