The news from Ukraine is terrifying. Russian troops continue their advance, shelling the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, and seizing lands to the south along the Black Sea coast. Negotiations to end the war have not gone well, though Ukraine and Russia's governments did agree to create a “humanitarian” corridor to allow civilians to leave conflict zones and seek refuge. The number of refugees has already topped 1 million, with at least another million people internally displaced.
The United States and European allies are pouring billions of dollars of weaponry into the conflict to shore up the Ukrainian government's defenses. Thus far, the United States and Europe are not committing their own forces, and seem unlikely to unless fighting crosses into neighboring countries. There is an open question about whether the United States is providing targeting information to Ukrainian forces - which would mean something closer to direct involvement in the conflict. The Biden administration was not particularly clear when asked about this. They admitted sharing intelligence about Russian troop movements, but stopped short of confirming the US was helping direct missiles to specific targets.
Within the German government, there has been a dramatic change in course - one that could prove very dangerous down the road (not that too many people outside the military-industrial complex are looking down the road at the moment). Jeff Rathke, writing for Foreign Policy details some of these developments, which include an emergency appropriation of $115 billion, commitment to expend the equivalent of 2% of Germany's GDP on its military budget, and “the Defense Ministry announced that it would provide 1,000 anti-tank systems and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, reversing Germany's long-standing policy against providing arms to crisis zones.”
Prior to the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration was already set to request a $770 billion budget for the military in FY 2023, an amount anticipated to grow to $800 billion by the time members of Congress finished funding pet programs in their districts. What the budget ends up looking like now that Russia has invaded Ukraine is anybody's guess, but no doubt even more obscene. No other country on the planet spends anywhere near this; indeed, the United States military budget is roughly equivalent to the rest of the world's combined.
Amidst the condemnations of Russia's violent intervention into Ukraine we are also asked to look past the sad reality that the United States is currently involved in counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency efforts in at least 85 countries around the world right now. We are asked to forget that US interventions into Iraq and Afghanistan - countries nowhere near the US border, mind you - unleashed two decades of bloodletting that effectively destroyed both countries, and utterly failed to achieve the long-term goals these interventions were supposed to achieve.
In the case of Iraq, the invasion further destabilized a long-standing, though admittedly tenuous, balance of power, that led to an explosion of regional conflict, from Syria to Libya to Yemen, with deadly consequences. All together, direct deaths from the conflicts that grew out of the United States' “Global War on Terror” are estimated between 900,000 and 930,00 people, with another 3-4 million dead from indirect causes (collapsed infrastructure, disease and so on).
These wars also forcibly displaced 38 million people.
It is also notable that the Biden administration moved swiftly to extend Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians, protecting tens of thousands from deportation, and has completely suspended deportation flights to Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees deserve to be welcomed in a dignified way, as do asylum seekers from Cameroon, Haiti, Central America, and so many others who continue to fight for any form of relief from deportation.
The sad reality is that Russia's brutality is a logical product of the world order that has been created out of the rubble of the Cold War - with the United States a central player in its formation. So, we should not hesitate to condemn Russian actions. The idea, however, that the war was unprovoked, or that the United States and the EU are playing the role of some kind of neutral arbiter trying to salvage international peace and other such nonsense, must be set aside.
After all of the shouting about who is to blame, what is undeniably true is that there are at least 2 million more people displaced by war today than last week. They join the nearly 83 million people already displaced by violence. That, ultimately, is the measure of the current iteration of great power competition and proxy war making.