Ukraine War, January 31, 2023: Muddled thinking continues: Military aid to Ukraine “must not be escalatory”

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, and you will see a list in chronological order.

To understand the broad context within which current developments in Ukraine should be considered,see

“Ukraine War, October 26, 2022: The context for analysis of current developments; The “dirty bomb” as a Russian propaganda distraction from current war crimes,” The Trenchant Observer, October 26, 2022.


1) Dan Sabbagh (Kyiv), “US and UK rule out sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine; Refusals deal significant blow to Kyiv’s efforts to bolster military capability in war with Russia,” The Guardian, January 31, 2023 (18.30 GMT).


French President Emmanuel Macron has stated that he does not rule out sending Western fighter jets to Ukraine, but the delivery could not be “escalatory” and the jets not likely to hit targets in Russia.

Sabbagh reports:

The French president had said that “nothing is excluded in principle” when asked about western fighter jets for Ukraine – but he then laid out a series of criteria before making a decision.

Any delivery would have to “not be escalatory”, Macron said, and the jets could “not be likely to hit Russian soil but purely to aid the resistance effort”.

This is like saying you are willing to come to the defense of a young woman who is being raped, provided the rapist doesn’t “escalate” by increasing his violence (e.g., by killing the victim, or by pulling the pin to a bomb he is wearing?

What’s the goal here?

To stop the rapist?

To prevent the rapist from killing the young woman?

To avoid the rapist detonating the bomb?

To further decode Macron’s language, we should understand “escalatory” to mean something that would “provoke” Vladimir Putin to detonate a nuclear device, or to attack a NATO country (e.g. supply lines in a NATO country).

We should understand “not be likely to hit Russian soil” as meaning not likely to cross Vladimir Putin’s “red line” that targets in Russia proper are not to be attacked, or…or…Putin may be “provoked”…to use a nuclear weapon.

This is the muddled thinking than is born of Joe Biden’s infectious fear of provoking Putin and his paralysis due to Putin’s nuclear threats.

It is rather striking that Biden, Olaf Scholz, and apparently Macron express their willingness to stop Putin’s aggression and barbarism in Ukraine in terms that are framed in the images of Putin’s nuclear threats and Biden’s and other allied leaders’ abject fear of Putin.

While they have come a way in downsizing estimations of the risks of Putin starting a nuclear war, they are still prisoners of their own logic of fear.

The more accurate metaphor may be not that of stopping the rape, which has been in progress for nearly 12 months, but rather one of preventing the young woman from being killed.

The logic of fear of Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, and Emmanuel Macron has led to hesitation and delay in providing Ukraine with the weapons and munitions it needs to defeat the invading Russian army and to expell Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory.

It has always been “too little, too late”. Now, a year into the war, the U.S. and other Ukrainian allies are waking up to the fact that they need to massively increase war production of weapons and other munitions, if Ukraine is to successfully repel the Russian invasion, or at least “avoid defeat”.

This year of hesitation and delay regarding both the requirements of war production and decisions on the types of weapons to be supplied, which has been the result of an extraordinary and inexcusable lack of forsight and forward planning, has cost thousands of Ukrainian lives, both military and civilian, and the massive destruction of Ukrainian cities and civil infrastructure.

The “logic of fear” and the deficient timing of “too little, too late” provision of weapons and munitions have resulted in very large lost opportunities. Had the Leopard 2 tanks been deployed by November, and indeed if Western fighter aircraft had also been deployed, Ukraine might have taken advantage of the enormous momentum  it had gained after retaking Kharkiv province and forcing Russian forces to retreat from Kherson and the western bank of the Dnipo River, we might be much closer to the defeat of Russian forces and their retreat from Ukrainian territory.

A war requires quick thinking and action by military leaders.

Instead of that, the  Western coalition  has been bogged down in a lethargic process of decision making dominated by political leaders, political considerations, and the requirements of coalition building. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been willing to bring the entire process to a halt, even blackmailing U.S. president Joe Biden in order to achieve his will and serve his own parochial interests, on an issue as vital as supplying the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Despite the final decision to supply the Leopard 2 battle tanks, the damage has been great. Scholz’ obstinance has revealed the sharp differences which exist among Ukraine’s military partners, and by blackmailing U.S. president Joe Biden.

Scholz got his way–and some even think he “won” the showdown with the U.S.–but he did so at the terrible cost of revealing the sharp divisions in the coalition. This could only have increased Putin’s confidence in his long-term strategy of outlasting the unity of the coalition supporting Ukraine.

The bottom line is that the Leopard 2 battle tanks are not deployed, and are unlikely to be deployed in numbers sufficient to stop the looming Russian spring offensive, or to enable Ukraine to succeed in its counter-offensive.

The absence of the missing fighter jets will also significantly impair Ukraine’s ability to conduct “combined arms operations” against the Russians.

To date, Putin’s greatest weapon has been his nuclear threats and the self-deterrence of the U.S. Germany, and other allies they have successfully engendered.

Ukraine is the victim of  brutal military invasion and war crimes by Russian forces.  Under international law and the U.N. Charter, it is entitled to use all the weapons at its disposal to repel the invaders, including the use of force against targets in Russia.

The only question is whether and when the U.S. and other military allies will put the weapons at Ukraine’s disposal that it needs to accomplish this task.

The answer to this question depends on two factors.

The first is how quickly the U.S. can overcome Biden’s inordinate fear of Putin’s nuclear threats–which so far have proven to be empty.

The second is whether the U.S. NATO countries, and other allies can get Scholz to stop catering to pacifist and pro-Russian elements in his SPD party, or whether he might be moved aside by the formation of a new governing coalition led by the CDU/CSU and including the Green Party.

The next decision Scholz will try to block will be the decision to supply Western fighter jets to Ukraine, so that they might contribute to combined arms operations against the Russians.

The Trenchant Observer


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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.