The sheer inability of the collective West to force Russia into submission in Ukraine plus the fast-changing global opinion about the West in the context of the latter’s support for Israel’s brutal war on the Gazans has put the so-called ‘liberal-democratic’ world into a panic mode. The White House has already said that it will run out of money to fund Ukraine into 2024 unless the US Congress gives approval for more funding. This has led the Western war machine – primarily led by the US – to anticipate a possible defeat. “There is no guarantee of success with us, but they are certain to fail without us”, a senior US military official told CNN recently. Without the military support, US officials now estimate, Ukraine would fall by the summer of 2024. But, in Western calculations, Ukraine’s fall does not just mean Russia’s victory; it also implies a possible collapse of NATO and the eventual downfall of the Western-dominated global political, economic, and security order.
A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal said,
“Even more important, Russia’s success in Ukraine would increase a threat to NATO’s Eastern flank—in particular the Baltic states and Poland. Outside of Europe it would embolden Moscow’s allies Iran and North Korea and provide a template for China for the military solution of the Taiwan dispute. In all those cases, the U.S. and NATO troops could find themselves in the midst of a military conflict of the sort that Ukraine fights today without direct involvement of NATO”.
Such prospects are causing severe problems. Germany, for instance, is considering shelving voluntary force and making a return to conscription. “I believe that a nation that needs to become more resilient in times like these will have a higher level of awareness if it is mixed through with soldiers,” said Jan Christian Kaack, the chief of the German Navy. This is in addition to the fact that the German army is too small to defend itself against any threat; hence, the renewed emphasis on conscription.
But Germany is not an exceptional case. In fact, it mirrors developments in the rest of Europe. The UK, otherwise known to possess one of the best fighting forces in the world, is running into some problems of a fundamental nature. The Sky News reported earlier in the year that, a senior US general “privately told Defence Secretary Ben Wallace the British Army is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force”. It was further reported that the “The armed forces would run out of ammunition in a few days if called upon to fight” and that “The UK lacks the ability to defend its skies against the level of missile and drone strikes that Ukraine is enduring”.
On top of it is the fact that the Russian military position in Ukraine remains strong, making it a lot harder for the West to provide enough funding. The Biden administration is facing its own challenges vis-à-vis more funding for Ukraine. As far as Europe is concerned, a recent report showed that pledges for funding made in August 2023 fell by almost 90 percent compared to the same period last year.
This is war fatigue that is being compounded by a well-sustained Russian resolve to achieve its objectives. For the West, Vladimir Putin remains “stubborn”. As Putin recently reiterated, “There will be peace when we achieve our goals… Now let’s return to these goals – they have not changed. I would like to remind you how we formulated them: denazification, demilitarisation, and a neutral status for Ukraine.”
Speaking from a position of strength – and keeping in mind the war fatigue in the West – Putin further said that Russian forces are “improving their position almost along the entire line of contact. Almost all of them are engaged in active combat. And the position of our troops is improving along [the entire line of contact.]”. This being the case, Putin conveyed no ideas of making a compromise with the West over Ukraine. Speaking from the Russian perspective, it would make no sense to offer negotiations and, thus, turn Russian tactical victories into unsustainable settlements.
Clearly, Russia has no intention of withdrawing from its victories, which is why there is a panic, especially in Europe. If Russia continues to win and the US funding stalls, Europe will be left to fend for itself. Germany’s defence minister minced no words to express this fear last Saturday when he said that the US “was losing interest in European affairs and that security tensions in the Pacific would likely leave the European Union having to fend for itself”, adding that “One can assume that the USA will be more involved in the Pacific region in the next decade than it is today – regardless of who becomes the next president,” he said. His conclusion is: “This means that we Europeans must increase our commitment to ensure security on our continent.”
In a nutshell, for the US, if the war in Ukraine was to unify the West, it is beginning to have an exactly opposite effect. There lies a very strong reason for the US to reconsider its strategy. This reconsideration can go in two directions. First, the US can withdraw from its obsession with expanding NATO to include Ukraine. Second, the US can make one last push and make Ukraine fight for as long as it can, hoping that this might break Russia. The Biden administration favours the second option, which is why it is pushing for the US$61 billion aid package. But will a Republican victory allow this to happen? A Republican victory could not only end support for Ukraine but also leave Europe in a total lurch. Tough times ahead.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.