NATO rockets fly from the Black Sea coast in support of Exercise Saber Guardian 23

The United States Needs a Black Sea Strategy

As the Ukraine War runs on into another summer, the United States should face facts: it needs a strategy for the Black Sea to adapt to a long-range period of geopolitical strife. A public articulation of a U.S. Black Sea strategy, along with the tangible kinetic steps to implement it, would greatly improve America’s ability to shore up NATO’s southeastern flank as it comes under sustained Russian pressure, whatever the outcome of the war. This strategy should include U.S. political leadership that enables the Black Sea states, along with their Eastern European partners, to defend themselves and secure shared interests with America.

The Biden administration’s understanding of the Ukraine War has persistently lagged behind battlefield reality. This is not a phenomenon restricted to the current war. During the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, perceptions in Washington poke along well behind those in CENTCOM’s Tampa headquarters, let alone in Baghdad itself. Distance from a conflict creates an informational gap between those who fight it and those who command.

The best civilian war leaders grasp this phenomenon and give their subordinates latitude to act with dispatch: hence Churchill’s dictum that “the man on the spot” knows best, a conviction he maintained despite considerable resistance from his own military staff.

The Ukraine War’s political realities complicate this detachment. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American forces were engaged actively in combat. This provided political leaders with multiple verifiable points of reference, even if parsing contradictory accounts and cutting through partisan bias remains difficult at best. In Ukraine, by contrast, Washington must generate sound analytical assessments of a conflict another country fights, relying on only fragmentary information and individual impressions.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s underlying assumption—that Ukraine and Russia will ultimately exhaust themselves in combat, leading to a negotiated settlement—remains severed from reality. The U.S. first assumed that Kyiv would be overrun in three days. Then, after Ukraine broke the siege, it assumed that Russia might push into the Donbas over the summer of 2022, again biting off a chunk of Ukraine. Subsequently, after Ukraine survived the summer, denying Russia all but one major city, it discounted the possibility of a major counterattack. Finally, after Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Kherson Offensives, the prevailing assumption became that, while Ukraine and Russia would each mount another assault in 2023, the sheer stress of warfare would force an armistice.

This reading of the conflict misinterprets virtually all the military factors at play. Ukraine created a competent doctrine and operational plan for its strategic and political requirements. It has fought successfully enough to defeat Russia multiple times despite being outmatched qualitatively and quantitatively.

Moreover, Russia has adapted since 24 February 2022, despite its heavy casualties: thus, Ukraine’s continued success has flourished against an increasingly competent armed force. There is no reason to doubt that Ukraine, in its upcoming offensive, will make a significant breach in the Russian line, and may well jeopardize Russia’s operational position in Ukraine’s south and east. Crimea likely remains out of reach absent another infusion of American and allied materiel. But with proper support, Ukraine could well liberate all its territory, and deny Russia its greatest source of leverage over NATO’s eastern flank.

Read the rest at RealClear Defense.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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