February 20, 2024 | Newsweek

Supporting Ukraine and Israel Will Help Deter Aggression Around the World

February 20, 2024 | Newsweek

Supporting Ukraine and Israel Will Help Deter Aggression Around the World

The U.S. Senate voted 70-29 last week to approve more than $95 billion in assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The bill’s fate in the House of Representatives remains uncertain. As our representatives in Congress contemplate next steps, it is worth surveying the increasingly connected threats Americans and our allies confront.

Americans tend to miss the connections between the conflicts and looming crises in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific. That is a problem because overlooking those connections results in missed opportunities to counter aggression and prevent violence from spreading.

Consider the relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which is closer today than it has been in decades. Just weeks before Russia’s unprovoked reinvasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin and Chairman Xi Jinping announced a “no limits” strategic partnership and a “new era” of international relations. Moscow expressed support for Beijing’s position on Taiwan, and Beijing echoed Putin’s talking points on NATO. Together, they denounced AUKUS, a trilateral partnership between Australia, Britain, and the United States designed to deter aggression and secure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Accordingly, after Putin launched the largest invasion in Europe since World War II on February 24, 2022, it was hardly surprising to see Beijing take a number of steps to help him. Beijing diplomats and wolf warriors amplified the Kremlin’s propaganda and misinformation, which has cynically characterized Putin’s “special military operation” as an act of defense against NATO and an effort to “denazify” a country led by a Jewish president.

Beijing provided Putin with electronics and hardware for use against Ukraine and helped Moscow evade Western sanctions. Beijing also was happy to increase its purchases of Russian oil and gas, providing Putin the cash he needed to fund his increasingly expensive war. Moreover, China and Russia have been increasing their combined military exercises. In August 2023, an 11-vessel Chinese-Russian naval flotilla patrolled near the coast of Alaska after operating in the Sea of Japan.

Unfortunately, Iran and North Korea were happy to join the Sino-Russian axis.

Iran has provided Russia with thousands of Shahed kamikaze drones to attack Ukrainians and their infrastructure. Those same types of drones have been used to attack U.S. troops in the Middle East. Now, Iran appears to be on track to acquire Russian Su-35 fighter jets, among other advanced military capabilities, which could increase Tehran’s confidence that it could sprint to a nuclear weapons capability and repel attacks designed to stop it.

Iran has also been busy building its relationship with China. Tehran and Beijing signed a 25-year “strategic partnership” in March 2021. Under the deal, Tehran gets lots of Chinese investments, and China gets lots of Iranian oil. That inflow of cash will help reduce the impact and leverage of Western sanctions, making Tehran even less likely to negotiate in good faith in the future regarding its nuclear program.

A leaked copy of the agreement called for the two countries to conduct combined military training, exercises, and weapons development, and to share intelligence. Then, in July 2023, Iran officially became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was founded in 2001 by China and Russia.

Not to be left out of the growing axis of aggressors, North Korea has provided Russia artillery rounds and missiles for use in Ukraine. In exchange, Pyongyang has sought military assistance from Russia for conventional military technologies, such as fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missiles, as well as for its ballistic missile and satellite programs, and possibly its nuclear program.

So, what’s to be done?

First, Americans should realize that our adversaries appreciate the value of partners, and we should too. The United States is the most powerful nation on the planet, but it still needs help. America’s allies and partners are grand strategic assets to be strengthened and nurtured—not burdens to be jettisoned. Statements or actions that undermine NATO, for example, are deeply damaging and short-sighted, inviting the very aggression the alliance was created to deter—and has successfully deterred for more than seven decades.

Second, Americans should appreciate that support for beleaguered democratic partners such as Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan is a wise and affordable investment, not charity. For less than 3 percent of what Washington spent on the Pentagon over the same period, U.S. security assistance has helped Ukraine deliver body blows to the second-leading military threat Americans confront, decreasing the chances of Kremlin aggression against NATO—all without putting our troops in harm’s way.

Israel, for its part, is battling Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist organization that has a cozy relationship with the Kremlin. Hamas’ original charter makes clear that it is committed to the murder of Jews and the extermination of the state of Israel. The horrors of October 7, which included heinous acts of infanticide, rape, torture, and kidnapping, should put to rest any lingering questions about whether Hamas still harbors such views. Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, is fighting on the front lines in the battle between civilization and barbarism. Helping Israel is helping ourselves.

Meanwhile, Beijing is sprinting to field a military capability to conquer Taiwan and take away the freedom of millions of people there. If deterrence fails in the Taiwan Strait, as it did in Ukraine, the costs for Americans could be even more severe, likely involving direct war between the United States and China. It would be far less costly to invest decisively in Taiwan’s deterrent capabilities now than to deal with a war there that could have been prevented.

Finally, Americans should recognize that the outcomes in Ukraine and the Middle East will influence Beijing’s thinking about Taiwan. Defeating Russia in Ukraine and Iran’s terrorist network in the Middle East are important American objectives on their own; they are also vital to preventing another disastrous war.

If Beijing and Pyongyang conclude that aggression worked in Ukraine and the Middle East—and see the United States and its allies lose interest over time and abandon beleaguered democracies—aggression will only become more likely in East Asia. That realization helps explain why Taipei has made clear that it wants Kyiv to succeed.

Xi Jinping is likely asking himself and his advisers whether the United States would stand with Taipei if Beijing launches aggression in the Taiwan Strait. To help answer that question, he will look to votes in Washington and American actions in Ukraine and the Middle East. What America does could have decisive implications for war and peace in the Pacific.

Lieutenant General (ret.) H.R. McMaster is the Chair of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was the 26th assistant to the president for national security affairs. Bradley Bowman serves as senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at FDD.


China Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine