U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

December 23, 2023

We Cannot Abandon Ukraine

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

When I assumed the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late September, I said that “Democracy and freedom are being tested around the world. America’s national security, which depends on effective diplomacy and international development, as well as a strong defense, is facing challenges that require focused and responsible leadership in Congress to work with the White House on behalf of the American people.”

At the time, Russia was more than a year-and-a-half into its unprovoked and illegal war in Ukraine. Skeptics and critics had expected Kyiv to fall within days, but the Ukrainians fought back and defended their capital.

The United States and our allies and partners across the globe rushed to Ukraine’s side with military and humanitarian assistance. Many European countries opened their arms and welcomed thousands of displaced women and children, who were forced to flee from their homes. Together, we are standing up for democracy and supporting another free nation from autocratic rule.

Let me inject here that I hate war. It’s costly in so many ways – not only dollars. War shortens lives, stymies progress and opportunity, and fuels hatred and fear. War is a failure of diplomacy and should be a last resort. That said, I know that U.S. industrial might and the willingness of our citizens to fight for freedom has allowed our country to serve as the arsenal for democracy for generations.

Today, however, there are some in the Congress and elsewhere in the United States who think we can no longer afford to provide Ukraine assistance. These lawmakers and pundits are flat wrong. The United States must continue to help Ukraine until they have prevailed against Putin’s war of aggression.

The Ukrainians are risking their lives for the right to choose their own destiny through democratically elected institutions. If we are unwilling to defend democracy on the battlefield of Ukraine, the attacks will spread until they reach us here at home. Failure to act would leave our nation at great risk. 

Such talk is not simply anecdotal or wishful thinking. It is supported by hard economic facts. The United States has provided Ukraine with the equivalent of 5 percent of our Defense Department’s annual budget and in return the brave men and women of Ukraine have destroyed almost 50 percent of Russia’s military capability.

Our relatively small investment also has saved American blood by keeping our service members off the battlefield against Russia’s illegal war.

In addition, America’s contributions are a fraction relative to the size of our economy. As a percentage of annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we have contributed 0.19 percent of our GDP to security assistance. As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks 14th in contributions with our Baltic Allies, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, leading the way by contributing approximately 1 percent of their GDP, or five times as much as the United States.

While Ukraine’s military needs are urgent as they head into the frigid winter season, we have not and will not provide aid without oversight. Congress recently approved the establishment of a Special Inspector General (IG) for Ukraine as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This IG will ensure that our aid to Ukraine is spent effectively and, in turn, makes our homeland safer.

It is important to note that supporting Ukraine’s military needs does not diminish our ability to focus on domestic needs. Because of our nation’s economic and military strength, we can defend democracy and work to lower the rate of inflation, increase investments in the clean energy economy to create jobs, and reduce our reliance on foreign oil. We can afford to provide arms to Ukraine while also investing in infrastructure, removing dangerous lead from pipes and making bridges, airports and transit safer. We can both support Ukraine and support our local communities across Maryland and the nation.

Also lost in the rhetoric is that the vast majority of our military aid dollars are going to U.S. companies who employ hard-working Americans, including right here in Maryland. We are providing Ukraine with tanks, artillery, aircraft, etc. from our older stockpiles, which will allow Ukraine to win on the battlefield and allow us to modernize our own military and support our domestic industrial base.

As we supply aid to our allies and partners, Russia cannot produce enough for its own troops. Prior to Russia’s invasion in 2022, Russia was a major arms exporter to countries like Iran and the People’s Republic of China, but Russia’s ability to provide weapons has fallen precipitously. All of this makes the United States, and our allies, more secure.

Our nation is not perfect, but our democracy has stood the test of time and served as a beacon to the world as the arc of history bends towards freedom, equality and justice. Congress should have approved supplemental funding for Ukraine and other hot spots months ago. At present, we are on track to finalize a complete package in early January. Ukraine cannot wait much longer. They are out of money and almost out of ammunition. We cannot be the reason Russia is allowed to violently overtake its democratic neighbor. We must not give in to Russian aggression and allow dictators act with impunity. It is in our own national interest – and economic interest – to see this war through until the end.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thought son this or any other topic. I value your input.


Ben Cardin