10 Interesting Facts About the New Military Aid Compliance Order Issued by President Biden

February 12, 2024 - Reading time: 3 minutes

Introduction: A new directive by President Joe Biden appears to ease the split among Democrats over his military support for Israel's war in Gaza.

The order authorizes a swift cutoff of military aid to countries that violate international protections of civilians. This commitment will help shore up support among center-left Senate Democrats for Biden’s proposed $95 billion supplemental assistance package, aimed primarily at military aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Democratic senators on Friday called Biden's directive - meant to bring breadth, oversight, deadlines, and teeth to efforts to ensure foreign governments don't use U.S. military aid against civilians - historic. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said it is a "sea-change in terms of how you approach U.S. military aid and its impact on civilians." Human rights advocates say the challenge for this new directive will be whether administrations will actually enforce human rights conditions against strategically important allies and partners.

The order comes in what's officially known as a presidential memorandum, which has the force of law but can be overturned by succeeding presidents. Biden’s order has immediate effect. It gives Secretary of State Antony Blinken 45 days to obtain "credible and reliable written assurances" from foreign recipients of U.S. military aid that are in active conflicts, which includes Israel and Ukraine, that they are using U.S. military assistance in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law and other standards.

Foreign governments that fail to provide those assurances on time would have their military aid paused. Administrations also have the option of suspending U.S. military assistance if they deem a foreign government isn't really complying with humanitarian law and protections, despite claiming it is. Other requirements include regular reports from the administration on compliance going forward. That includes countries not actively fighting a war.

The supply of air defense systems and some other defensive gear are exempted. While supporters say the stringent language of the order will limit the ability of presidential administrations to evade the spirit of the measure, the order does allow administrations to waive the requirements in "rare and extraordinary circumstances." The Biden administration has frustrated some Senate Democrats during Israel's war in Gaza by declaring a national security emergency to rush military aid to Israel, skirting the usual process of congressional notification.

The U.S. already has laws - including the Foreign Assistance Act and the Leahy Law - meant to bar security assistance to governments that are serial human rights abusers. Those "are honored in the breach," Roth, the human rights expert, said. “If the administration is so indifferent to existing law, it's not clear what difference a new set of reports will make,” Roth added.

Conclusion: Democratic senators said Friday they would continue working to strengthen the new system laid out in the order. That includes seeking funding for the additional government oversight and codifying it into legislation so it's harder for future presidents to trash. “This is a very big deal,” Van Hollen said. “And it will give President Biden and the United States more tools and more leverage ... to ensure that U.S. military assistance complies with American values and American standards.”

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.