Opinion by Phil Jacobson
From the Libertarian Party perspective, what should the policy of the USA be towards the war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine? There are many aspects to this topic. In this essay, I will address one of them, the allocation of USA government funds to assist the government of Ukraine during its (ongoing as this is being written) war with Russia.
As I write this, the war between Russia and Ukraine is being fought primarily on Ukrainian soil. In 2014, Russian troops occupied Crimea and declared it annexed to Russia, with little military resistance, despite significant diplomatic opposition from the USA and its allies. The current conflict started early in 2022 when Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops onto Ukrainian soil. The Ukrainian army has repulsed the Russian army from much of it’s initial holdings in Ukraine. The Russian government has authorized the formal annexation of Ukrainian regions (provinces) only partially occupied by Russian troops.
Even before the 2022 Russian invasion, the USA government was providing military training supplies and equipment to the Ukrainian government in response to the 2014 Russian seizure of land. These shipments have increased substantially since the current Russian invasion, and been augmented by military intelligence, training, and advice from USA sources. Polls in the USA indicate that this assistance to Ukraine is popular with most USA citizens.
Yet many USA citizens do not approve, for various reasons. Some are pacifists, opposed to any war. Some do not approve of any USA military activity which is not a reaction to an overt threat to USA territory. A few even support the Russian imperial claims. As is usually the case, members of the libertarian movement, including members of the Libertarian Party, are not united in their reaction either, there being a similar split in opinion to that of the general public.
The capacity for violence is a major component of any state. The most extreme form of this is the capacity to wage war upon another state, or to assist when other states are at war. Typically, the decision for one state to take sides in a war is made by a minority of the citizens of that state.
Often this begins as a de facto state of war established by the declaration of an emergency requiring rapid executive action. Popular opinion would always be a consideration, but war will be waged because a set of elite decision makers wanted it. The remaining citizens of this nation at war will be laden with tangible burdens, demanded in support of the war. This despite the fact that most citizens did not overtly choose to physically assist any belligerent.
The cost to be borne by the majority of non-decision makers may involve contributing direct military service or economic resources. In societies with an advanced division of labor, the main burden is often financial taxes. Libertarians oppose the conscription of soldiers for the purpose of waging war. So too should Libertarians oppose financial conscription for the same purpose.
If, as an individual, a citizen wishes to join a nation state’s military to fight in a war, Libertarians have typically conceded that such activity is that citizen’s right. If a citizen believes in a war enough to have that citizen’s own tax contribution be used to fund the war, Libertarians tend to believe that the citizen should have that right as well.
The state should have no right to force either contribution.
If a war cannot be waged, due to lack of willing military volunteers, the job of soldier should not be forced upon other unwilling conscripts. If a war cannot be waged, due to lack of voluntary funding by citizens, the funding of the war should not be forced upon unwilling taxpayers. A state faced with such a lack of citizen support will be motivated to withdraw from the conflict. A state which has access to conscript resources will find it too easy to use force to solve problems both at home and abroad.
But the Libertarian Party does not share its fundamental philosophy with the current USA administration, nor the leadership of either of the two political parties which have set USA policy regarding Ukraine in recent years. The Libertarian Party believes that the unprovoked initiation of force by any person against any other person or persons is wrong – and that government policy should reflect that value. This value can be applied to the current situation regarding USA policy towards Ukraine.
My proposal for doing so
I recommend the following policies, aimed at resolving the differing philosophies held by citizens as they apply to USA policy towards the current conflict in Ukraine. They are meant to be implemented as a package. They are not being offered here as a basis for all foreign policy. And this proposal is meant to apply only as long as the war in Ukraine is being waged. Similar proposals might be made for other specific situations, based on this model, in other discussions, but this proposal is, deliberately, quite limited.
1) The USA government should cease financial subsidies for all military activity by the Ukrainian government. This policy would not prohibit the Ukrainian government from purchasing military supplies and equipment from sources in the USA. It would simply prohibit such purchases from being made with funds provided by the USA government and prohibits the USA government from providing such assistance free of charge.
2) Any USA citizen who wishes to do so may send funds to the Ukrainian government, which may be used to purchase the same types of military equipment that the USA government has been providing the Ukrainian government up to this time. Additional types of supplies and equipment may be authorized for sale by the USA government, as is already current USA government policy. The USA government urges the Ukrainian government to provide receipts for any financial donations made to it by USA citizens.
3) USA citizens who possess receipts from the Ukrainian government for donations to the Ukrainian government may deduct the amount listed on such receipts as a deduction from their Federal income taxes. This deduction would not result in a negative bottom line – the Federal government will never reimburse a citizen for any payments made in excess of what would ordinarily be due in taxes.
Again I say, this package is not being offered as a basis for all foreign policy financing. But, to the extent that anyone might agree with the proposal, they might well ask, “Why not apply the principle of voluntary relations to other aspects of foreign policy? Why not apply the principle to other aspects of public policy?” Good questions.