Last night, the Senate produced bipartisan legislation that would provide emergency supplemental assistance to Ukraine and Israel, fund humanitarian aid, and offer assistance for security in the Indo-Pacific. The bill is imperfect; it does not go far enough to ensure that security assistance will be used in compliance with U.S. and international law and policy, and it places restrictions on humanitarian aid to Palestine that will impede timely and effective delivery. However, the House version of the legislation provides only for Israel’s defense. Removing assistance for Ukraine and humanitarian needs will only undermine the United States’ reliability as a partner and severely curtail important efforts to protect democracy worldwide.
The Senate package appropriates more than $118 billion for global security, humanitarian, and border assistance. Of this, around $60 billion is dedicated to Ukraine’s defense and economic needs; $14.1 billion would fund security assistance to Israel; $10 billion provides for Ukrainian, Palestinian, and other global humanitarian assistance; and $4.83 billion supports defense needs in the Indo-Pacific. The legislation would also fund $38.2 billion in the U.S. defense industrial base, including for submarines and to replenish weapons and ammunition that had been transferred to partners.
Funding critical defense and humanitarian needs
Against the backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine approaching a third year, Israel’s continued offensive in Gaza, and China’s military ambitions, these are important investments. There are many reasons why providing funding to Ukraine is in the United States’ national security interest; at a time when Russia has bet on outlasting the support of Ukraine’s partners in order to bring its imperial project to the footsteps of Europe, the funds provide a strategic and cost-effective opportunity to confront Russian aggression that does not require commitment of U.S. troops. The support would also be materially significant: While the European Union last week approved 50 billion euros in support, these funds are intended to be delivered over the next three years. Ukraine’s current economic needs are great, and its military desperately needs the weapons that U.S. funds can provide.
The wars in Ukraine and in Gaza have also created grave humanitarian crises. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 14.6 million people in Ukraine will need access to humanitarian assistance; OCHA also reports that “nearly all” of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced. Without regular access to proper health care, clean drinking water, food, and sufficient housing, these vulnerable populations are in dire need of the kind of aid that the humanitarian portions of the supplemental assistance package would provide.
Room for improvement
Still, there is significant room for improvement in the proposed legislation. As written, the bill would waive congressional oversight for the substantial aid to Israel. The legislation also does not include any safeguards or reporting requirements to ensure that the assistance will be used in compliance with international law and policy. This is problematic. U.S. officials have raised concerns for months that Israel has not taken appropriate precautions to avoid civilian harm, and there is credible evidence that Israel has used U.S. weapons in strikes that have killed civilians. A growing group of senators has endorsed an amendment that would restore the requirement for congressional notifications and another that would require reporting on compliance with human rights law and policy. Congress should ensure that these important amendments are included.
The text of the legislation also prohibits funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), effectively the only agency that can provide services to Gaza’s sizable population in need. The United States recently paused funding to the agency over allegations that 12 of its employees participated in the October 7 attacks in Israel. Although the UNRWA has fired the employees and begun an investigation, the issue has seen renewed calls from some in Congress to stop funding the agency. While there may still be opportunities to deliver assistance through other avenues, the UNRWA prohibition and related restrictions will undoubtedly hamper the timely and efficient delivery of aid.
As the world’s largest military and economic power, the United States has an obligation to fulfill its duties in providing for the defense of its partners, meeting the basic needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and protecting democracy against a rising tide of authoritarianism. While U.S. lawmakers must fund these national security imperatives, they must also work diligently to protect oversight so that they can ensure assistance provided can achieve these aims.