Is America’s Ukrainian War Fatigue” Real?
Mariam Matcharashvili, Master of International Relations, International Black Sea University
Russia’s war in Ukraine remains one of the major geopolitical challenges of today. Western assistance to Ukraine has increased significantly since the first days of the war. However, concern, whether the U.S. and Western allies will become fatigued with the conflict, has been voiced in several opinion papers. Some U.S. officials have reportedly underlined this issue in their interviews, and Ukrainians also worry that their supporters may soon tire of the war.
War fatigue has been discussed based on American public opinion surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, IPSOS; Wall Street Journal, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. The vast majority of Americans (up to 60%) still support standing with Ukraine and providing American assistance; however, Americans are divided on whether the U.S. should urge Ukraine to reach a peaceful settlement (47%, up from 38% in July) or continue to assist Kyiv for as long as it takes (48%, down from 58% in July 2022). There is a noticeable partisan division on this issue, with Republicans more divided on support than Democrats. Only 33% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats supported backing Ukraine as long as it takes (50% and 68% in July, respectively), and 63% of Republicans are urging Ukraine to settle for peace (46% in July). These numbers gained particular significance when Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Party took control of the House in the 2022 Parliamentary elections.
Considering these results, the following question arises: Is the U.S. growing weary of supporting Ukraine against Russia?
Such views are in line with the Russian narrative that the West will gradually reduce its support for Ukraine. Russia believes Ukraine will not remain in the list of priorities over the long term, and that war fatigue, including concerns about energy prices and possible nuclear escalation, will ripen. Therefore, prolonging the war is in Russia’s interests, allowing it to gather forces and exhaust the opponent. Putin sees a protracted conflict as a way to consolidate Russian society around its national leader. As such, war fatigue is a narrative that Russia wants to sell to realize its goals. Nevertheless, Russia’s approach of protracting conflicts is already known to U.S. policymakers. With the past experience in mind, and the war obviously ongoing, it might be years before any of the losses in support from the American public really lead to a change in policy.
The polls have not always accurately impacted American foreign affairs. Even in the previous century, the “Almond-Lippmann consensus”, against the claim that the U.S. foreign policy should follow public surveys, proved that polls were considered inadequate and lacking coherence and stability. And in the 21th century, notwithstanding complaints from previous presidential administrations about the “deep state” obstructing their foreign policy goals, the fact is that Americans have, for the most part, given their leaders more leeway on international than domestic issues.
The U.S. remains the largest security provider for Ukraine to date, and this fact undermines the suspicion of any potential war fatigue. The United States has committed more than $29.9 billion in security aid since the annexation of Crimea “to help Ukraine preserve its territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO.” In 2020, Patriot Missiles and $45 billion were approved by Congress as part of a larger government funding bill. In January 2023, American officials revealed that the DOD would be “delivering Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukraine”. During the previous year, American aid to Ukraine was bipartisan. Both Republicans and Democrats supported providing aid packages to Kyiv. Despite the fact that Republicans control the House and the Speaker, McCarthy, noted Ukraine will not receive a “blank check”, the leading Republicans still support funding and arming Ukraine. Moreover, the new Republican chairs of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees are strong backers of Kyiv. It seems the main subject of discussion is not the aid itself, but transparency and accountability for how American assistance is applied abroad. Moreover, in the 2023 State of the Union speech, President Biden underlined two significant things: (a) The U.S. will support Ukraine as long as it takes; b) The importance of the bipartisan joint position.
In addition, the war in Ukraine has only been going on for a year, and if we compare it with the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of duration, it is too early to talk about war fatigue. In addition, the U.S. is not losing its vital forces in the war, nor is it strongly dependent on Russia’s energy resources. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. gas prices have decreased by a few cents, and Americans are not paying more taxes as a result of the conflict. Thus, assistance for Ukraine is not a burden on ordinary people. According to the polls, particularly strong support for Ukrainians was observed in the first half of the previous year, when Russia attacked Kyiv and was actively bombing other cities. Therefore, it is possible that the intensification of military attacks on the part of Russia (as Putin recently announced) will again change the poll results in favor of support for Ukraine.
By attacking Ukraine, Russia attacked the West, democracy, and liberal values. Leaders should remind their societies that supporting Ukraine does not mean simply helping a country at war, but, as President Zelensky said, helping “all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish it as strongly as we Ukrainians do.” Russia's victory will mean the defeat of the Western joint efforts; any weakening of interest in the aggression will pave the way for Russia’s next expansion goal. It is too early to talk about America’s Ukrainian war fatigue, which is more myth than reality. Biden’s visit to Kyiv, and announcement of his plan to allocate even more assistance, demonstrates the U.S’s strong commitment to Ukraine. Besides, opinion polls rarely change American foreign policy in the short run. Thus, as military actions change on the battlefield, so too will the discussion about war and Western assistance.
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