Op-Ed: Here’s how to handle ‘burden-sharing’ for Ukraine

Vladimir Putin must be disappointed, to say the least — and not just because nine months later Russia is still locked in a war against Ukraine that he expected would be won quickly. Contrary to his hopes, diverging national interests have not split the 30-country transatlantic alliance that supports Kyiv. Large and unwieldy, sometimes belligerent, NATO has remained remarkably united.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization imposed the toughest sanctions ever against Russia, rushed to ship essential arms to Ukraine and supported a war-ravaged Ukrainian economy.

But as the war drags on, tensions could arise within its ranks – there are already signs – over “burden-sharing”.

This term is typically used in discussions of relative defense spending within NATO, primarily by Americans who want Europeans to spend more. But eventually, the war in Ukraine could lead to discord over another type of burden-sharing: comparative contributions in support of Ukraine.

Military support to Ukraine was essentially an American operation, even considering the important role played by some NATO countries – notably the UK, which provided $1.5 billion. About 80% of the arms – in dollar terms – received by Kyiv since February 24 come from the United States, which has provided more than $19 billion in military aid.

This reflects the magnitude of Washington’s military resources. President Biden’s FY2023 defense budget proposal totals $813 billion, a sum Congress is expected to add. That’s more than the next 11 countries combined spent on defense last year.

But when it comes to economic aid, the United States’ allies have the resources to provide far more aid to Ukraine than they have.

According to the World Bank, the gross domestic product of the United States in 2021, measured in purchasing power parity, was $20.9 trillion and that of the European Union was $19.7 trillion. Add in the UK ($3.1 trillion) and the thin US lead disappears. But the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker shows a wide gap between US budget support to Ukraine and the EU’s contribution. As of October 3, the US had disbursed $8.5 billion, the EU $3.6 billion (out of the $12.3 billion it had pledged), and the UK has 0 $.6 billion delivered half of its commitment.

The development gap between the US and Europe is unjustified for two reasons. First, the combined GDP of the EU and the UK exceeds that of the US; So, unlike military support, lack of capacity is not the problem. Second, because the United States is providing the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, it is reasonable to expect that the EU and the UK combined will be matched, if not surpassed, in economic aid.

When asked about the imbalance, EU officials claim that the $3.6 billion figure of Union aid to Ukraine omits contributions from individual member states and only includes money from the EU budget. But even adding in those other contributions, the picture doesn’t change much, not least because only three of Washington’s NATO allies – Britain, Canada and Germany – have individually pledged more than $1 billion, let alone Germany, Europe Powerhouse, had a GDP of $4.2 trillion last year.

The one-sidedness remains even if the metric used represents all forms of economic assistance to Ukraine as a percentage of a donor’s GDP. According to the Kiel database, only 7 of the 30 countries supporting Ukraine surpass the United States’ 0.2% share.

No matter how you divide it, burden-sharing in economic aid to Ukraine is neither fair nor justified.

The point is not that the United States’ allies are dead – they are not – or that economic aid to Ukraine should be primarily Europe’s responsibility; the US can afford to help and should do so.

However, should the war prove protracted, the current pattern of aid contributions in Washington could become increasingly uncomfortable, especially as the United States faces an economic downturn.

Then there is the magnitude of Ukraine’s needs. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimates that his country will need $38 billion in domestic aid in 2023 alone, and President Zelensky anticipates it will need another $17 billion for other non-military purposes.

Transatlantic disputes over aid to Ukraine could arise at a delicate moment. The EU and the UK are now facing economic problems that will get worse before they get better, and will therefore be under great pressure to redress the imbalance in non-military assistance to Ukraine. But the longer the war drags on, the more likely it is that the United States will push for fair burden-sharing.

If left to fester, the inequality in burden-sharing could breed resentment. It should be fixed before things get to this point. The best way forward is a division of labour: the US takes primary responsibility for military aid to Ukraine; Europe and the UK are doing the same for economic aid.

Rajan Menon is Director of the Grand Strategy Program at Defense Priorities and a Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-29/ukraine-nato-europe-united-states-aid-discrepancies Op-Ed: Here’s how to handle ‘burden-sharing’ for Ukraine

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