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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Christopher S Chivvis, Matthew Duss, Reverend William Barber and Phyllis Bennis

Is Biden right to send tanks to Ukraine? Our panel reacts

‘These tanks aren’t going to help end the war anytime soon.’
‘These tanks aren’t going to help end the war anytime soon.’ Photograph: Ints Kalniņš/Reuters

Christopher S Chivvis: ‘How does this end?’

These tanks aren’t going to help end the war any time soon. Hopefully, they are intended to build up Kyiv’s negotiating position and this might encourage the Kremlin to rethink its extreme war aims, thus moving this war toward a negotiated endgame. But the Ukrainians are likely to see the decision as a western endorsement of their aim of beating Russia definitively on the battlefield. This works against diplomacy and tends to draw the war out.

The tanks are not a gamechanger. Together, the three kinds of tanks – Challenger, Leopard, and Abrams – will give Ukraine more offensive firepower and help them break through Russia’s fortified positions. But keeping these massive machines up and running, especially the Abrams, will take a lot of work. There also aren’t many of them to begin with and the Abrams won’t even arrive for many months. This is why the Ukrainians requested F-16 fighter jets only hours after President Biden announced his decision to send the tanks.

As the war continues to slowly escalate, the question remains: how does this end?

  • Christopher S Chivvis is a senior fellow and director of the Carnegie Endowment’s American statecraft program

Matt Duss: ‘This was a necessary decision’

Biden agreeing to send US tanks to Ukraine was necessary to give political cover to the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, to send German tanks, and allow other countries to do the same, so to that extent it’s the right decision. Ultimately, it’s in our interest to help European allies take more responsibility for Europe’s defense, but apparently that’s going to take a while.

While this marks the US again breaking through one of its previous self-imposed limits on the type of weaponry it’s willing to send, the US has continued to carefully calibrate support to avoid any escalation beyond Ukraine, especially regarding the potential use of nuclear weapons. The provision of tanks is also consistent with the Biden administration’s theory of the case thus far, which is that continuing to help Ukraine improve their situation on the battlefield will in turn improve their situation at the negotiating table, if and when Vladimir Putin shows that he’s actually serious about ending his horrible war.

We should also note that this move is not just about improving Ukrainian capabilities, as it will take some months for M1 Abrams tanks to arrive and for the Ukrainians to be trained on them. It’s also an important political signal to Putin that the United States and its European allies remain united and committed to supporting Ukraine’s defense.

  • Matthew Duss is a visiting scholar in the American Statecraft program at the Carnegie Endowment. He is the former foreign policy adviser to Bernie Sanders

The Rev William Barber: ‘We risk a downward spiral of death’

The basic moral question we must ask is not simply whether it is right to send tanks. Between two wars and in the middle of the Great Depression, Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote a hymn we need to hear now. Russia needs to hear it. America, Ukrainian, Germany, and the whole world needs to stop now, hear, and pray:

God of grace and God of glory

cure your children’s warring madness;

bend our pride to your control;

shame our wanton, selfish gladness,

rich in things and poor in soul.

The real question we must ask is: “When are we going to turn from death to life – from all this warring madness?” In a nuclear age, the constant escalation of force can lead to a nuclear war that kills us all. This spirit of death and warring madness must be challenged.

I cannot help but think that, at a rate of 700 people a day, over 16,000 Americans have died from poverty and the lack of public policy since the beginning of this year. I must remember the victims of mass shootings, out of control police violence, and the hundreds of thousands in America alone who’ve died during this pandemic not because they caught Covid, but because they did not have access to healthcare.

Yes, the violence in Ukraine demands our attention. But the specter of violence caused by Russia’s aggression cannot obscure the violence we’ve allowed to consume so much of our public life.

Russia is re-organizing for a new onslaught. Germany and the US are preparing to send tanks. But the great question when there seems to be a rush to death is: “When are we going to decide we must have a ceasefire? When will we realize that we cannot simply meet force with force in a conflict between nuclear powers?” We must negotiate away from our tendencies toward killing, death, destruction and violent public policy or risk being caught in a downward spiral of death that could in fact kill our possibilities, hopes and humanity itself. When will we work to be saved from this warring madness? This is the fundamental moral issue before us in this moment.

  • The Rev William Barber is president of Repairers of the Breach and founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale University

Phyllis Bennis: ‘We need diplomacy’

Russia’s war in Ukraine has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Sending tanks to Ukraine escalates the war and will only prolong the killing. We need a ceasefire now.

Six months ago Germany’s chancellor refused to send tanks, warning it would cross a red line. President Biden refused to send M1 tanks as well, saying they wouldn’t really help the Ukrainians – too complicated, requiring hard-to-find jet fuel.

So what changed? Not the red line. Not the tanks.

What changed was Washington.

President Biden worried about provoking Russia into a direct war with Nato, which could escalate to a nuclear exchange. But he was eager for Germany to send tanks – so eventually he announced plans to send US tanks to give Germany political cover to send theirs.

US officials admitted it “could take years” before their 31 tanks arrived on Ukraine’s battlefields. They won’t guarantee a Ukrainian victory against Russia’s next assault, let alone a long war of attrition.

We need a ceasefire before the anticipated springtime offensives begin. We need clear calls for negotiations, from Washington and beyond. Last April’s Russia-Ukraine talks showed diplomacy is possible.

To make it happen, Washington would have to pivot from providing unlimited weapons to calling for immediate talks.

That means changing today’s political discourse, which characterizes any call for negotiations as giving in to Russia. Arming Ukraine with ever more powerful weapons hasn’t forced Russia to stop its carnage, but opening a channel for talks just may provide new opportunities for de-escalation.

Both sides need diplomacy. We need to stop the killing.

  • Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at Institute for Policy Studies

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