On April 28, the US House of Representatives passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, authorizing the president to lend or lease defense equipment to Ukraine. The bill permits Washington to supply allies without outright selling them war equipment, and therefore facilitates the process of arming Ukraine in its valiant fight against Russian aggression. In parallel, President Biden has requested that Congress pass a 33 billon USD assistance package for the embattled country.

These moves entail some big dollar figures. There are more zeros at the end of 33 billion than can readily be grasped; the lend lease bill comes without any cap on how much military equipment is to be supplied, at what cost, or under what specific strategic guidance. And that is perfectly acceptable, even commendable: As Biden put it in requesting the assistance package, “the cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen.” The US role as leader of the global order is premised on just that: Leading the global order. There is no price tag on defending international norms, security, and stability. Freedom ain’t free, as they say.

However, if Washington is going to make massive resource allocations like these, it should also make the effort to ensure that they work for US strategic interests, the US economy, and the US worker. These dollars don’t have to just help Ukraine: If they’re paired with domestic production requirements, all along the value chain, they can also help American industry. They can do true, effective homage to the World War II-era lend lease program after which this soon-to-be law is named.

In 1941, as World War II was ravaging Europe and before the US had entered the fray, President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act, opening the door for the government to lend or lease, rather than sell, war supplies considered “vital to the defense of the United States.” This allowed Washington to arm critical foreign allies while remaining formally neutral; to buy (or rather lend slash lease) Europe – and then, ironically perhaps now, China and the Soviet Union – time until Washington and the American people were ready to enter the war.

But the Lend Lease Act wasn’t just about altruistically helping US allies. It also bolstered US industry. It is what made the United States the “arsenal of democracy” during the war – and therefore the preeminent economic and political power after. Throughout and post World War II, Washington effectively subsidized the reconstruction of a devastated Europe. In doing so, the US preserved the stability of the post-war order. The US also built the strongest industrial economy that the world has ever seen and claimed leadership over the international system in parallel.

Assistance to Ukraine doesn’t just have to help Ukraine. It can also be the catalyst that the US needs to invest in itself, so that it has the reserves to defend the next Ukraine, and the one thereafter.

The US needs to re-open that playbook now – and remember more than just its tag line. America has the world’s strongest military, the world’s best innovation, and the world’s most compelling soft power. But none of those are what American power fundamentally rests on: What the US requires, for domestic growth and global influence, is industry and the power of patriotically engaged forces of the private sector and labor force. And that’s precisely what the US currently lacks.

Assistance to Ukraine doesn’t just have to help Ukraine. It can also be the catalyst that the US needs to invest in itself, so that it has the reserves to defend the next Ukraine, the one thereafter, and to credibly deter through industrial strength any potential escalation into World War III.

The military supplies provided to Ukraine through the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act should have domestic content requirements that apply all across necessary industrial value chains, from critical material inputs to final assembly. The billions of dollars the Biden Administration has requested for additional support – ranging from military equipment to food – should come with parallel requirements. And the companies benefiting from these purchases should be incentivized at the same time to invest in additional, US-based production: With their billion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense should come the requirement that they bring critical supply chains back to the United States.

Military assistance to Ukraine is a drop in the bucket compared to the investments that the United States made during World War II. Zooming out, a whopping 33 billion dollars becomes just 33 billion dollars. But at the same time, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the US response is the kind of cataclysmic shock to the global and national order that can change trends. Assistance to Ukraine could be the catalyst that the US needs to start effectively investing in domestic production; to start rebuilding the arsenal of democracy, right when the world needs it most.

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