The Moral Necessity of Arming Ukraine – a Reply to Noah Carl

The recent article by Noah Carl about moral concerns regarding weapons deliveries to Ukraine is wrong on every level. The main argument goes that, by providing weaponry, the West might prolong a war, and thus prolong hardship. The same argument could be applied to any military conflict, where it could be held that the military defeat of an enemy can, morally, be accomplished as soon as the aggressor is able to inflict sufficient harm on the populace of its enemy such as to render it ‘immoral’ for the defender to continue without accepting the loss of life as its responsibility.

This is an aggressors’ charter that is, in itself, utterly immoral. Simplified, it says: “Because I can hurt your people, you must surrender, or else you will be causing them harm.” Or, “Don’t stand up to bullies: they might hurt you.”

This line of argumentation needs to emphasise particular kinds of hardship – those suffered during a war – while minimising others. The value of freedom and dignity to the people at the receiving end becomes a ‘preference’ – something like a subjective value judgement – rather than an absolute moral right, and the hardships entailed by the loss of that freedom and having to live under a tyranny imposed by a foreign pariah state for – perhaps – generations is some far-off future imponderable not needing to be addressed.

But let’s consider for a moment the hardship of all those Russian tankers in their T-72s with those quick-detach turrets getting burnt to cinders by our N-LAWs. It must be absolutely terrifying for them. I feel sorry for the Russian conscripts who were apparently forced to sign contracts just before the invasion, making it then ‘legal’ for Putin to send them off to a foreign war. But should Ukraine lose this war, in the coming years those could be Ukrainian conscripts, forced against their will to fight in some foreign land. That’s just one obvious consequence of living under Putin.

But freedom is much more than just politically and personally advantageous. Much has been said about that topic in relation to Covid, but there’s a reason that freedom is the one thing that humans are consistently willing to fight to the death to hold on to, or to win back. The phrase “win back” is apposite: freedom – the freedom to think, to speak and to choose for oneself – is the ultimate right that, deep down, everyone knows to be inalienable. Slaves know it is secretly still theirs. To the atheist, it is as an inextinguishable divine spark.

Freedom can only be temporarily mislaid, never truly lost; even the choice to oppose that belief (in the comments section, perhaps) is merely an expression thereof. All dictators know this, necessitating elaborate countermeasures as part of an extensive state security apparatus, and in this case a bloody war of aggression that it is not only right but noble to oppose.

Noah quotes a figure of 400,000 deaths in the Syrian Civil War, or roughly 2% of the population. That is a tragedy, but to paraphrase another Russian dictator it is also a statistic telling us how those people value their freedom, that they are willing to pay so much in blood to achieve it. There were similar numbers killed in the U.S. Civil War. And while this current war isn’t technically a civil war, even were they equipped with only their own unguided and wire-guided missiles to fight against waves of Russian armour, I have no doubt the Ukrainians would still have fought what could well have been a much more protracted and bloody affair. At least it could easily have been much more costly in Ukrainian lives. Ukraine is not like the Syrian rebels, in that it already had enough weapons to fight an extended war, and in fact had and still has a large army with which to do so. So while I may only be a newly-fledged military analyst (adding to my credentials as a virologist), I wouldn’t concede that supplying sophisticated weaponry is likely to increase the final death toll or general hardship, except probably on the Russian side of the slate.

Noah goes on to criticise those who support a Western strategy of making this war so costly for Russia that it leads to a collapse of the Putin government and possibly the entire state, saying effectively ‘better the devil you know’ and also citing the danger of nuclear proliferation in that scenario. Nuclear proliferation didn’t happen in 1991, and neither was Yeltsin a worse leader on a geo-political level, but these are both risks, sure. However, there’s also a risk that Putin will try to use battlefield nukes if it looks like he’s losing badly in Ukraine, which could well escalate into a full-scale nuclear exchange. He’s also been helping the dangerously millenarian Islamo-fascist Iranian state in its nuclear proliferation efforts, so it seems like we’re already living in the world that Noah fears might come to pass as a result of a regime collapse in Moscow.

In fact, we probably haven’t been this close to a nuclear war since 1983. But what’s worse, and where I do have serious qualms about all this, is that so many apparently quite young people aren’t as concerned as they should be about nuclear war. They’re either too young to remember or aren’t able to imagine that Cold War feeling of always being a few terrifying moments away from obliteration or – if you’re unlucky – surviving, for a ghastly but probably quite brief time, a nuclear exchange. These people are still trying to insist that NATO should start a shooting match with Russia in the air, and I can’t help but feel this idiocy is psychologically just an expression of ‘cancel culture’. The youthful Ukrainian Government – absurdly, while under attack – also called for Russia to be banned from Twitter. To paraphrase Wellington, I don’t know what effect this has on the enemy, but it terrifies me.

Noah goes on to offer some possible counterarguments to his main theme, such as that supplying weaponry makes a quick Ukrainian victory more likely. I’d say that it makes any kind of victory more likely, which is clearly what the Ukrainian people want and which is really the ultimate point. But Noah questions which, or how many, Ukrainian people want to fight, and which of them would be willing to suffer through an extended war. I don’t disagree that this has, in some sense, the seed of a valid argument. For instance, I think the Nazis should have given up much sooner, when they knew they couldn’t win; that many Germans, including German soldiers, lost the will to fight, and that their failure to surrender until they did resulted in huge and unnecessary loss of life and property on both sides. But when it comes to Ukraine, when and on what terms it chooses to cease hostilities in a defensive war are fundamentally matters for its people to decide collectively (although the Russian army also has a say, sadly), and not for us to second-guess, especially when it’s clear that there’s overwhelming support for the war amongst ordinary Ukrainians.

The bravery and self-sacrifice shown by every strata of the Ukrainian military and civilian population has at times brought me to tears, and the nobility of their cause (apart their, ahem, surrender to the EU) shines brightly through the fog of war. We can’t fail them so badly as to base our decisions to offer lethal assistance on a speculative critique of their will and courage to resist this evil, and the truth is that the Ukrainians do, collectively, want to fight for their freedom. And when they lit the beacon to call for aid, we rightly answered, honouring the promise we made them in 1994.

Ian Rons is the IT Director of the Daily Sceptic.

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