There is no rational path to military victory for Ukraine. The longer Kyiv and Washington ignore this painful reality, the greater the damage that will be pointlessly inflicted on the people of Ukraine, and the more territory they might cede in an eventual negotiated conclusion, writes Daniel L. Davis, a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times.
Some still hang their hopes on the acquisition of more high-quality Western military equipment. Last week, the Biden administration announced it was seeking an additional $24 billion for Ukraine, much of which would be to supply new weapons and ammunition. Others point to America’s willingness to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in the relatively near future as yet more evidence things will turn around.
The impression most analysts and pundits have is that once the Ukrainian military possesses a certain number of modern weapons, and enough of its forces undergo advanced NATO training, they will be able to match and then defeat Russia. What those beliefs expose, unfortunately, is a lack of understanding of how wars are waged and won. It is the human dimension, not the tools of combat, that determines the outcome of wars. On this front, the UAF may have already suffered irreparable loss.
The issue is no longer about equipment. It is not even about training, be it good or bad. The most crucial component of the Ukrainian Army’s potential to wage war is the human resource. According to leaked U.S. intelligence, as of April the Ukrainian military had lost approximately 130,000 killed and wounded. The number has likely skyrocketed since the June 5 launch of their offensive. Especially harmful to Ukraine has been the loss of their most experienced, NATO-trained troops.
It will be increasingly difficult to replace losses of this magnitude. There are fewer and fewer Ukrainian men left to mobilize, and increasing numbers are fleeing the country or paying bribes to avoid what many see as a pointless sacrifice of their lives.
With the losses already sustained over nearly a year and a half of high-intensity combat — and the failure of the current offensive to accomplish even intermediate objectives — there is very little chance Ukraine will be able to build a new offensive capacity in the foreseeable future. It could take a generation to rebuild a credible fighting force, and even that might only be possible with an uninterrupted period of peace and the provision of a full complement of armored vehicles, along with ammunition and required logistics.
The strategic decisions made by Ukraine’s most senior leaders, and the sometimes-poor tactics employed by soldiers, were at the heart of Ukraine’s inability to win on the battlefield. More gear and ammo would certainly have increased Ukrainian forces’ destructive power, but there is no evidence — on the current battlefield or in military history — that this would have changed the outcome.
The West must concede that, right or wrong, the Ukrainian Army was given a chance to launch its offensive and see if it could work or not. The West in general, and the United States in particular, have contributed mammoth amounts of military aid to Ukraine.
Combined with the great number of casualties Ukraine has suffered, this is the cold, hard truth: There is no rational basis upon which one could argue Kyiv will form, after all its losses, a capacity that exceeds what they have shown to date.
This means it is almost certain Ukraine will never win its freedom on the battlefield.
American national security and economic prosperity must be at the heart of any policy Washington puts into effect. The U.S. contributed well over $100 billion and sent thousands of armored vehicles, millions of shells and rockets, and significant intelligence support for nearly a year and a half. It is now necessary to acknowledge that this remarkable level of investment did not produce a return on investment.
It would help neither Ukraine nor the United States to double down and invest another $100 billion and countless more arms, Daniel L. Davis stresses.