Lawmakers Push Biden Officials On ATACMS, Cluster Munitions, Greater Support for Ukraine
“Now is our moment”: a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers is urging more and faster arms transfers.
Biden administration officials are holding out against pressure–from lawmakers and allies–to outfit Ukraine with new arms such as long-range ATACMS missiles and cluster munitions. They are also indicating no readiness to push for an “Israeli-style” security guarantee for Ukraine in the upcoming NATO Summit, despite entreaties by Estonia, France, and other countries.
One day after lawmakers passed a resolution urging the administration to release ATACMS to Ukraine fighters, the Europe panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled administration officials on their reluctance to provide weapons long sought by Kyiv.
Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, administration officials have offered a variety of explanations and excuses for not offering missiles that can strike out to 185 miles. Russia has said that such a transfer would lead Moscow to consider the United States a party to the conflict. Last September, for instance, U.S. Defense Department officials said that they are “regularly engaged” on the issue of escalation when it comes to ATACMS.
Then, in May, the United Kingdom began sending the Ukrainians Storm Shadow missiles with a similar range, without suffering Russia’s wrath or escalating the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Thursday, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Laura Cooper acknowledged, “We are seeing the effectiveness of the Storm Shadow system provided by the UK” and “finding it to be quite effective.” But that doesn’t mean that the United States would be providing its own long-range fires to Ukraine anytime soon.
“My concerns relate to the practical aspects of availability and also whether there are other systems like Storm Shadow, like the ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb that will come online this fall, other systems including UAVs, that can range the same target,” Cooper said. She didn’t go into further detail.
Similarly with cluster munitions, which Ukraine has also sought, Cooper acknowledged, “On this issue, the military advice that we have received is that they would make a difference on the battlefield, that they would be effective against dug-in Russian positions.”
But she pointed to “legislation that restricts” the transfer of those munitions.
One lawmaker pointed out that “There is a waiver available for the President that was not mentioned, that he can exercise this waiver at any time,” on cluster munitions for Ukraine.
Cooper responded that U.S. allies might be against the transfer.
“We do have a considerable number of NATO members that have signed up to the convention prohibiting cluster munitions. There are some concerns about whether this would lead to division,” she said. But she didn’t explain how that might result in less support for Ukraine.
On NATO security guarantees for Ukraine, the Biden officials seemed less supportive than Congress and even other allies. Estonia and France have both said that they will be looking for NATO to increase its security guarantees for Ukraine during next month’s NATO Summit in Lithuania. The guarantee would look more like the NATO guarantee for Israel, a non-member state, than the full Article 5-backed support.
Reports indicate that Germany and the United States are reluctant to sign on to such a guarantee. On Thursday, Douglas D. Jones, deputy assistant Secretary of State in the bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, didn’t give any indication that the U.S. expects the summit to produce one.
Instead, the United States will offer “increased levels of non-lethal support through NATO's comprehensive assistance package that Ukraine needs now to help him prevail in its war with Russia. Secondly, we're developing what is an unprecedented package of long-term support.”
But at various points during the hearing, some lawmakers expressed a very different sentiment.
“Now is our moment and we have to do whatever we possibly can to provide the Ukrainians with the necessary armament weaponry to try and finish this,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri.