16.10.2023 Author: Brian Berletic

US Stretched Thin as Ukraine Offensive Fails, Israelis Threaten Large-Scale Conflict

US Stretched Thin as Ukraine Offensive Fails, Israelis Threaten Large-Scale Conflict

As Ukraine’s “spring counteroffensive” nears five months of intense fighting and equally intense losses achieving only negligible gains, Kiev’s sponsors in Washington, London, and Brussels find their military stockpiles nearing depletion and their military industrial base stretched far beyond capacity. This single conflict has tested the limits of US military power, diplomatic reach, and economic influence, exposing significant and growing weakness.

At the same time cracks begin to emerge militarily, diplomatically, and economically in the US and among its European allies, the rest of the globe continues its pivot away from the previous US-dominated global order, toward a broader balance of power under multipolarism, further undermining US foreign policy objectives.

Rather than reflect on this paradigm shift and find a rational place for the collective West in this emerging global order, the US and its allies are doubling down in an attempt to reassert their slipping international system and specifically through the use of proxy conflicts.

Just as the US-led collective West is using Ukraine as a focal point to confront, encircle, and contain Russia, the US has maintained Israel as a foothold in the Middle East for decades vis-à-vis Iran and its allies.

In East Asia, the US maintains a presence of tens of thousands of American troops in South Korea and Japan, while expanding its military presence in its former colony of The Philippines. It also has heavily invested in separatist elements on the Chinese island province of Taiwan, setting up the same sort of dynamics seen in Ukraine and Israel that have led to violent conflict in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

It stands to reason that if Washington’s proxy war with Russia in Ukraine is unsustainable and a losing proposition, compounding the strain on US military, diplomatic, and economic power by investing in one or more additional proxy wars around the globe will only accelerate the collapse of US primacy around the globe and the rise of multipolarism.

Ukraine: A Failing Proxy War 

A recent New York Times article titled, “Has Support for Ukraine Peaked? Some Fear So,” highlights growing concern over Washington’s stretched global ambitions. It notes that with growing hostilities in the Middle East and US military aid now being divided between two US proxies, Ukraine and Israel, there is a growing realization that difficult decisions will be necessary.

The article also admits that even before conflict erupted in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, expanding into a broader and large-scale Israeli military operation against the Palestinians, both support for and interest in Ukraine was already waning.

Beyond political will, the New York Times admits to technical limitations of Western support for its proxies globally.

The article admits:

European vows to supply one million artillery shells to Ukraine by March are falling short, with countries supplying only 250,000 shells from stocks — a little more than one month of Ukraine’s current rate of fire — and factories still gearing up for more production. 

Adm. Rob Bauer, who is the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said in Warsaw that Europe’s military industry had geared up too slowly and still needed to pick up the pace.

It should be noted that a previous New York Times article revealed that Russia is currently producing as many artillery shells annually as the combined output of the US and Europe if production is expanded by 2025 at the earliest.

Even if the West could rally both political and public support for not only Ukraine, but also Israel, the limitations of the West’s combined military industrial base simply cannot deliver the material support needed to match it.

Israeli Military Gears Up For War, Diverts Military Support for Ukraine 

Following the October 7, 2023 Hamas raids into Israeli-held territory, the Israeli military has begun carrying out large-scale military operations against the inhabitants of Gaza as well as strikes on southern Lebanon and airports in Syria. A military incursion into Gaza alone will require huge amounts of artillery and aerial munitions, as well as small arms ammuniton.

While the US government claims it is capable of supplying both Israel and Ukraine, it is clear that if support was already falling far short of requirements in Ukraine, dividing it among Ukraine and now Israel means US military support will be stretched even thinner still.

In a Politico article titled, “Planes have already taken off’: U.S. sends Israel air defense, munitions after Hamas attack,” admits:

The needs of the Israelis and Ukrainians are different in some key respects. Israel will rely heavily on precision air-to-ground munitions fired from F-16 and F-35 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, none of which is in the Ukrainian arsenal. The issue of 155mm artillery shells, which both countries rely on heavily, will likely loom large, however.

The US has already transferred 300,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition from stockpiles maintained in Israel for both US and Israeli use, to Ukraine. Now 155mm rounds will be flowing back into Israel.

It should be pointed out that Israel also operates M270 multiple launch rocket systems, which fire the same GPS-guided rockets as the HIMARS vehicles the US transferred to Ukraine. There has so far been no discussion of transferring such rockets to Israel and if this will impact shipments of this ammunition to Ukraine, but as CNN pointed out in a May 2023 article, Ukraine’s daily rate of fire was already a meager 18 rockets.

In 2006, Israel’s failed ground incursion into southern Lebanon was accompanied by an intense nation-wide aerial bombardment of Lebanon using a variety of aerial munitions including guided bombs. In less than a month of intense military operations, Israel’s stockpiles were depleted, and as the New York Times reported at the time, additional munitions were rushed from US stockpiles to Israel.

Protracted Israeli military operations will broaden the drain on US military stockpiles and military industrial output across even more weapons and munitions than Ukraine has.

And Taiwan Too… 

It cannot be forgotten that the third focal point of Washington’s Russia-China containment policy, Taiwan, also requires large amounts of munitions to prepare for a conflict the US is openly attempting to provoke with the rest of China.

Even as the US intensifies its pressure on China over Taiwan, America’s stretched military industrial base is struggling to meet even previously agreed upon arms sales.

Bloomberg in its September 2023 article, “Taiwan Arms Supply Is Hobbled by Slow Contractors, US Official Says,” admitted:

Delays in US delivery of promised weapons to Taiwan stem more from defense industry shortcomings than government inefficiency, according to a State Department official handling foreign arms sales. 

“We need to work together to encourage our partners in industry to take more risks, be more flexible, diversify their supply chains and act with deliberate speed to expand production capacity,” Mira Resnick, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, said in prepared remarks for a hearing Tuesday by the House Armed Services Committee. 

Expanding physical production facilities, channeling larger amounts of raw materials and basic components into these facilities, and manning them with sufficient human resources depend on other prerequisite investments to be made, such as in construction, mining, upstream manufacturing, and education.

Thus, despite the ease with which US officials demand military industrial production be expanded, doing so is a resource and time-intensive process that will take years if and only if both the US government and Western arms manufacturers agree to significantly expand production. This takes place at the same time both Russia and China continue expanding their own industrial bases, including the production of military equipment, weapons, and ammunition.

For US, proxy wars to have succeeded, Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan would have needed US military industrial production expanded years ago.

It is clear US geostrategic planning attempted to produce a strategy that achieved its objectives with what it had on hand. This strategy was swallowed up in Ukraine, with the remnants being divided between a depleted Ukrainian military and a nascent Israeli military operation that could escalate out of control.

This leaves US policymakers with two options; increasingly extreme and dangerous options including direct interventions in Ukraine, the Middle East, and against China in what could escalate into nuclear war or a pivot away from achieving global primacy and finding a proportional role for the US to play among, rather than above, all other nations.

The future of the United States will take the shape of either an overextended empire involuntarily retreating into irrelevance and destitution, or a powerful member of the multipolar world prioritizing the rebuilding of its industrial base, infrastructure, and its education system to trade with and contribute alongside the rest of the world. The longer the US invests in the former option, the longer and more difficult the transition will be to the latter.


Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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