US commitments to NATO and Ukraine: Nothing said before the word “but” really counts
05 Mar 2023
"The US in the World". This is the topic Kamala Harris1 (US Vice President) and Christoph Heusgen (Chairman MSC)2 discussed at the 2023 Munich Security Conference3. About the limitations of US support for Ukraine.
"Nothing someone says before the word "but" really counts"4 - this is what Benjen Stark says to Tyrion Lannister in the popular TV show Game of Thrones, when Tyrion starts listing what he admires about the Night's Watch. When listening to Harris' speech about the US support for Ukraine, Heusgen must have felt the same as Benjen Stark.
Commitments to support Ukraine
With the Russian attack on Ukraine ongoing, Harris ensured that the transatlantic alliance is stronger than ever. That under President Biden the US has demonstrated decisive leadership and will support Ukraine for as long as it takes and will not waiver. She outlined, that there is too much at stake: The moral interest, the strategic interest. Russia attacks common values, common humanity and common interests. The US has now formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity and will be held to account. She pointed out, that the US was among the 141 countries that voted in favor of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to condemn Russia's aggression and to support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.5 She said "The US commitment to NATO and its article 5 is ironclad"6 and that America will continue to lead in defence of human dignity, rules and norms, freedom and liberty. Because there is too much at stake to do anything less. She ended with this path forward: "There will be more dark days in Ukraine. […] The global ripple effects will continue to be felt. […] But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken. Time is not on his side."
However, there are developments that suggest, that Putin actually can wait the US out and that US support for Ukraine has more limitations than Harris would like to admit.
Next year the United States will enter into an election campaign (2024 United States presidential election). How certain can anyone be, that Putin, who wants to wait the US out, in the end will not succeed? One nominee for the election is former US president Donald Trump, who during his presidency threatened to cut financial contribution to NATO7 and to withdraw US troops from Germany.8
Harris ensured, that America will continue to put contributions and resources into Ukraine. "Everything from ammunition to artillery to air defence. From Stingers to Abrams tanks. HIMARS. Javelins." However, the US is meanwhile hesitant about sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, arguing they are not what Ukraine needs and that Ukraine is better off with Germany's Leopard tanks.9
With the omnibus bill from December 2022 the US are dedicating another 45 billion Dollars for this upcoming year to support Ukraine. The priority being to ensure Ukraine's strength on the battlefield.10
Nevertheless, there is also the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) - which aims to curb US inflation by reducing the deficit, lowering prescription drug prices, and investing into domestic energy production while promoting clean energy. Around 370 billion USD will be disbursed to IRA. It has raised a lot of concern in Europe. Accusations, that after these latest US investments were made, the US is profiting from war while European countries are suffering have been made.11
It is especially the countries of the Global South that feel the consequences (food insecurity, energy insecurity) of this conflict. They don't want to take one side. They want this conflict to end. To them, it's a conflict between European countries and the US on one side and Russia on the other side. Although Harris and Heusgen argue that this is not an East-West conflict, but a rules-based conflict. Harris is determined to keep the issues, that countries of the Global South have, in mind when having this discussion with them as partners around what the solutions for this conflict could look like.
The US support for Ukraine is still strong. However there are many uncertainties in the future: For example what actors in countries of the Global South will do or what the outcome of the 2024 US elections will change.
The Munich Security Conference took place February 17-19.
Kamala Harris: https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/vice-president-harris/
Christoph Heusgen: https://securityconference.org/ueber-uns/vorsitz-team/christoph-heusgen/
UN Charter: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter
CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism): https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_21_3661