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How Ukraine Keeps Getting The West To Flip On Arms Supplies

The open debate on weapon deliveries to Ukraine is highly unusual, but Kyiv has figured out how to use the public moral suasion — and patience — to repeatedly shift the question in its favor. But will it work now for fighter jets?

Photo of a sunset over the USS Nimitz with a man guiding fighter jets ready for takeoff

U.S fighter jets ready for takeoff on the USS Nimitz

Pierre Haski


PARIS — In what other war have arms deliveries been negotiated so openly in the public sphere?

On Monday, a journalist asked Joe Biden if he plans on supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. He answered “No”. A few hours later, the same question was asked to Emmanuel Macron, about French fighter jets. Macron did not rule it out.

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Visiting Paris on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksïï Reznikov recalled that a year ago, the United States had refused him ground-air Stinger missiles deliveries. Eleven months later, Washington is delivering heavy tanks, in addition to everything else. The 'no' of yesterday is the green light of tomorrow: this is the lesson that the very pragmatic minister seemed to learn.

If he won’t yet leave with Mirage 2000s, the Ukrainian minister did not waste his time in Paris. He obtained from France 12 additional Caesar guns, the long-range artillery pieces that have proven useful in Ukraine, as well as a Thales radar system, and the sending of 160 French trainers to Poland.

Speaking of which, we learned that the manufacturer of the Caesar, the Nexter group, had increased its production capacity to meet demand.

Transparency as soft power

Why such transparency? We are obviously in new terrain. No one had foreseen this war in Europe, and even fewer predicted that NATO armies were going to have to supply the Ukrainian army to such an extent.

The public debate on weapons has been going on since Day One, about every new category of weaponry supplied to Ukraine, with this constant question of whether a "red line" will be crossed. Open discussion is both a way for Ukraine and its friends to put pressure on the most hesitant governments.

How will the debate on planes end?

It also runs the risk of making the public associate the war with expense and cause concern about the risks of escalation. But discussing it takes out any potential drama, even if it has the disadvantage of keeping Moscow informed of upcoming Ukrainian capabilities.

Photo of a \u200bU.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flying over an undisclosed location

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flying over an undisclosed location

U.S. Air Force/ZUMA

How will the debate end?

How will the debate on planes end? At each stage, two questions arise. Does the delivery of new equipment change the nature of our commitment? In other words, are we risking “co-belligerence”? And the second question is Ukrainians' ability to use the weaponry.

If France ends up supplying Mirage 2000s, it will be with very clear rules of engagement.

Fighter jets create a different problem from tanks: they could be used to attack Russian territory, and therefore constitute an act that justifies war for Moscow. Yesterday, during a press conference, the Ukrainian minister and his French counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, insisted on the defensive dimension of aviation. It is likely that if France ends up supplying Mirage 2000s to Ukraine, it will be with very clear rules of engagement.

If the United States will not deliver F-16s, it remains to be seen whether it will prohibit other countries from doing so, such as the Netherlands or Poland.

Ukraine understands that today's refusals can lay the groundwork for the answer it knows how to wait until tomorrow to hear.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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