Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday admitted during a House hearing under questioning from a Republican lawmaker that one of the Biden administration’s goals was to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) asked if Austin had shared the goal of European Command Commander Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters — who recently testified to the committee — on deterring Putin from invasion, to which Austin responded:
Well, I hope General Wolters shared my goals, since I’m the Secretary of Defense. And my — my objectives were to, number one, defend this nation; number two, make sure that we did everything possible to unify and defend NATO if required. Number three, flow security force assistance to — to Ukraine. And then number four, manage escalation.
Gallagher asked, “So the goal was not to deter Putin from invading Ukraine?”
Austin responded, “I’ve just laid out what my goals were, and certainly –,” before Gallagher noted, “Which did not include deterring Putin from visiting Ukraine, unless I missed it.”
Austin then admitted it was not only a goal to deter Putin, but admitted that deterrence was likely to fail unless forces were put on the ground and that the administration had taken that measure of deterrence off the table early on.
“Well, it was an objective of the government to deter Putin, but as General Milley described, it’s very difficult to do unless you put forces on the ground, and that’s a decision that we made early in the effort here, that we’re not going to put forces in Ukraine to fight Russia,” Austin said.
Gallagher then pressed Austin on whether there was anything that could have been done to deter Putin.
Austin admitted if the U.S. had put troops into Ukraine, it might have deterred Putin, but the administration did not want to do that.
“As General Milley pointed out, if we put forces into Ukraine to fight Putin, this would be a different story. But we made a decision that we weren’t going to do that, and we made the decision for the right reason. And I support those decisions,” he said.
President Joe Biden recently denied that the threat of imposing sanctions was meant to deter Putin, despite Biden and half a dozen Biden administration officials saqying sanctions were meant to do exactly that, as reported by Breitbart News.
Former senior Trump administration official Nadia Schadlow, currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, explained in a recent interview that while not sending U.S. troops to Ukraine may be the right policy decision, one does not want to advertise that to the adversary, because it undercuts the effectiveness of deterrence.
Explaining that deterrence requires an expression of will as well as capability, Schadlow said in a March 29 interview:
Early on in this crisis, the White House failed to really articulate our will…That does not mean we would actually deploy troops to Ukraine. There’s a difference. But saying what we won’t do all the time since December, saying, ‘We will not do this, we will not do that,’ sort of undercut the value of deterrence.
December, January, February, constant statements of what we would not do, which sends the wrong signal at that time to Putin.
She added, “These might be the right policies…but you do not want to broadcast to your adversaries your thinking and your options, you want to create complexity for the adversary. You want to keep your options open.”
Gallagher said in a statement to Breitbart News on Wednesday, “Yesterday’s hearing confirmed what I argued in the months leading up to the Russian invasion: only American hard power on the ground in Ukraine could deter Vladimir Putin from launching his barbaric invasion.”
“After all, putting American hard power in our adversaries’ path significantly raises the costs of escalation and makes our enemies think twice about aggression. Instead, the Biden administration took options off the table and relied on the threat of sanctions to deter Putin. The results were as predictable as they were tragic,” he said.