The ongoing war in Ukraine is creating demands for greater transparency among those critical of the war effort.
- In the first 12 months of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. sent $76.8 billion in humanitarian, financial, and military assistance to Ukraine, in addition to weapons systems, training, internet connectivity, and more than 7,000 small arms.
- The support from U.S. public for helping fund Ukraine’s efforts has declined over time, from 60% in May 2022 to 42% in January.
- With the U.S. economy in a precarious position—between bank failures, tech layoffs, and high inflation—politicians and activists continue to raise accountability concerns about where the billions in U.S. money and weapons are being used.
Why It’s Important
February 24, 2023, marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the war continues—and with renewed efforts from Russia to move nuclear weapons into Belarus—criticism of U.S. support for the war becomes more vocal. As we previously reported, Republican presidential candidates have made opposition to Ukrainian aid into a talking point, arguing that continued support marks a potential escalation against a hostile nuclear-armed nation that could result in deadly conflict.
President Joe Biden has staked a hawkish position in support of Ukraine for as long as the beleaguered nation seeks U.S. support—distancing himself from the isolationist policies of former President Donald Trump and the skeptical stance of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Ukraine’s ability to maintain accountability for U.S. support has proven to be a difficult area of trust, given that the country is struggling under the weight of a 13-month war. While the Pentagon has attempted to reassure the public that money and gear being sent overseas are being used responsibly, a perceived lack of transparency and agencies reporting difficulties tracking funds are drawing greater calls for strong oversight.
“When you spend so much money so quickly, with so little oversight, you are going to have fraud, waste, and abuse—massive amounts,” says former Special Inspector General John Sopko.
Backing Up A Bit
Jordan Cohen is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that promotes limited government and global peace. He tells Leader Media that tracking weapons and money in a war zone can be almost impossible. The chaos creates opportunities and demands for bad actors to exploit the situation. However, this does not mean that Ukraine operates totally without oversight.
“The state department and the Biden administration are aware of this, and they have made efforts to stop the proliferating of stinger and javelin missiles. But it is much easier to steal a handgun than a fighter jet,” says Cohen.
Among isolationists, Ukraine has a reputation for being a very corrupt nation with oligarchical leaders. There are widespread fears that charitable donations and federal funding sent to aid the war effort are being fed into the pockets of the rich at the expense of soldiers and civilians suffering on the front lines.
“To a certain degree, that’s going to happen, but part of why that happens is because it’s a war state. As libertarians say, the thing that makes the state strongest is war, but training and missile defense systems are being deployed.”
The Department of Defense’s struggle to monitor end-use monitoring for defense funds sent to Ukraine is not the most serious threat that may come out of the war. Ukraine is facing serious accusations of corruption, but the proliferation of untracked small arms creates additional threats coming from the proliferation of military-grade weaponry reaching the black market.
“Tracking millions of small arms in a war zone is impossible. There are going to be Ukrainian weapons popping up everywhere, with people finding them and selling them for profit. We have almost no accountability for small arms being sent there. We’ve seen reports of these guns ending up in Nigeria and Finland. Neither reports are necessarily the most reputable, but where there is smoke, there is fire, and there is a great deal of smoke,” says Cohen.
Cohen notes that this is a problem that the defense department is aware of but appears to be struggling to address. Unlike fighter jets and rocket launchers, rifles lack a meaningful method to track. Given the incentives of the war, it may have proven a safer bet to provide Ukraine with thousands of small arms and take the risk, fully knowing that they lacked the resources to monitor them.