Another congressional vote will highlight the problem
AMERICA PRIDES itself as the world’s arsenal of democracy. Now the great arsenal is drying up. A combination of industrial overstretch and political paralysis is threatening its ability to arm allies in Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The Senate will soon make a new push to approve aid to Ukraine, which has been blocked since September, with other national-security priorities. Even if the Senate agrees on a way forward, it is unclear whether the package will pass the House of Representatives.
The political problems have already had consequences. Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) packages for Ukraine have shrunk this year (see left-hand chart). The PDA allows the Pentagon to send allies weapons from America’s existing stocks, which are subsequently replenished. But given the lack of new funding from Congress, America’s brass may be reluctant to give away more than they are allowed to buy back. The Pentagon says it has about $5bn left in the PDA account, and only $1bn to replenish it.
The PDA accounts for $25bn of the $44bn-worth of military aid supplied by America to Ukraine since the start of the war. Drawdowns peaked at more than $5bn in January, when America was arming Ukraine for a summer counter-offensive. The latest PDA packages were $350m in October and only $225m in November. The three-month average is at its lowest since February 2022.
The impact is being felt at the front. During the summer Ukrainian forces fired about 220,000-240,000 larger calibre shells (152mm and 155mm) per month and will soon reach 80,000-90,000, says Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an American think-tank.
Russia is outproducing the West in artillery shells, and has been boosted by ammunition from North Korea. Ukraine will have to dig in to defend. The question is not whether it can mount large new offensives, but whether it can hold its current lines.
Much depends on what happens in Congress in the coming weeks, as well as whether Ukraine’s allies in Europe can take up the slack. President Joe Biden has wrapped the new request for $61bn for Ukraine-related expenditure, including replenishing American stocks, in a bigger supplemental budget of $106bn. But Republican leaders, under pressure from “America first” hardliners sceptical of Ukraine funding, want to tie it to tougher measures to curb migration at America’s border with Mexico. What should be a bipartisan bill has thus become hostage to a deeply partisan issue. Ukraine’s friends in Congress worry that, if the assistance does not pass this month, it will be impossible to adopt in 2024, during a feverish election year.
The Europeans, on the other hand, have belatedly increased their contributions to Ukraine and, crucially, have promised multi-year support. Collectively they have surpassed America in overall commitments to Ukraine, according to analysis by the Kiel Institute, using data to July 31st (see right-hand chart). But America still provides the largest share of military assistance, and Europeans will fall short of their promise to supply 1m shells by March. There are growing doubts about their ability to meet commitments of financial aid.
Ukraine was already facing a grim 2024. It is becoming grimmer with every week of American paralysis.