After a year of violence, horror and agony for the Ukrainian people, their conflict with Russia remains no closer to a conclusion. Fighting off a swift takeover from the Russians, the Ukrainians have entered a stage of military and diplomatic stagnancy, with neither country making meaningful progress toward winning the war. Throughout all of this, the United States has stood on the side of freedom, taking up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea to provide the weapons and ammunition required to ward off Russian forces. For this, America has paid deeply.
After enforcing economic sanctions on the Russians and stifling a major global supplier of oil, prices at the pump have risen dramatically. Worsening an already weakened economy, inflation has also soared, and the Federal Reserve’s fight to offset Russian sanctions and achieve price stability has come up short. On the international stage, the war has thrust the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into chaos and sparked debates over the role of the group in aiding non-treaty allies. Furthermore, after years of pulling back on our relationship with Saudi Arabia and other dangerous oil states, the Biden administration was forced to beg OPEC leaders to stop cutting oil production. Though the American people support the Ukrainians in their heroic fight for an independent state, the disruption the war has caused at home and abroad necessitates finally asking the uncomfortable question: Is it still worth it for America to intervene in Ukraine?
At the onset of the war, many lawmakers called for President Joe Biden to take drastic steps to support Ukraine, including allowing them to join NATO and directly intervening militarily in the country. To his great credit, Biden made the wise decision to avoid extreme escalation and instead focus on measures that would penalize but not further provoke the Russians. Initially, this came in the form of removing Russia from the SWIFT banking system, which caused significant economic damage, in addition to many economic sanctions on Russian goods that sent a strong statement.
Unfortunately, while the initial goal of Biden’s actions was to push the Russians toward a peace agreement, that strategy has failed. Over the past year, the United States has moved beyond providing humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine to also becoming a primary financer of their military. Providing tanks, weapons and munitions to Ukraine, the United States has deeply involved itself in the war effort, enraging Russian President Vladimir Putin and giving him the ammunition necessary to sow Russian distrust of the West and prolong an unpopular war.
While mainstream Republicans and Democrats both support continued funding to finance Ukraine’s military, it’s critical to understand the implications that doing so could have on America’s standing. After years of unnecessary war in Iraq and extended combat in Afghanistan, the U.S. was finally retreating from global conflict after leaving Afghanistan in late 2021. Across the aisle, there was consensus that America had failed in its attempts to build stable governments in foreign nations and should pull back from wars without a direct impact on American national security. Such conflicts have eaten up trillions of dollars in taxpayer money and created an extensive distrust of the status quo that in part led to former President Donald Trump’s outsider campaign victory in 2016.
Our continued involvement in the Ukrainian war has reversed that trend, however, and thrust America right back into international conflict. Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were provoked by terrorist attacks on American soil, the war in Ukraine doesn’t pose a direct threat to America’s national security. Because of Russia’s economic decline since the end of the Cold War, the nation is no longer a significant economic rival to the United States. With China’s rise to prominence and the fragility of U.S.-Chinese relations, particularly with regards to Taiwan, the United States would be better served devoting time and resources toward its growing China problem. From a human rights perspective to the subject of the global marketplace, it is essential that the U.S. elaborate on its plans to maintain peace with China amid escalating competition and stalemates.
Domestically, the war has had even more profound implications. Beyond continued spending of taxpayer dollars on Ukrainian aid, the war has rocked the American economy through high fuel prices and crashing markets. The sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia have certainly crippled the Russian economy, but in the process have also inflicted severe economic pain on American citizens. The initial purpose of sanctions was to force a peace agreement, but due to Putin’s refusal to back down, they now serve little function. Additionally, though military aid has allowed the Ukrainians to outperform expectations, they seem unlikely to win outright in the near term, increasing the likelihood of a “forever war,” like Afghanistan, that will lead to continued death and destruction.
While it remains the prerogative of the Ukrainian people to maintain their commitment to retaining the entirety of their territory during negotiations, it’s imperative that America also look after its own national interests. Biden’s statement “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine” may have been a bold expression of unity, but it’s impractical to allow a foreign nation to receive unconditional support and influence over American policy. If America wishes to continue supporting Ukraine while asserting its own interests, it should push Ukraine to negotiate a resolution that’ll bring peace and economic stability to the region.
Though a peace agreement may seem far from reach, the demands on both sides leave much room for compromise. At an international level, any serious peace settlement would likely include a withdrawal of current European Union and American sanctions against Russia, which in addition to restoring the Russian economy, would ultimately benefit Americans by reducing oil prices. Beyond that, Ukraine would likely have to cede the Crimean Peninsula to Russia and allow them to control it outright. This issue is the key holdup in current negotiations, given Zelensky’s desire to recover all Ukrainian territory. Working with the Ukrainian government to soften their stance on this issue in exchange for future security guarantees from the U.S. would be the best approach to achieve a lasting peace. Though this area represents a significant amount of Ukrainian territory, given that it’s been under Russian influence since their 2014 invasion, ceding it and ending the war would be a positive outcome for both Ukraine and Russia.
Beyond Crimea, Russia’s main demands center around NATO membership for Ukraine. As the spark that started the war, this issue has been politically challenging for American lawmakers to openly oppose, but it’s highly unlikely that any Ukrainian push for membership would be approved even without a ban. Due to the obvious instability of the region and the required military support of a treaty ally, NATO members fear adding a country whose future military activities could spark a major global conflict. By putting a restriction on Ukrainian membership in writing, NATO could satisfy one of Putin’s top demands and make a meaningful contribution to the peace process.
Ultimately, America needs to reassess its goals in Ukraine if it hopes to stabilize the economy and avoid the same fate the country had in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ideal way to accomplish this would be through brokering a peace settlement. While talks have slowed, with a push from the United States, Ukraine and Russia have enough common ground to make a settlement possible. If Ukraine chooses to continue fighting, however, Biden should make the difficult decision to taper off funding for the war effort. With the magnitude of America’s own problems, it’s high time we learn our lesson about the costs of being the global policeman.
Nikhil Sharma is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.