In the Spring 2022 issue of Orbis, we are pleased to feature a conversation with the Honorable Dov S. Zakheim, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987. Given the recent developments in the situation around Ukraine, we are excerpting a section of his interview with Orbis here.
Let’s be frank: Mr. Putin is as bumptious as he is now because he saw what happened in Afghanistan and senses that allies and partners of the United States have begun to hedge their bets. Putin is continuing with the old Stalin game plan: Moscow seeks to break up the coherence of the North Atlantic alliance and divide Europe from the United States.
Can this trend be reversed? It will take more than tough talk, and the situation around Ukraine has become the flash point. The United States needs to make it clear to Putin that the West is not going to be bullied by him–and to demonstrate to its European allies and friends that the United States is with them and takes their security seriously.
It is correct that Ukraine is not a formal ally of the United States nor a member of NATO, but neither was Kuwait in 1990. The fate of Ukraine matters for the security of the Euro-Atlantic world; NATO cannot afford to sit on its hands while Russia potentially dismembers Ukraine or brings it back under its sway. Putin’s next target very well might be a NATO ally–one of the Baltic States, perhaps, where a pretext for intervention on behalf of the “Russian speakers” might be the catalyst for a Russian operation.
If the United States takes the lead in demonstrating a firm and clear commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty, including the provision of the capabilities needed for Kyiv to defend itself, Moscow will be much more careful in its next steps.
I have proposed, in my column for The Hill and in other venues, possible steps that would be feasible for the United States to undertake and which could help to change the Kremlin’s calculus. In response to Ukraine’s requests for a wide range of capabilities to counter Russian assets, including electronic warfare support, the United States should consider mounting a massive weapons airlift along the lines of both the 1948 Berlin airlift and the airlift that enabled Israel to turn the tables on its Arab opponents in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It appears that our UK allies have already begun to take this step, in providing additional anti-tank weaponry. The United States can speedily mount such an airlift and weapons transfer. Having been in charge of coordinating the Pentagon’s supply of equipment to Britain in the 1982 Falklands War, I am in awe of how quickly the U.S. military was able to deliver materiel from its depots in the continental United States to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Some of this assistance was provided within 48 hours of request. If, in 1982, the U.S. was able to fulfill every British request, there is no reason that the same could not occur forty years later for Ukraine.
In addition, Washington should consider the deployment of Special Operating Forces (SOF) to Ukraine to help organize and support the country’s defenses, a step which our Canadian ally appears to have done openly within the last week, and augmenting the U.S. role in standing up Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. In addition, it appears that Ukrainian special operators were already being trained in the United States, but the arrival of American special operators–even if not publicly announced–will be known by the Russian side. The Biden administration should call on Britain and its other NATO allies to contribute their own special operators to bolster the Ukrainian defense effort.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.