Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The leaders of the G-7, the group of seven leading industrial democracies, may not be very popular in their own nations.
But give credit to the presidents of the U.S. and France, the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Japan as well as the chancellor of Germany for this: They didn't let domestic political issues keep them from acting on the most pressing international issue facing the world today — Russia's illegal, immoral invasion of Ukraine.
"We once again condemn in the strongest possible terms the war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine, which constitutes a serious violation of international law, including the U.N. Charter," they stated in their Leaders' Communiqué from last week's G-7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
"Russia's brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace."
Underscoring the collective resolve, the democratically elected leaders committed to "intensifying our diplomatic, financial, humanitarian and military support for Ukraine, to increasing the costs to Russia and those supporting its war efforts, and to continuing to counter the negative impacts of the war on the rest of the world, particularly on the most vulnerable people."
The G-7 leaders were steeled by an appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who left his war-torn nation — including the devastated city of Bakhmut, which fell to the Russians after months of brutal fighting — to thank the leaders for their support and lobby for its endurance.
President Joe Biden reassured his Ukrainian counterpart by saying, "Together, with the entire G-7, we have Ukraine's back, and I promise we're not going anywhere." To punctuate his point, Biden pledged an additional $375 million in materiel. And perhaps most impactfully, Biden made the right — albeit belated — decision to allow Ukrainian pilots to train on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, clearing the way for the NATO nations that have offered to transfer planes to Ukraine.
Biden's F-16 decision was a reversal. The F-16 is one of many major weapons systems he initially resisted deploying to Ukraine, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Abrams tanks and the Patriot missile system. While caution is warranted, given Biden's bid to aid Ukraine but avoid direct conflict with Russia, the slow rollout of superior weapons creates its own kind of risk, as well as unnecessary casualties. The way to end this war is for Ukraine to outright win it, or at least maximize its negotiation position before any eventual peace talks. Conversely, allowing Russia to regroup and rearm would only embolden Moscow — and potentially Beijing as it eyes Taiwan.
While the F-16s will likely come too late to make a difference in the impending Ukrainian counteroffensive — yet another reason Biden should have moved earlier — they can make a difference for Ukraine's longer-term defense capabilities, particularly given the extraordinary importance of air power.
"One of the key things that you want to do in modern-day combat is gain air superiority," Jon Olson, who teaches "Statecraft and the Tools of National Power" at Carleton College, told an editorial writer. Olson, a retired U.S. Navy commander, added that the U.S. works in a very quick and dedicated way to garner air supremacy, "so we have total dominance of the airspace." While Olson thinks that's unrealistic for Ukraine, "even temporary air superiority would give them an advantage" in launching combat operations.
Crucially, Biden received a "flat assurance" from the Ukrainian president that the planes won't be used over Russian territory.
Success on the battlefield is multifactorial, and Olson said that the eventual inclusion of F-16s may not solely determine the outcome.
"But it gives them a fighting chance," Olson said, adding: "And based on what you and I have seen in the news over the last 16 months, you give the Ukrainians a fighting chance and they do pretty well."
Ukraine — and the free world reflected by the nations of the G-7 — must stay united to ensure that pattern continues.