Ukraine is on the front lines of a much larger conflict

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After several months of debate and hesitation, the House of Representatives finally acted. The vote in Washington in favor of new military aid of $61 billion to Ukraine could be a turning point in the war with Russia. At the very least, this will keep Ukraine in the fight.

The Russians will continue to hope that if Donald Trump is elected president next November, this could be the last major U.S. military aid. But even that may not be fatal to the Ukrainian cause. European military industries are coming into action late and will be in a better position to supply Ukraine in 2025.

The vote for additional funding for Ukraine passed the House, alongside separate votes providing substantial aid to Israel and Taiwan. Together, they provide a clear picture of how America – and its key allies in Europe and Asia – now see the world.

Collectively, all that money is intended to fend off four countries that Gen. Chris Cavoli, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, describes as an “axis of adversaries”: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

Talk of an axis brings back unfortunate memories of 2002 and George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” which seriously exaggerated the ties between Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But two decades later, there is much more tangible evidence of serious military cooperation between Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang.

The United States accuses China of providing Russia with drone engines, cruise missile machines and other forms of military aid. The regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran have become essential arms suppliers to Moscow. China also recently proclaimed its “deep friendship” with North Korea and sent a top official to Pyongyang for talks.

As these four autocracies grow closer, so do America’s Democratic allies. In Washington, the United States and Japan recently announced a series of new agreements that will take their security partnership to a new level. South Korea is also a major arms supplier to Ukraine.

The “Western alliance” is now, in reality, a global network of allies that sees itself engaged in a series of linked regional struggles. Russia is the main adversary in Europe. Iran is the most disruptive power in the Middle East. North Korea poses a constant danger in Asia. China’s behavior and rhetoric are becoming more aggressive, and it can mobilize resources that Moscow or Tehran do not have.

Of course, important distinctions remain between these countries. Russia, Iran and North Korea are treated as pariah nations by the United States and its allies. On the other hand, China remains a major trading partner of all countries of the “global West”.

However, in Washington and Tokyo, the dominant assumption is that, in the long term, Xi Jinping is just as determined as Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to overthrow the current world order. The Japanese, like the Americans, believe that what happens in Ukraine will have a vital influence on what happens in the Indo-Pacific region.

The United States and its allies therefore see themselves as playing a defensive role by supporting countries that find themselves in the crosshairs of the adversaries’ axis – particularly Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The increased military support for these countries has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. The isolationist right in the United States remains fiercely opposed to aid to Ukraine. The progressive left accuses the United States of supporting the Israeli “genocide” in Gaza.

Even those who support the aspiration to defend the current global power structure are concerned about this strategy. The late Henry Kissinger feared that American support for Ukraine would push Russia into the arms of China. Others believe that America simply lacks the military and economic resources to simultaneously wage an offensive against its adversaries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Perhaps there is some truth in that. A senior Biden administration official concedes that “we’re pretty much maxed out right now.” But the Americans and their allies also know that their adversaries have enormous difficulties. Russia has suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in its war against Ukraine. The Chinese economy is in difficulty. Iran is facing internal unrest and North Korea is in dire straits when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Washington is also wondering how to strengthen its deterrence without directly involving them in a war with one of the main adversaries. In practice, this has often meant providing new military aid to America’s frontline allies, while simultaneously attempting to constrain their actions.

Throughout the war in Ukraine, the United States attempted to discourage Ukraine from striking deep inside Russia. After Iran fired a barrage of missiles at Israel this month, the United States also took steps to prevent further escalation of the conflict.

And even as the United States provides additional political and military support to Taiwan, it has insisted that Taiwan should not provoke Beijing by taking overt steps toward formal political independence from China.

America is playing a potentially deadly mind game with its adversaries, deploying its military force selectively, hoping to prevent the outbreak of a wider war. Ukraine is fighting for its own freedom and independence. But it is also the front line of a potentially much larger conflict.

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