US Legislators Unite to Fund New Cold Wars

ByNaveed Ahmad

In a rare show of bipartisan legislation, the US Congress passed separate spending bills totaling $95.3 billion on April 18. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law two days later. The United States is allocating sums of money to three tense regions, two of which are warzones. The Western media is focusing on the $61 billion aid to Ukraine but much less attention is accorded to the over $26 billion support for Israel and the over $8 billion support for Taiwan. Besides, the sweeping legislation also approves the sale or banning of TikTok and the transfer of Russian assets in the United States to the Ukraine Support Fund. Despite sharp polarization ahead of a bitter electoral contest, Washington seems to agree on the global order it seeks to maintain for its benefit.

Russia gained the upper hand by the tail-end of 2023 when Ukraine’s air defense and ground forces started facing dire munition shortages. Though Russia’s ground troops did not advance significantly, its soldiers held their ground. Ukraine struggled to secure its urban areas as well as protect civilian infrastructure from Russian missiles. The legislation came as a shock for the Kremlin which had banked on the likes of Representative Marjorie Tailor Greene to hamstring Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson from tabling the bills. Besides a few squadrons of F-16s, which were donated by various countries last year and are due to arrive sometime in May, the new aid package includes air defense capabilities, artillery rounds, armored vehicles and training to revitalize the demoralized Ukrainian forces to regain the initiative by peak summer season.

More than a third of the $61 billion will be spent on replenishing weapons and ammunition systems from the US military while more than $9 billion will be spent on providing economic assistance to  Ukraine in the form of “forgivable loans.” The Biden administration will have to provide a multiyear plan and a strategy to Congress within 45 days spelling out “specific and achievable objectives.”

Fearing Trump’s re-election, Washington is in a rush to strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces. For that matter, NATO’s July summit in Washington will be instrumental in charting a strategy and weapons provision plan for the year 2025. The military industry in the United States as well as Europe is returning to full operations to not only meet the demands of the battlefield but to also replenish the stockpiles of NATO member-states.

The Ukrainian military is short on manpower and faces command and coordination issues. Training young officers and recruits for combined warfare will be a challenging task for Ukraine’s allies.

Despite Israel’s excessive use of force and ongoing massacre in Gaza, it gets $26 billion in aid, $1 billion of which will be for humanitarian assistance. President Biden said Israel must ensure that the humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the bill reaches Gaza “without delay.” Some $4 billion is dedicated to replenishing Israel’s missile defense systems besides an additional $2.4 billion for current US military operations in the region. The Biden administration’s quagmire remains perplexing nonetheless as it opposes Israel’s war on Gaza on the one hand, while it doubles down on military assistance for Israel alongside political support in multilateral fora like the UN. The House of Representatives echoed with voices critical of Israel, with 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting against aid to Israel. “We make ourselves complicit in this tragedy,” the House Progressive Caucus said in a joint statement. “Our votes against H.R. 8034 are votes against supplying more offensive weapons that could result in more killings of civilians in Rafah and elsewhere.”

In the quest to contain China and strengthen Taiwan, the United States is allocating $8 billion, a quarter of which is to be used for replenishing weapons and ammunition systems.

Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office told the media, “We firmly oppose the inclusion of Taiwan-related content in the relevant bill of the US Congress.” She added, “It sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan separatist forces. We urge the US side to fulfil its commitment not to support Taiwan’s independence with concrete actions and stop arming Taiwan in any way.”

The funding will “strengthen the deterrence against authoritarianism in the West Pacific ally chain,” said Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te. The US assistance will “help ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also boost confidence in the region,” he hoped.

In the face of “authoritarian expansionism,” Taiwan is “determined to safeguard democracy and also safeguard our homeland,” Lai said.

The far-reaching legislation extends to Chinese-owned video app TikTok, seeking to either divest or ban the app  in the United States. ByteDance, its owner, is determined to contest the legislation. In case of failure, the app would disappear from Apple and Google’s app stores and be prohibited from internet hosting services that support it.

The legislation also allows the United States to seize and transfer Russian assets worth about $5 billion to the Ukraine Support Fund. The seizures would be carried out under provisions of the REPO Act, short for the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunities for Ukrainians Act, that were incorporated into the aid bill. The United States would like to have G7 and EU nations on board before transferring Russian assets to the Ukraine Support Fund. Since the Ukraine invasion, the United States and its Western allies froze Russian assets worth $300 billion which cannot be accessed by Moscow. The United States will now be able to transfer $5 billion worth of frozen Russian assets on its soil to Kyiv.

The United States is continuing its commitment to Ukraine while dispatching sophisticated weapons worth a hefty sum to Israel, which reflects Washington’s disregard for peace and stability in the Middle East. The Biden administration’s self-defeating policy will not only lead to prolonged volatility in  the Middle East but the Democratic Party may face dire consequences in swing states like Michigan in November. The predominantly Muslim and Arab voters – usually voting for the Democrats – are likely to not show up at the polling booths. It may not have been so much of Biden’s concern had he not been polling lowest amongst all presidents. Conversely, the Republicans would not have voted for Ukraine if Taiwan and Israel were not included. The United States’ decision to send weapons to Taiwan undercuts the Biden’s administration’s delicate dialogue path with China.

The recent set of defense aid bills leaves little doubt that the United States is gearing up for a new cold war with China as well as the Muslim world. Russia’s aggressive posturing has been a constant for a decade now. The global economy and environment cannot anymore endure tensions and conflicts. The United States’ allies in Europe are already showing signs of fatigue. The United States’ superpower status is far from where it was in the past, with it now experiencing domestic decline and the rise of revisionist powers and blocs on the international stage.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Naveed Ahmad
Naveed Ahmad
Research Fellow (Strategic Affairs)