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Opinion | Dan Coats: Why Aid for Ukraine’s Fight Against Russia Matters

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Since Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, a rare consensus has formed in Washington around this conviction: America must provide military support to Ukraine’s resistance. Three administrations and large majorities of both parties in Congress have consistently held that President Vladimir Putin’s aggression cannot be tolerated. When has such deep solidarity last occurred on any difficult subject?

Now members of Congress are arguing that we must turn away from spending more money to help Ukraine, choosing instead to focus on our own needs, pursuing our own interests. This is a false choice.

The choices facing America are always based on the same foundation: what best serves our nation. The choice is not America first or something else first. America is always first. The real question, in this complicated and uncertain world, is what course of action will most likely serve our core national interests — security and economic prosperity.

Those interests are inextricably linked to the strength of our global alliances and the international system of law and cooperation in which American democracy survives and prospers. And the strength of those networks, in turn, depends on our role as a trusted ally and friend, on our credibility and — frankly — on our virtue.

In the 80 years that the Soviet Union and then Russia has been our strategic competitor, the United States has spent an incalculable amount to defend ourselves. We have spent trillions of dollars on America’s nuclear defense alone, with primarily one other nuclear-armed state in mind.

Ukraine’s effort to defend itself against Mr. Putin’s advance has degraded Russia’s military more than anyone thought possible when the full invasion of Ukraine began just over two years ago. In blunt dollar terms, helping Ukraine in that defense is by far the least expensive way to weaken Russia’s military and discourage Russian aggression, thereby protecting ourselves and our allies.

The opposite is also true. If Mr. Putin succeeds, the high anxiety in Europe over his next steps will justifiably continue to grow — and expensive imperatives will follow. Anticipating the next possible phase of Mr. Putin’s campaign to reimpose the Russian hegemony of the Cold War era will force NATO to greatly increase its defense budget, plunging the world into an arms race like those leading up to the world wars. Those who do not see the link between European security and our own are not living in the real world.

This is a moment that is heavy with potential consequences for America’s role in the world, for our power to shape future events and for our ability to live securely within our own borders. It is by no means certain that the pending aid package for Ukraine passed by the Senate will even come to a vote in the House and if it does, what its prospects will be. What happens next will determine whether our potential adversaries will be encouraged in their aggressive designs or intimidated by our collective resolve to resist them. It will determine whether our friends and allies will be strengthened by our determination or frightened by the collapse of American will.

The potential consequences of failing to help Ukraine resist Russia’s raw territorial aggression are not limited to Europe. China is watching closely to see how firmly America supports, or not, its friends these days. Our allies are watching too, including Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. All three are nervous about China’s regional ambitions — and dependent on America as a security partner.

This is the context in which the Ukraine aid package that is now before the House must be assessed. This isn’t about the money. It is about American steadfastness, something that is now in question because of another partisan contest. Ukraine and the tens of millions of people living there have become pawns for political maneuvering in Washington.

And while these maneuvers are not new to me or to the American public these days, usually the stakes are not so high. Our failure to help Ukraine resist; our complicity in allowing naked territorial aggression succeed; our undermining of NATO security; our tacit encouragement for China to potentially follow Russia’s lead; and most of all, our abandonment of people of courage and hope, and who love America, would together be a colossal strategic blunder.

This is not the time for political games. It is time for America to do what we all know is right.

Dan Coats was director of national intelligence from 2017 to 2019, after serving in the U.S. Senate from Indiana from 1989 to 1999 and again from 2011 to 2017. He was also the American ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005. He is a senior policy adviser at the King & Spalding law firm.

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