Josuha C. Huminski
Sept 10, 2023
Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s recent foreign policy statements about Ukraine and Taiwan, and his seeming isolationist inclination, are met with derision by those within the Washington beltway. For those policymakers, pundits and insiders, the suggestion that the United States should retreat from the world and halt its aid to Ukraine, ceding the strategic position to Russia, is unthinkable and laughable to consider.
Yet, the debate is not that simple for most Americans. Those outside of Washington are questioning America’s support to Ukraine, especially as the war grinds on with little expectation of success. “How long will this war continue?” they ask. “Why are we supporting Kyiv when we have problems here at home?”
Rather than dismissing Ramaswamy’s statements out of hand — which only confirm their veracity in the eyes of his supporters and of Ukraine’s detractors — it is both better and necessary to engage with the underlying legitimate question that buttresses his position: What is in America’s national interest?
This is perhaps the most important question when looking at support for Ukraine both now and in the future, but also at America in the world, especially ahead of the 2024 election. What then is in America’s national interest and does Ukraine fit within that interest framework?
States act out of their interests. Their actions may be informed by moral, ethical or altruistic beliefs, but at the end of the day, interests are what matters. The United States is no different.
European stability and security are vital to the United States. Russia’s expanded invasion of Ukraine upset the long-assumed continental stability that underpinned unparalleled economic growth. Returning that stability to the continent is a prerequisite for any future progress. So long as there is an open war in Europe, geopolitical risks and instability will be magnified and have a deleterious effect both on the continent and on America’s interests and economy.
While not entirely to blame for America’s inflationary pressures, the war is exacerbating already tumultuous economic conditions. Bringing a swift end to the war would certainly be welcome, but bringing a lasting end to the war that rewards long-term Ukrainian stability and not Russian aggression will return sensibility to the markets. It will also alleviate pressures on grain and food prices, which have markedly increased because of export disruptions from Ukraine and Russia. These latter pressures are already increasing instability in parts of the Middle East and Africa, which will surely create dynamics that will draw American interest.
Militarily, a conventionally weakened Russia is also in America’s interest. While far from defeated, a degraded Russian military is one that will pose less of a direct military threat to European security and will be in a weaker position to pursue any predatory designs it may have
in the near term. Should the Kremlin find its territorial appetite whetted by any victory in Ukraine, it could well seek to exert its influence further afield.
NATO deterrence has held, thus far, but it may not hold in the face of a victorious Russia. However, Moscow may calculate that outcome. Cynically, the longer the war continues, and the more degraded Russia’s military is, the better it is for European and American interests. Yet that comes at a severe cost in terms of Ukrainian lives lost. It is, therefore, morally and ethically incumbent on the West to see the conflict brought to as swift and lasting a close as possible.
However, a quick and incomplete peace as some have advocated, is as deleterious as no peace at all. Reaching a disadvantageous, temporary settlement would only see Russia emboldened, creating time and space for rearmament and political pressure, which would likely result in the resumption of the conflict in the future. There is little to suggest that Russia will be satiated by its territorial gains in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s success in annexing Crimea in 2014 and the invasion of the Donbas (both directly and by proxy) merely set the stage for 2022’s expanded invasion. Rewarding predation now sets conditions for future aggression.
Supporting Ukraine and ensuring that Moscow fails is also an indicator of American and Allied resolve in the face of naked aggression wherever it may manifest. To acquiesce to Russia’s designs is to invite further violence elsewhere. Should American resolve waver or fail, what message would it send to China over Taiwan? Ramaswamy and others certainly find that Taiwan’s defense is only in America’s interest until the U.S. is less dependent on its semiconductor market and, as such, would seemingly be happy with the message that Taipei is in Beijing’s sphere of influence alone.
The United States cannot do this alone nor should it expect to do so. America’s allies in Europe must continue their support for Ukraine and must invest in their own defense. So too must Taiwan and America’s allies in the Indo-Pacific. These same partners must themselves be reliable and be relied upon to buttress regional stability and strengthen the international order on which American security and prosperity rely.
This then speaks to the broader internationalist arguments of America’s interests. There has always been, and will always be, an isolationist streak in American politics. The siren call of retreating behind America’s oceans and leaving the rest of the world to its fate is alluring. Yet, foreign problems rarely stay on foreign shores. This then is raw, naked interest — American stability and prosperity at home are inextricably linked with what happens abroad.
The strategic contest with Russia and indeed China is about the modern manifestation of spheres of influence, a concept that leads to instability. American national interest is in global stability, the free flow of commerce and ensuring that no one country achieves regional hegemony. Such a development is a sure path toward greater conflict and greater instability.
Joshua C. Huminski is director of the national security space program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress and a George Mason University National Security Institute Fellow. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.