There is a strange belief that the best way to solve humanitarian crises caused by war is to hand out even more weapons. This week the United Nations warned that the upsurge in violence in Ukraine is proving ‘catastrophic’. In the United States, meanwhile, both the media and officials such as Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel have been ratcheting up the pressure on President Obama to send weapons to the Ukrainian Army. So far, Obama has resisted, but according to the Washington Post, he is facing a ‘rebellion’ within the Democratic Party. The BBC reports that the president ‘is rethinking his policy’.
A lack of weapons has never been the Ukrainian Army’s problem. It began operations against the rebels in the east of the country with a massive advantage in heavy weapons. Poor leadership and tactics meant, however, that it could not translate this advantage into battlefield success. Moreover, a thorough examination of the rebels’ weapons by experts of the Armaments Research Service in Australia concluded that most had been captured from the Ukrainian Army, which has been, one could say, very generous with its equipment. Giving the Ukrainians yet more weapons will not solve their leadership problems, nor improve the efficiency of their troops. As likely as not, some of the arms will eventually end up in rebel hands.
There is no reason to believe that supplying the Ukrainian Army will help it defeat the rebellion. What it will do is escalate the conflict. Russia has made it very clear that it will not allow the rebels to be defeated militarily, and so far it has provided the rebels with just enough equipment to prevent this from happening. Were the United States to send weapons to Ukraine, it is probable that Russia would retaliate in kind, stepping up supplies to the rebels. This would wipe out any advantage American armaments provided. The scale of violence would increase still further, without actually tipping the balance of power in favour of the Ukrainians.
The failure so far to end the war by negotiation has not been due to the intransigence of one side only. Any peace settlement will require substantial concessions not only by Russia and the rebels, but also by the Ukrainian government, concessions which as yet Kiev has shown no signs of being willing to make. Arming Ukraine will not encourage it to take a step in that direction. It is more likely to strengthen the hand of hawks within the Ukrainian government, who will feel that with the support of a superpower, they do not need to compromise. Peace will be less, rather than more, likely.