The world needs to hear a clear statement from the West that it will help Ukraine win, says former U.S. Army general.

After a long period of hesitation, the U.S. Congress has passed additional military aid for Ukraine, but its opponents in the House of Representatives were missing a clear goal - what does the administration expect to achieve with 61 billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer's money. Retired U.S. Army general BEN HODGES would also welcome a clearly defined strategic goal.

"There's a reluctance to say that we want Ukraine to win. There's an excess of fear in the White House that if Russia looks like they're about to lose or that they might lose Crimea that they will use a nuclear weapon or escalate somehow. I think it's absolutely not going to happen," says BEN HODGES.

The U.S. Congress has finally passed the necessary legislation to facilitate the 61 billion Ukrainian bill. Initial shipments of military material should be making their way to Ukraine as we speak. Can you assess what kind of change we can expect from these shipments? Are they capable of triggering a strategic change and not just a tactical one?

I'm glad the package was finally approved. It took eight months, which is about eight months longer than it should have taken. You can blame it on our own internal political issues, but also the president could have done a better job at explaining why this is important for the United States.

Strategically, it's important because it tells the Kremlin that the US is not going to turn its back on Ukraine. I don't believe that Russia has the ability to knock Ukraine out of the war. So, their only hope is that the West would quit. This is not the case.

The provided capabilities will help buy a few months of time for the Ukrainian side, but by itself it's not going to be enough to win the war. I never liked the phrase 'game changer'. But it will definitely help buy a few months for Ukraine to stabilize and also to grow the size of their own military as well as continue to improve their own defense industry.

What's missing is the very important clarity from the White House about a strategic outcome. The only messaging I saw was 'this will help Ukraine stay in the fight', which…why is that the aspiration? Why isn't the aspiration much more clear, such as 'help Ukraine win'?

So, I'm glad it's done, but I'm not satisfied.

This was one of the objections that GOP representatives raised during the House debate on the bill. There are no clear objectives as to what needs to be achieved with 61 bn of U.S. taxpayer's money. And what comes next. You've raised the same objection in interviews to other media. The USA, Europe and NATO still do not have clear objectives as to what they want to achieve and when. Yet, money keeps pouring in.

There's a reluctance to say that we want Ukraine to win. There's an excess of fear in the White House that if Russia looks like they're about to lose or that they might lose Crimea that they will use a nuclear weapon or escalate somehow. I think it's absolutely not going to happen.

But, there's this excess of fear which causes us to self-deter, to stop short of doing what needs to be done, which is to commit to help Ukraine win.

I can't rule it out, but it's extremely unlikely that Russia would use a nuclear weapon. There's no upside to it. All of their benefits come from just the threat. By threatening, they lose nothing and they gain everything, because we hesitate.

Is this idea of letting Ukraine win without bringing the war into Russia proper even achievable?

Of course, it is. Winning is ejecting Russia back to their own border.

Which means that Putin's regime and the whole industrial base that fuels this war and is inside Russia proper, survives and the war is somehow going to be over with Russia surviving? Can this even be called the end of the war, should it somehow happen?

The Ukrainian government has said that their war aim is the restoration of their own sovereignty. So, ejecting Russia back to the 1991 border. That includes Crimea. To do that is going to require the USA, Germany and other Western countries to continue to help Ukraine, but also to make sure that the sanctions in place are properly enforced.

Russia's economy and defense industry is already in bad shape. Which is why they have to import ammunition and drones from North Korea and Iran and parts from China.

If we're serious about winning, that means we have to be serious about the economic sanctions as well. We still have banks, like Deutsche Bank and Kommerzbank, two big German banks that paid hundreds of millions in taxes to Russia. We have too many problems enforcing sanctions.

But defeating Russia does not mean having to land a ground assault that goes to Moscow. Putin stops when he realizes he can't win. We don't want to end up in some frozen conflict with Russia still in control of Crimea or parts of Ukraine. That only guarantees that they will resume in a couple of years, once they see that we have turned our backs.

Quite a few people have raised the idea of an EU or pan-European military. Could something like this deter Russia? Even if the nations agree to put a few billion or even trillion dollars on the table, politically, strategically, does this make sense to you?

Zero. What would an EU military do that would be better than NATO? And why do we think that any country would spend one Euro more if there was an EU army? To create a parallel military structure would be a total waste of administrative effort.

No country in Europe has the resources to fulfill NATO requirements and then put people and resources to fulfill a parallel EU structure.

Nations can always do what they want, but to think that the EU by itself would be able to have something that's capable of effectively deterring Russia, is laughable.

The U.S. provides so much of the logistics, the airlift, the intelligence, the communication support, that there's no country in Europe capable of doing that. There is no benefit in trying to create a separate European military.

Europe is in a place where it's clear that its industrial capacity hasn't been keeping up with the demands of the war in Ukraine. Its dependence on the U.S. seems to be vital. The Czechs are trying to repurchase ammunition from third nations. What's the immediate challenge Europe should address more efficiently than building a European military? Especially, given the option that the U.S. may not always be available regardless of who becomes the next president.

First, it should get serious about it. The economic potential of the EU dwarfs Russia. Russia's economy is about the same as Italy or Spain. So, the ability to make ammunition is there, but there just isn't enough political will. A lot of the ammunition that's being produced in Europe goes outside Europe, to customers in Africa or the Middle East.

The best way to help with the defense of Europe is, number one, help Ukraine defeat Russia. That keeps the threat away. Number two, each nation should live up to what it said it would do as part of NATO's family of plans approved at the Vilnius NATO summit last summer. Those plans lay out requirements for every nation. Can they deliver what they're required to deliver? That's a place to start.

Are we talking about the 2 percent of GDP investment into defense or some additional money or efforts to build new industries from scratch? Not just manufacturing but research and development as well?

For example, the plans tell Slovakia what it has to do in terms of forces and host nation support as to what might be coming to Slovakia or through Slovakia as part of NATO plans.

And then, there's not enough air missile defense for any of us. If you see what Russians have done in Ukraine using multi-million-dollar precision weapons against civilian infrastructure, you can be sure that they will do the same to us if they make the terrible decision to attack a NATO country.

The two percent is a metric that everybody agreed to and most nations are doing it now, but, obviously, not all, including Slovakia (ed. Note: As of 2023, Slovakia's defense budget was just above 2% of its GDP). A part of the 2 percent is a commitment to invest in research and development. There's no mystery as to what nations should be doing.

If we've learned anything from this conflict, it's the need for logistics. The ammunition, the fuel, the ability to move quickly. These are all things that your minister of defense, your general staff know what needs to be done. Now it's all about political will.

Creating a new organization will only distract.

Does that mean physically building more railroad capacity, more strategic airlift?

The ability of NATO forces to move as fast or faster than Russian forces would definitely be a part of it. It's an important part of deterrence, but I'm talking about building it before the crisis starts. Right now, it's pretty difficult.

One nation that's been investing in its defense a lot has been Poland. They've ordered fighters and tanks. Recently they've been contemplating building their own nuclear deterrent. Sharing U.S. weapons, specifically. Is this something that could increase Europe's strategic deterrence or is it just unnecessary escalation or a politically un-viable idea?

Unfortunately, former president Trump was disruptive towards NATO's cohesion and there's a possibility of him coming back. So of course, NATO's worried that if there's another Trump administration, they may not be able to count on the U.S. providing their nuclear deterrent.

So, the Poles are talking about it openly and seriously. In Germany people are not willing to talk about it openly yet, but I think there are some smart people realizing that if they don't have a nuclear deterrent capability of their own and if they can't count on the U.S., what will they do?

There will be ways to do it.

If the Russians see that we are so terrified of them using a nuclear weapon that we stop doing what we know we need to do, then they will be emboldened to keep doing that against NATO countries.

So, Europe needs a nuclear deterrent. Whether that's of the U.S. or France or the U.K. or something else, is going to require a lot of thinking and debate and a lot of money. It's very expensive to maintain a nuclear deterrent.

But, overall, is it the right kind of direction?

You must have a nuclear deterrent. Whoever provides it.

You've talked about the Vilnius NATO summit. NATO has a new summit coming up in Washington, DC. What do you expect from it?

I hope that the mood will be very serious. Focused on helping Ukraine and on continuing to increase deterrence. It's the 75th anniversary of NATO, but the tone should not be one of celebration. There's a massive war happening in Europe, both on the ground and in the air in Ukraine, but also in several European countries where you've got Russia jamming GPS, which is very dangerous. You've got Russia infiltrating political parties, violating sanctions, exporting stolen wheat from Ukraine. There's a conflict that's already underway.

So, the mood in Washington needs to be one of "we have a lot of work to do". It needs to be about readiness.

Unfortunately, they're not going to extend an invitation to Ukraine, which is a huge mistake. But, hopefully, they'll come up with something that is more definite than what we've seen in the past.

Going back to the U.S. aid package, how much more is going to be necessary for Ukraine to win this war?

The three things that Ukraine needs from the United States, Germany and the rest of the West are - a commitment that we want Ukraine to win. That needs to be voiced very clearly to everybody, that it is in our strategic interest that Ukraine defeats Russia and ejects it out of Ukraine.

Number two, they need air and missile defense. Number three, they need long range precision strike capability. Such as ATACMS, Taurus, Storm Shadow and SCALP, that will enable Ukraine to destroy Russian logistics and headquarters and make Crimea untenable. That's how you neutralize Russia's only advantage of mass. ATACMS is an example of a weapon that can help do that with almost every square meter of Russian-occupied Ukraine that can be hit. That can help stabilize the situation and buy the time necessary for Ukraine to grow their army and increase the number of brigades that they have.


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.