The top general in the U.S. military warned Thursday that not supporting Ukraine now would lead to a massive increase in future defense budgets -- and global conflict that has been avoided since World War II ended.
"If that rules-based order, which is in its 80th year, if that goes out the window, then be very careful," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley testified to Congress on Thursday. "We'll be doubling our defense budgets at that point because that will introduce not an era of great power competition. That'll begin an era of great power conflict. And that'll be extraordinarily dangerous for the whole world."
Milley's remark at a House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee hearing comes amid growing skepticism from Republicans about the price tag of U.S. aid to Ukraine. Milley was testifying alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the Biden administration's $842 billion request for Pentagon spending for fiscal 2024.
Congress has approved about $113 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war began when Russia invaded its neighbor in February 2022. While that includes humanitarian and economic assistance, the bulk of the funding has gone toward providing weapons to the Ukrainian military.
While still a minority of the party, some members of the GOP have been increasingly vocal about questioning whether support for Ukraine is a good use of U.S. funding, arguing there are more pressing domestic needs or that there has not been enough oversight to ensure the money isn't misused.
For example, expected Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was a vocal supporter of arming Ukraine when he was in Congress, last month said the war in Ukraine is a "territorial dispute" that is not a "vital" U.S. national security interest. He has since walked back the comment after criticism from Republican senators.
Even as some Republicans voice more opposition to the aid, the Biden administration continues to take heat from other Republicans over not providing more advanced weapons to Ukraine.
On Thursday, subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., while reiterating House GOP leadership's talking point that it will not provide a "blank check" to Ukraine, criticized the administration for "giving Ukraine just enough assistance to survive, but not enough to win."
Milley, without calling out any specific criticism of U.S. aid, described the war as an "important national interest" and "fundamental to the United States, to Europe and to global security."
The general was responding to a question from Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said he thinks "it's important to defeat [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the Ukraine" but that it would be "helpful" if U.S. officials more clearly defined their strategic goals.
"The strategic end state is that the global rules-based international order that was put in place in 1945 is upheld," Milley said. "How do you do that, how do you know you've achieved that end state? You achieve that end state when Ukraine remains a free, sovereign, independent country with their territory intact."
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who said he counts himself among those growing more skeptical of the aid, also pressed Milley on whether U.S. goals include Ukraine retaking Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Milley reiterated that, while he personally believes taking back Crimea would be "an extraordinarily difficult goal to achieve militarily," whether to try to do so is a decision for the Ukrainians.
"Our task is to help Ukraine defend itself," Milley added. "The United States is not at war with Russia, even though Russia tries to portray that."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.