What oversight is there for $51B in military aid?
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°179 | 4 November 2022
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Joe Biden deployed weapons experts to Ukraine to assess the state of military aid to the country. The move is understood to be part of a broader plan to limit the risk of delivered weapons being diverted or misused. Activities like this are generally referred to as end-use monitoring, or EUM.
EUM is effectively a risk management tool. Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act requires the Department of Defense to conduct EUM in order to reduce “the security risks involved in transfers of equipment and services.”
In general, the US doesn’t take end-use monitoring anywhere near as seriously as it should, despite having two programs for it. The first, the State Department’s “Blue Lantern” program, employs only six full-time employees and four contractors. The second is the Pentagon’s “Golden Sentry” program, which employs six full-time civilian employees and three contractors. These offices—which are tasked with monitoring tens of billions of dollars worth of new military aid and arms sales annually—have a combined budget of just $3.4 million.
As far as Ukraine aid goes, there’s $2 million for the Office of the Inspector General to “carry out reviews of the activities of the DOD to executive funds appropriated in this title, including assistance provided to Ukraine” in the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 and in the second military aid bill—the really big one—there’s a provision for enhanced reporting requirements (136 stat. 1216) and $4 million for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (136 stat. 1219).
The demand for oversight isn’t coming from the White House or congressional Democrats. The most significant calls have all been by Republicans: There was that letter by 22 Republicans demanding more oversight; John Kennedy (R, LA) introduced a bill in May to create a Special Inspector General for Ukraine; Robert Wittman (R, VA-1) introduced a bill in the House in June that’d set up the same $20 million program as Kennedy’s bill would; and an amendment by Rand Paul (R, KY) would’ve provided $40 million to expand the mandate of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to cover Ukraine.
What motivated this Republican push? The scale of assistance is certainly part of it: Biden has approved $50.6 billion in Ukraine military aid since the start of the invasion through November 4—$200 million per day on average—through enacting bills passed by Congress and authorizing weapons transfers unilaterally.
*Military aid refers to aid not just to Ukraine but to other nearby states, too (bill language frequently lumps them together); funds to replenish US stocks following weapons transfers to those states; operational expenses for delivering matériel, providing services like advising and training, and other programming costs; and US personnel costs related to transportation, housing, bonus pay, etc.
Does any of this oversight matter?
It’s extremely difficult to monitor arms dispersed in an active war zone and the Pentagon hasn’t tracked which weapons have gone to which Ukrainian military units anyway. But even if oversight programs successfully uncovered serious cases of diversion or human right abuses committed with these weapons, would it disrupt the flow of US military aid?
Even before the Progressive Caucus letter fiasco, there were many signs that the Democratic Party had adopted the US’s role in the conflict—serving as the “arsenal of democracy” as Biden put it—as a central part of its identity. Questioning US policy toward the conflict became the same as questioning the party. This creates an environment wherein the prospect of conditioning military aid is extremely difficult.
The point is that oversight doesn’t necessarily yield accountability, particularly for arms transfers. Accountability is a political decision. An example: Members of Congress must break three major US laws governing military assistance in order to authorize military aid to such a well-documented, chronic human rights abuser like Israel (the Foreign Assistance Act, Arms Export Control Act, and Leahy Law) but billions of dollars worth are still approved every year.
In short, this is not a healthy policymaking environment.
-Stephen (@stephensemler; email@example.com)
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