Learn about the small State Department offices clearing billions of dollars’ worth of weapons for Ukraine

While Ukraine was fighting to expel Russia from the outskirts of Kiev in March of last year, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnik received an urgent call from a US military airport in Germany.

An Allied cargo plane loaded with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles had just landed, and the United States needed permission from the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs to ship the weapons to Ukraine.

“They needed legal clearance, and we needed to get that done quickly,” said Resnick, whose office usually measured his work in weeks and months, rather than hours. “It was at that moment that I realized our priorities would change.”

Resnick’s office has since approved tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Kiev, with fewer than 10 staff focused on the issue.

The bureau’s heavy workload highlights the unique way in which the United States was involved in Europe’s largest land war since World War II, as well as what political will, bureaucratic innovation, and an active workforce can achieve.

However, State Department leaders also warn that staffing numbers, technological limitations, and the increasing complexity of work are problems that could slow the rate of aid approval.

As the wars continue, the US support to Ukraine, amounting to $46 billion, is a relatively low budget compared to the US budget. Almost 3 trillion dollars It was spent on the wars in Iraq and Syria, or even the Pentagon war 2022 Special Budget worth $858 billion.

However, compared to other efforts to arm allies, the effort is massive, far greater than the money given to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2020, and much more than the money given to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2020. superior The value of all aid to Israel, a major recipient of US security assistance, since 1979.

The funding partly reflects the cautious line taken by the United States, seeking to prevent a Russian victory while unwilling to send its own troops.

The unusual way the war was financed placed extraordinary demands on the offices that handled foreign military aid, especially the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs.

Among the functions of the office to set Whether the proposed military assistance serves US national security goals.

Three offices play a large legal role in this process, and are responsible not only for approving the delivery of U.S. military aid, but also for approving the transfer of any U.S.-made weapons that foreign countries want to send and any that Ukraine buys from U.S. arms dealers.

These offices are Regional Security and Arms Transfer Office and the Security helpdeskwhich deals with transfers from one government to another, and Defense Trade Controls Directoratewhich handles foreign governments’ purchases of goods directly from their manufacturers.

Every office has seen their work skyrocket. The Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfer, which handles tens of billions of dollars in weapons sent from U.S. warehouses to Ukraine, has seen a 15,000 percent increase in the number of cases assigned to it, Assistant Secretary of State Jessica Lewis said. Tell Congress in May.

Not only has work gone up, but the tasks expected of them have also changed.

“We completely changed our policy,” Resnick said, especially when it came to persuading allies to send weapons to Ukraine.

“Where before we were waiting for partners to come to us, in the context of Ukraine, we would go to partners and say, ‘Listen, we know we approved this number of Stingers 35 years ago, and we’re asking you to do that.'” These missiles or spears to Ukraine.”

Also on the rise: work related to American arms dealers selling weapons to Ukraine, either from the United States or acting as middlemen for Soviet-designed weapons made elsewhere.

An analyst working in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs said: “It was just an explosion of American entities and people who sought to fill this void … hundreds and hundreds of them.” Defense is one I agreed to the anonymous quote.

To handle that much paperwork, the State Department had just eight staff, with one person often handling major funding programs, said Resnick and Defense Trade Controls director Kathryn Hamilton. Defense is one.

Getting the job done requires a certain amount of hard work and late nights. At the start of major US aid in March 2022, “it was crazy late at night and early in the morning,” said Resnick, who oversees both the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers and the Office of Security Assistance.

And the focus of the NSC, the Department of Defense, and the State Department on the mission has facilitated previously lengthy coordination processes, which ranged from weeks to months to mere days.

One of the main tasks was to approve requests from foreign governments to send weapons to Ukraine that had been purchased from the US government. Another analyst said such transfers usually take “weeks or months for employees to leave”. “They did 15 or 16 on Saturdays. And that pace never stopped.

And as offices process transfer after transfer, it’s much faster to do so. For the Defense Trade Controls Directorate, staff sometimes needed only hours to process transfers in cases where allies were donating pre-approved munitions or equipment.

Their staff change also helped. For example, the Defense Trade Controls Directorate processes orders by weapon type. The directorate centralized all decisions regarding Ukraine under one person, making them aware of potential problems in the paperwork for a potential arms dealer so that an analyst could process each case more efficiently.

Hamilton said the department also used outreach events to educate new arms dealers on how to properly file paperwork, and stayed up late hours to take calls from around the country.

After a year and a half of this new frantic pace, the PMO feels that business is going well, without delay in approving transfers to Ukraine and other countries.

Assistant Secretary of State Jessica Lewis said: “We transfer 95% of cases on the foreign military side within 48 hours.” Tell Congress.

But as the United States and its allies send increasingly advanced weaponry, the time it takes to approve transfers could also go up. “It’s getting a little tricky because now the Department of Defense has to look at the issueability criteria,” Hamilton said.

For equipment such as night vision systems or sensors, she said, “there will certainly be political considerations that need to be weighed there, and those considerations could prolong the adjudication of those requests.”

Resnick said more staff is also needed to handle the current workload and handle any increases in aid to Ukraine.

Entering the “21st century,” she said, would also help. Currently, if the approval request reaches their confidential computer systems on a weekend, employees won’t see it until Monday, a problem Resnick said more technology spending could solve.

Yet despite it all, the staff are exhilarated about their mission, which is having a rare moment in the spotlight.

“I’ve been here for 12 years, and we’ve rarely been in the news,” said one analyst.

From the early days of the war, when Javelin anti-tank missiles defeated Russian tanks, to the current monthly aid announcements, that has changed.

“It gave me an adrenaline rush because you feel there is real purpose and meaning to what you’re doing,” said one analyst.

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