April 24, 2024

CNAS Responds: $95 Billion Foreign Aid Package

Last night, in a remarkable show of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate passed the $95 billion foreign-aid package. What all was included in the package, and what is its significance? Nine CNAS experts tackle these questions in a new and timely CNAS Responds.

All quotes may be used with attribution. To arrange an interview, email Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org.

Richard Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer:

After all the familiar division and dysfunction, our elected leaders have risen to the challenge of international leadership. In just a week, the House of Representatives passed a critical Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization; sanctions on Iran; aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific; and legislation on TikTok and the seizure of frozen Russian assets. Last night the Senate approved the aid and the President will sign it into law. The system worked.

The aid to Ukraine will, in particular, make an immediate and concrete impact. On a recent trip across that country, I saw the dire implications of Ukraine's ammunition and air defense shortage. Without American assistance, Ukraine was on a path toward failure. With it, Ukraine quite literally has a fighting chance. Its sovereignty and independence hang in the balance.

This moment may be pivotal in our own national security politics as well. Senator Mitch McConnell observed that the foreign aid vote shows that Republicans have “turned the corner on the isolationist movement.” America, for all its limitations, remains the indispensable nation. It sometimes takes a major foreign policy challenge to remind our leaders of that fact. Today, they have risen to it.

Paul Scharre, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies:

Supporting Ukraine is not just a moral imperative, but a strategic one as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion two years ago was a massive blunder. NATO has become stronger, Russia is economically and militarily weaker, and Ukraine’s will to fight remains unbowed. Yet faltering American support for the war risks handing Putin a victory. Congress finally passed Ukraine aid, but delays in the House have been costly on the battlefront. Russia has reconstituted its troops and materiel and has begun retaking territory, while Ukraine has suffered a severe ammunition shortfall without American support.

The Ukrainian people have a strong will to fight but need the weapons to do so. At stake is not just Ukraine’s freedom but European security and the defense of the broader democratic world. If the United States and Europe remain steadfast in supporting Ukraine, they will demonstrate to the world that aggression does not pay. Russia will emerge weaker, and other would-be aggressors will think twice about using military force. But if the United States’ will to support Ukraine fails, Putin will be vindicated in his belief that the West lacks resolve. Putin and other dictators—including Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping – will conclude that they can merely take what they want, and the consequences will be felt not just in Europe but around the world. The cost of Ukraine aid is miniscule compared to its strategic value.

Carrie Cordero, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow:

The House vote on foreign aid over the weekend included strong bipartisan support and passage of the so-called TikTok ban. Bundling it with critical foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel, among other national security priorities, was a shrewd and effective tactic to bring it to President Biden’s desk. Late Tuesday night the Senate also passed the aid package, and the president has committed to signing it.

Passing legislation potentially restricting Americans’ access to TikTok may be emotionally satisfying. It is a rare current moment of bipartisan consensus. It also has a good chance of passing legal scrutiny. But, as a policy matter, it does not come close to mitigating the substantial national security risks posed by mass retention of Americans’ data across a wide array of platforms, foreign and domestic. Only comprehensive digital privacy legislation will make progress on that goal. A more deliberate approach would have enabled the Senate to carefully consider whether crafting a more holistic regulatory framework—short of a ban yet addressing the serious national security equities at play—would be both achievable and more productive over the long term. The bill passed without the benefit of greater public transparency about the underlying intelligence and analysis that spooked legislators into supporting it.

Divestment is a long recognized and effective regulatory mechanism to limit foreign control of companies or real estate transactions that affect U.S. national security. Forced divestment that impacts a vast swath of Americans’ access to information, however, hits different. This potential limit on access to a content-based app sailed through Congress at a time when, throughout the country, bans affecting various aspects of American life are en vogue. These reactionary trends should give policymakers across the political spectrum pause. What is trendy to limit access to today may shift as political leadership and public attitudes evolve. In a world where access to information is paramount, policymaking in the information environment should be nuanced.

Banning access to content previously accessible to tens of millions of citizens is a step down a well-trodden road in countries that we don’t want to emulate. There are alternative approaches. Regulation that addresses foreign influence and national security risks across platforms, and compliance with those regulations, should be explored more substantially. Among those options: foreign agent registration, age access and use restrictions, data location and retention requirements, public awareness campaigns, and other regulatory mechanisms—with consequences—are all worth a closer look.

Jonathan Lord, Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program:

Over the weekend, the House passed a stand-alone, Israel defense supplemental by a vote of 366-58. This bill, along with foreign aid bills for Ukraine and Taiwan, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support exactly six months to the day after President Biden made his initial request to Congress for $106 billion in supplemental defense funds to support America’s partners under threat. The Israel bill, which appropriates $14 billion to Title 22 foreign military financing as well as the more permissive Defense Department-based Title 10 funding, includes more than $5 billion to replenish and support further development of Israeli air defense systems. These systems played a critical role in neutralizing an unprecedented aerial bombardment by Iran earlier this month. The bill grants additional flexibility to the Pentagon to pull weapons from U.S. stockpiles for Israel, and—without specifying Israel or Gaza--also appropriates $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance to “vulnerable populations and communities.” Notably prohibited by the bill is the appropriation of any of its assistance to the embattled United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

While Washington circles have hotly debated whether Israel Defense Forces’ perceived conduct during the nearly eight-months-long war should necessitate new conditions on American support of Israel’s defense, the overwhelming bipartisan endorsement of the Israel supplemental bill shows that a vast majority of the electorate has not budged on the issue.

This bill’s passage reflects a continuing trend of unwavering bipartisan, bicameral support for the Jewish State. Late last year, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which included nine provisions authorizing various forms of support to Israel’s near- and long-term defense. That bill passed with 310 votes in the House, and 87 in the Senate. The passage of this month’s aid bill demonstrates that America’s commitment to Israel remains broad, bipartisan, and fundamentally unchanged.

Becca Wasser, Senior Fellow, Defense Program:

The passing of long-awaited supplemental foreign aid bills after months of deadlock is welcome progress. The bills provide much needed relief to allies and partners, especially Ukraine. They also bolster U.S. military strength by replenishing depleted stockpiles of munitions and equipment. These supplementals clearly bolster deterrence and defense, both today and into the future.

Most importantly, passing the supplemental aid package resources the National Defense Strategy (NDS). The NDS is predicated on working with ally and partner militaries to deter threats posed by China, Russia, and other actors. The foreign aid bills provide two key frontline partners — Ukraine and Taiwan—with much needed munitions and equipment. For Ukraine, this cannot come soon enough as it continues to push back Russian aggression with artillery stores that have dwindled, due in part to delayed aid. Military aid to Taiwan will help the nation develop military capabilities to deter or, at the very least withstand, a potential invasion by China.

The National Defense Strategy also emphasizes resilience and sustaining operations over time. The supplementals replenish depleted U.S. stockpiles of critical munitions and air defense systems, thus augmenting U.S. military strength. Much of the aid provided in these bills will be spent at home at factories across America building military equipment. The aid bills improve the resilience of the U.S. industrial base by sending an unambiguous demand signal to industry to the produce the much-needed equipment for current and future operations.

A strategy without resources means a strategy that cannot be implemented. The supplementals enable effective NDS implementation and shores up American strength at home and around the globe.

Geoffrey Gertz, Senior Fellow, Energy, Economics, and Security Program:

Almost four years have passed since then-President Trump first tried to ban TikTok. In the intervening years both Congress and the executive branch have pursued various efforts to address national security risks associated with TikTok, each of which ultimately stalled or stumbled. Will the latest such attempt—which would require ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, to divest the app or face a ban from U.S. app stores—be any different?

Whereas earlier legislative proposals lost momentum in either the House or Senate, this bill sailed through Congress. The decision to tie the TikTok provisions to aid for Ukraine and Israel — two Senate priorities — ensured the legislation remained on a fast track. This version of the TikTok divestment order also garnered the support of key Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who had wavered on similar proposals in the past, after the House extended the divestment deadline from six months to up to one year. President Biden had previously stated he would sign such a bill if it reached his desk and is expected to do so shortly.

Even assuming the bill becomes law, however, big questions that will take time to play out will remain. ByteDance will almost certainly challenge the measure in U.S. courts—a process which could drag on for months. If a U.S. technology company emerges as a potential buyer of TikTok, the sale would likely also face antitrust review—the Biden Administration’s competition team has been skeptical of consolidation in the tech sector – and might block a sale on such grounds.

Finally, China has introduced export controls on content-recommendation algorithms, and thus ByteDance may need regulatory approval from Beijing to proceed with a sale. China may have its own reasons for wanting to block a TikTok divestment to a U.S. buyer—either due to specific national security concerns associated with the technology or more generally to take a stand against what it perceives as U.S. bullying. This raises the thought experiment: if Beijing ultimately prevents a TikTok divestment pursued in response to this U.S. legislation, is the United States responsible for the TikTok ban, or is China? In such a scenario, the U.S. government would rightly want to highlight China’s refusal to let TikTok go—but the estimated 170 million American TikTok users will likely still direct their ire at their own government.

Andrew Metrick, Fellow, Defense Program:

The passage of a series of overwhelmingly bipartisan foreign aid bills by the House of Representatives over the weekend has created a sense of relief and progress in national security circles. While we should not downplay the criticality of this funding, it is the product of a legislative process that impairs U.S. strategy formulation, hinders U.S. defense budgeting, undercuts U.S. global credibility, and ultimately makes the United States less secure.

Ukraine aid is emblematic of the wider problem. It has been delayed since the beginning of the year leading to munition rationing by Ukrainian forces and a corresponding general deterioration of their military position vis-à-vis Russian forces. This is no way to support a nation under siege. The problem is deeper and broader than the specifics of Ukraine aid. The U.S. industrial base support packaged into these bills is the symptom of the inadequacy of regular funding. Congress has struggled to pass budgets on time to provide certainty and regularity not only to the Department of Defense but also to contractors who overwhelmingly build the capabilities employed in pursuit of American security.

The final success of this bipartisan aid package is reminiscent of the apocryphal quotation attributed to Winston Churchill, “Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else.” The difficulty achieving the basic legislative blocking and tackling necessary for national security should be a wake-up call to Congress that we are closer to American midnight than morning.

Adam Tong, Associate Fellow, Energy, Economics, and Security Program:

In anticipation of the passage of the TikTok bill in Congress and the near certainty that it would become law, the Chinese government signaled its intent to thwart the sale of the popular app in the U.S. Even if some foreseeable legal hurdles for a TikTok divestment could be cleared, Beijing will still have a say in, and will likely derail, any potential deal, given the growing list of restrictive measures on foreign acquisition of Chinese-made technologies.

As the U.S.-China tech rivalry intensified in recent years, the Chinese government has sought to build up its own export control regime to expand its regulatory toolkit. In 2020, for example, China updated its Catalogue of Prohibited Technologies for Export for the first time in a decade, to include “personalized information recommendation services based on data analyses.” This was followed in late 2023 by the inclusion of “artificial intelligence interface technology” to the list. Both additions reflect Beijing’s aim to hamper cross-border transactions involving data-based algorithms that are key to TikTok’s content recommendation mechanism, which underpins the app’s popularity. Beijing may also resort to its new Export Control Law and foreign investment security review measures, both of which came into effect in 2020, for possible premise in seeking to impede the sale of TikTok.

A probable ban of TikTok in the U.S. will further entrench the divide between the world’s two largest economies in the digital domain. It was not long ago that the Chinese leadership embraced the expansion of home-grown tech companies in western markets as a sign of the country’s graduation from cheap manufacturing. That optimism has seemingly ended, and the Chinese public increasingly views tech companies floundering under foreign pressure as a sign of weakness. Beijing’s immediate priority in the TikTok saga is thus a perception of assertiveness for its domestic audience, and ironically, it is the app’s demise—not its survival—in the U.S. market that would be most effective in helping create that perception.

Nicholas Lokker, Research Associate, Transatlantic Security Program:

The House’s long-awaited passage of additional assistance for Ukraine comes at a critical time in its war with Russia. Facing worsening shortages of ammunition and air defense, Kyiv has increasingly struggled in recent months to hold off Moscow’s advances along the frontlines and protect Ukrainian civilians and critical infrastructure from Russian missile strikes. The U.S. aid package will help considerably in plugging both of these gaps.

At the same time, it is far from a silver bullet for the Ukrainian war effort. Even before the delay in U.S. assistance, many expected 2024 to be a difficult year for Ukraine’s armed forces, given the necessity of adopting a more defensive posture and taking time to rebuild until increased Western defense industrial production allows for a renewed offensive in 2025. Moreover, the bill’s topline figure of nearly $61 billion is somewhat misleading, as more than a third of this money will go toward replenishing U.S. stocks of weaponry and ammunition rather than to Ukraine itself. Finally, aid from the United States and Kyiv’s partners in Europe cannot fix Ukraine’s worsening manpower deficit vis-à-vis Russia, which prompted a highly unpopular recent reduction of the draft age from 27 to 25. For all these reasons, the West cannot afford to be complacent. Pushing back against Russian aggression will require a sustained commitment for years to come.

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, contact Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org.

This CNAS commentary is part of High Stakes: Preparing the Next President, a new election-year initiative to explore the most pressing national security issues that will face a new administration. To learn more about this initiative, and to subscribe to this new center-wide series.

High Stakes: Preparing the Next President

High Stakes: Preparing the Next President is CNAS’s new election-year initiative to explore the most pressing national security issues that will face the next administration. ...

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