Resolving data discrepancies on US military aid to Ukraine
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°182 | 3 December 2022
*Also, check out my latest article in Jacobin:
The pace at which weapons shipments are approved or announced makes military aid difficult to keep tabs on. On top of three enacted supplemental funding bills, there’s a fourth one pending that would authorize $37.3 billion for Ukraine, $22.8 billion of which is military aid. Then there are the 26 weapons drawdowns that need to be accounted for, too.
The 26 drawdowns Blinken is referring to
Plus the military aid approved through three supplemental funding bills and the FY2022 omnibus:
A weapons drawdown means removing weapons from a certain place. If that place is a country, a drawdown typically means de-escalation or demilitarization: arms move from a potential or active conflict zone to a warehouse.
The way it’s used here—as a legal authority—it means the opposite. It’s an authorization to send matériel from the warehouse to the field; it means weapons proliferation.
Drawdown authority is granted to the president and is used at their discretion. It has a yearly cap (of $100 million), but that cap can be raised through legislation. The pending supplemental funding bill would raise it by $7 billion.
Because drawdown authority is an authority and not an appropriation, this $7 billion is usually excluded from the reported value of the (pending) fourth supplemental spending bill for Ukraine. Fair enough—you can’t assume that Biden will use up all his drawdown authority (even though he repeatedly has). You can only count drawdown authority as real spending when it’s used—making the task of accurately accounting US military aid to Ukraine a real pain in the ass (please consider supporting my work, here).
And here is the amount enacted since Russia’s invasion:
Why do I see different numbers for military aid elsewhere?
The most common reason is that people are counting different things. What I’m counting is the military-related funds allocated for the conflict in Ukraine by Congress and the White House. From that amount, federal agencies (namely, DOD and State Department) formulate aid packages. This can take a while. Once a package is finalized, it’s known as a commitment or obligation. That’s the total you typically see in a DOD fact sheet or announcement.
Commitments and obligations don’t mean the same thing as provided or delivered. There isn’t enough oversight to track how much military aid has been successfully delivered and incorporated into Ukraine’s forces. Commitments and obligations just mean that the US government agreed to pay for something. It can take months or even years to fully complete a weapons shipment after it’s been committed to, particularly if the matériel is being purchased new from a contractor. (Drawdowns from existing stockpiles are much faster to deliver, as you’d expect.)
Why did I settle on my methodology? There are technical reasons, like how it provides a more complete accounting of military aid than just weapons and equipment (i.e., personnel and operational costs are also factored in). And there are less technical reasons, like how military aid legislation is the first and strongest signal of how much the US is willing to throw down on the conflict, and in what ways.
I’m glad people are deploying other methods, though—it’s good to have multiple approaches with which to gauge the size and shape of the US and West’s intervention. Especially as some insist that providing tens of billions in military aid is the same as not intervening at all: