Brent Scowcroft Center Assistant Director Alex Ward writes for War on the Rocks on how President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s debate over whether to send weapons to the Spanish Republic as it fought Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his force provides a parallel to President Obama’s decision today over whether to arm Ukraine:
The debate over whether or not to arm Ukraine is alive and well. While President Barack Obama continues to weigh his options, prominent experts have called for $3 billion in lethal aid to the Ukrainian government; a group of bipartisan House leaders are calling for the United States to arm Ukraine; and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey believes it is time to “absolutely consider” giving weapons to Kiev. We have seen this story before. During the Spanish Civil War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt toiled over whether to send weapons to the Spanish Republic as it fought Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his forces. This is, of course, not a neat parallel with the situation today. But it does echo the same debates and provides three insights on arming favored forces and one grander insight on strategy.
In 1939, U.S. Ambassador to Spain Claude G. Bowers went to meet with FDR to discuss the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War. Bowers had openly rejected the “scandal” of America’s non-intervention policy—the decision to forego military intervention or send weapons to the Spanish government. He claimed it was responsible “for the prolongation of the war” and that the policy was “caked with…the blood of women and children.” As Roosevelt saw Bowers enter the room, he hastily offered his personal assessment of U.S. policy toward war-time Spain: “We have made a mistake. You have been right all along.” How did FDR come to this conclusion?