From WWII to the Russia-Ukraine War: The Lend-Lease Act

Story Highlights
  • The US in World War II
  • The Lend-Lease Act of 1941
  • The Ukraine Conflict
  • Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022

Saying that America’s history has not been devoid of controversy is quite an understatement. One such controversy is the story of the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, under which the US provided aid to other Allied states, but with a catch. The basic concept of the act has since been revived through the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The US in World War II

The second world war began in September 1939. For the first two years, however, the US was not taking part directly and instead chose to remain neutral. But the Allied forces were losing ground and morale. Germany had been preparing for the war for more than 6 years, and it showed. Winston Churchill personally asked President Roosevelt for aid, and Roosevelt had to act. There was opposition when the issue came to Congress, as providing aid would jeopardize the US’s neutrality.

The Lend-Lease Act of 1941

Roosevelt instead proposed the Lend-Lease Act, which would mean that the US would not be simply providing defensive weapons; rather, they would be lending and leasing them in exchange for deferred payment. This would make the process purely transactional, and the US could hold on to its so-called neutrality.

Of course, that neutrality went out the window when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and the US officially declared war on Japan. However, the act became a staple in US history because it turned the US economy from a peacetime economy to a wartime one. This means that as long as there is warfare in the world, weapons are in demand; and if there are weapons to be bought, the US will be the first to provide them.

It must also be understood that the second world war was fought on a very large scale over a very long time, and thus, many weapons were needed. More importantly, most Allied states, including Great Britain, suffered financially. The sheer volume of military hardware used and the benefit that the US eventually reaped from the act can be understood by the fact that even a country as powerful as the UK only finished paying back its debt in 2020.

The Ukraine Conflict

World War 2, however, was a long time ago. The US’s keen interest in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been fairly obvious, but their direct involvement could be catastrophic. Ukraine, however, holds great strategic significance for the US bloc, and Ukraine would never be able to defend itself from Russia alone. So, President Biden did what Roosevelt did 80 years ago; he proposed a new Lend-Lease Act specific to Ukraine.

Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022

This act is just about the same as the one in 1941, except that it dealt with more than 15 countries, which is specific to Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe. The act is meant to remain in force for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years. The US will continue to send defensive hardware to Ukraine as long as the conflict continues, and Ukraine will have to pay them back for all of it once it ends.

By the looks of it, the Lend-Lease act seems convenient for the US to further its own ends. The 1941 act was said to be enforced so that the US could support the countries necessary for its defense. This one has been enforced to “protect civilian populations in Ukraine from Russian military invasion.” In reality, the act is simply a way to sidestep red tape regarding the regulation of delivering arms to other states. It would, however, be very naïve to believe that the act would be all necessary to keep the US out of the conflict. An actual conflict between Russia and the US should always be feared, and it cannot be forgotten that the original lend-lease act was written for the express purpose of keeping the US out of the great war while also helping the Allies, and it ended with the obliteration of two Japanese cities, and millions of dead innocents.

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