The Biden Administration recently asked Congress for $13.7 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. Before Congress acts, it is worth taking stock of what has been done so far.
Without question, supporting Ukraine is in US and European interests. Ukraine’s defense is countering the malicious actions of Russia and China, who would both benefit from the disorganized, divided, and distracted Europe that would emerge after a successful war against Ukraine.
Our assessment of aid to date is that US and European contributions to Ukraine have been equitable. That said, a faster, more robust, and less risk-averse military aid program at the beginning of the conflict might have brought the war to a faster conclusion. Furthermore, the US and its allies need to be thinking now about how to best contribute to reconstruction efforts so as to ensure Ukraine’s long-term stability and successful governance.
Foreign Support is Crucial to Ukraine’s Survival
Ukraine would not be a free country today without foreign support. Since the end of August, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has liberated an area larger than the combined territory of Delaware and Rhode Island. This success shows what Ukrainian forces can do when they are properly equipped and trained. While US aid has been substantial, the Europeans have made important contributions. Europe is providing stronger support to Ukraine than any quick snapshot of pledged aid will show. Let’s look at the numbers.
The US has pledged just under €45 billion in total aid (financial, humanitarian, and military). The next closest donor is the European Union, which has pledged around €16 billion to Ukraine. The largest individual European donor nation is the United Kingdom, at just over €6 billion. While the contributions of other nations are smaller, when aid is viewed as a percentage of gross domestic product, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and the UK are all donating more bilateral aid than is the US
It is also important to understand the difference between public commitments and actual deliveries of aid. In some instances – for example, budgetary support – the US has fulfilled a smaller percentage of its commitments (46%) than other donor nations such as Canada (65%), France (54%), Germany (100%), Japan ( 100%), Sweden (100%), and the United Kingdom (56%) have, although those nations have pledged to make smaller amounts. This is also true of weapons and equipment deliveries. The US has delivered around 24% of its pledged commitments, whereas Poland has delivered 100%.
Moreover, not all deliveries of military aid are disclosed or made public. For a variety of reasons, some nations may choose to donate military equipment in secret, which is not accounted for in aid tabulations. Additionally, companies in some European nations such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Poland are helping repair damaged Ukrainian equipment and get it back onto the battlefield quickly. This support, too, is not captured in public reports.
More Than Meets the Eye
There are other costs born of the conflict. For example, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian refugees are fleeing to European nations. The number of Ukrainian refugees taken in by the US equals only about 0.02% of our population. That proportion is far higher in places like the Czech Republic (3.62%), Estonia (3.30%), Poland (3.19%), Lithuania (2.07%), Latvia (1.81%), Montenegro (1.51%), Slovakia (1.47% ), Bulgaria (1.22%), and Germany (1.04%).
Even in absolute numbers, the US has taken in far fewer Ukrainian refugees (100,000) than Poland (1,365,810), Germany (1,003,029), the Czech Republic (427,696), Italy (159,968), Turkey (145,000), Spain (140,391), and the UK ( 122,900). This is actually right and appropriate. It is far better for Ukrainians to be hosted by nations closer to their homes, easing their eventual resettlement in Ukraine. Still, it’s important to recognize the leadership many European nations have shown on this issue.
The cost of housing Ukrainian refugees is significant. The Kiel Institute darlings that, for some nations, these costs exceed their bilateral aid to Ukraine. When refugee costs are added to overall aid to Ukraine, Estonia, just to take one example, is spending more than 1.2% of GDP, and Latvia and Poland also exceed 1%.
Europeans also bear hidden costs of Russia’s aggression. For example, those nations nearest Ukraine have seen theirs vital tourism industries flattened. Europe is also paying a heavy price – financially and politically – for decades of ill-considered policies that have left them heavily reliant on Russian energy. Energy price hikes due to the war are hitting European consumers and businesses far harder than anything we’ve experienced.
Shaping in Resilient Ukraine
Overall, it’s also fair to say that some topline views of European aid underestimate the contributions of European countries, as well as the level of societal commitment. Nevertheless, the United States is undisputedly the largest and most significant donor country. Additionally, the terms of US grants vs. loans are usually more generous than those of the European Union.
Supporting Ukraine must be a joint transatlantic undertaking, but Europe can and should do more.
The US and its allies should also be thinking now about the longer-term challenge: how to fund reconstruction efforts in ways that contribute to an independent, resilient, and self-reliant Ukraine. “At present,” argues aid expert Max Primorac, “there is high risk that the Ukraine reconstruction effort will be highjacked by the self-interested aid industry and lock the country into debilitating aid dependency, eventually eroding the country’s resilience.” To best serve Ukraine, as well as US and European taxpayers, reconstruction dollars and euros should be accompanied by associated property, regulatory, and judicial reforms.
Looking forward, the US and Europe should seek opportunities to leverage private capital to help in the massive eventual challenge and opportunity of rebuilding Ukraine. The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) is one vehicle that should not be overlooked. 3SI seeks to attract private capital into the region by attracting market-driven investments into digital infrastructure, energy, and transportation. Further, the US and other governments should discard traditional forms of aid monopolized by international financial institutions and the aid-industrial complex.
If the US, the Europeans, and the Ukrainian government don’t start thinking harder and better about winning the peace, a successful end to the war may be a hollow victory.
The future of Ukraine is being shaped every day by the bravery, skill, and sacrifice of Ukrainian forces on the ground. It will also be impacted by those thinking through how to rebuild the nation in a way that sets it on the path to prosperity and success.
There is much at stake for the US and Europe in Ukraine. A fair assessment of the aid provided underscores how Europe can and should do more – however, their contributions have likely been underestimated on this side of the Atlantic. A free, prosperous, and secure Ukraine will only come about if Europe, Ukraine, and the US each do their part.
Daniel Kochis is a senior policy analyst for European affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation. He specializes in trans-Atlantic security issues, regularly publishing on US policy in Europe, NATO, US-Russia relations, and Arctic issues. Kochis is also a regional author for the Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of US Military Strength.
Thomas Spoehr serves as director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense where he is responsible for supervising research on matters involving US national defense. Prior to joining Heritage, Spoehr served for over 36 years in the US Army, attaining the rank of Lieutenant General. He is an expert on national defense policy and strategy, and has testified before the US Congress on defense strategy, budgets and equipment modernization. Spoehr’s articles and commentary have been published widely in both civilian and military media and he is often called upon to provide expert commentary and analysis.