On Monday, May 16, the American Security Project hosted a conversation between Senator Chris Murphy and ASP Board Member Nelson Cunningham on the ongoing war in Ukraine. Senator Murphy began the event by illustrating the grand significance of Ukraine’s struggle. Murphy felt that this is a hinge moment; Ukraine’s fate will either topple the post-World War II order, ending a rare stretch of relative peace on the European continent, or rejuvenate that system.
Alternatively, many intellectuals caution against entanglement with Ukraine due to the risks of escalating this limited conflict into a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. Senator Murphy acknowledged this possibility but added that as a defensive alliance, NATO should support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, and praised the Biden administration for explicitly clarifying its intent to arm Ukraine without committing U.S. military forces.
Nelson Cunningham then posed the question of how the U.S. should respond to Putin’s nuclear posturing. Undoubtedly, according to Senator Murphy, U.S. strategy must be informed by the knowledge that Putin is unstable and will likely become desperate enough to consider previously unthinkable options. With a similarly healthy appreciation for this risk, Senator Murphy detailed how Putin would be unlikely to stop if he could defeat Ukraine, making it worth challenging him here and now despite the risk that me might detonate a tactical nuclear weapon.
Indeed, according to Murphy, it is precisely this threat that has revitalized NATO, which just three years ago seemed aimless and moribund. He asserted Finland and Sweden will not be the end of NATO enlargements and hoped that the alliance would expand to countries in the Western Balkans as well. Senator Murphy argued that NATO should use this opportunity to strengthen itself, bring in new partners, and overhaul defense spending commitments from members such as Germany.
Looking towards the future, Senator Murphy highlighted Ukrainian President Zelensky’s onus in determining the conditions under which Ukraine would accept peace with Russia. Senator Murphy also recognized how Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, has risen to meet the security, energy, and humanitarian challenges of this crisis, but also argued that the U.S. should play more of a leading role in supporting these nations. Murphy also praised Germany for its about-face on Russia policy, accelerating Ukrainian induction into the European community, and London’s efforts to purge Russian money laundering operations from the British banking system.
To conclude, Senator Murphy expressed his hope that Congress would soon confirm Bridget Brink as the new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.