At State Department Budget Hearing, Murray Asks Blinken About Ensuring Security Assistance is Used in Compliance with International Law, What Aid to Ukraine Means on the Ground


***WATCH: Senator Murray’s questioning of Secretary Blinken***


Washington, D.C. — Today—at a Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget request for the U.S. Department of State—U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, reiterated the importance of investing in our diplomatic tools to keep America safe and reduce conflict across the globe. She asked Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken about steps State is taking to ensure U.S. security assistance is used in a manner consistent with international law and asked how quickly U.S. assistance to Ukraine could translate into progress on the battlefield.


In opening comments, Senator Murray stated:


“As I think every member of this committee would agree, this is an extremely challenging moment across the world. And amid these challenges, your Department’s work couldn't be more important.


“Our strength at home and across the world isn’t just measured by the strength of our military. It is measured by our diplomacy, our influence abroad, and our strategic investments, like supporting our allies, building partnerships, strengthening trade and supply chains, and protecting civilians.


“That’s why these types of investments were a key part of the national security supplemental that I worked so hard to pass earlier this year.


“We proved Congress can still come together to stand by our allies, like in Ukraine, and show American leadership is still strong—we know there’s a lot more work to do.


“So when it comes to America’s national security, it is absolutely critical we ensure that your Department has the resources needed to fulfill its essential mission. After all, Vladimir Putin is not operating his brutal invasion by a CR. And President Xi certainly is not cutting investments in diplomacy, or military, or economic assistance, or international development.


“The lesson should be clear, when we fail to properly invest in the State Department and the powerful diplomatic tools we have, our adversaries fill the gap.”


Senator Murray asked Secretary Blinken about what steps the Department is taking to ensure U.S. security assistance is used in a manner consistent with international law, stating: “Mr. Secretary, U.S. foreign policy should reflect our interests. And that means being consistent with our values. That includes protecting human rights, and upholding the rule of law. We have to stand by our allies in time of need. And at the same time, we have a responsibility to make sure weapons we provide do not contribute to violations of international humanitarian law, which exists to limit suffering caused by warfare, even when the war itself is justified. In May, the Administration transmitted its first report under National Security Memorandum 20 to Congress. This report found it was reasonable to assess some partner countries are using U.S. provided weapons in a manner that is inconsistent with international law. Clearly, more needs to be done to ensure human rights and the rule of law are central in our decisions regarding to what extent and under what conditions we provide security assistance to partner countries. What steps are you taking to ensure security assistance, legal requirements, and policies are being fully implemented?”


Secretary Blinken replied:


“Let me first say: I fully agree with you. And it is imperative that as we provide security assistance, defense support, to other countries, to allies and partners, that it be used in a way that upholds international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict, etcetera. And we have processes in place, in fact, newly established in this Administration, to try to make sure that we’re doing that. Particularly when it comes to the Conventional Arms Transfer policy, something we call the CHIRG [Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance] process, which tries to assess whether, in any given incident involving civilian casualties, American weapons were used. And those processes are actually underway.


“We have multiple inquiries going on. With regard to specific incidents—I’m referring here to Gaza. The challenge, and I think it’s reflected in the NSM report that you refer to, the challenge is making final determinations in the midst of a war, in the midst of conflict. It's very hard to get all of the dispositive information. We're not on the ground, we don't have access. In the case of Gaza, you have an extraordinarily complicated battlefield, where Hamas, a terrorist organization, hides behind and underneath civilians and apartment buildings and hospitals and mosques, making it very, very difficult to make final, real-time assessments.


“But as you’ve noted, and as the report concluded, given the totality of the damage that's been done, to civilians in Gaza, and given the fact that there's American weaponry is there, it was reasonable to assess that in some instances, it had been used in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law. These instances are under investigation, under investigation by us, they're also under investigation by Israel. There are hundreds of open inquiries in Israel. There are criminal investigations that are underway in Israel. And our own process I take very seriously. We can't have double standards, whether it's Israel or any other country that we provide weapons to, in making sure that, to the best of our ability, that they're used consistent with the requirements of international humanitarian law.”


Senator Murray asked whether State has sufficient staff and resources to meet the objective of ensuring our security assistance is used in compliance with existing U.S. legal requirements and policies.


She then proceeded to ask Secretary Blinken about American assistance for Ukraine, stating: “I'm very worried about the window that has now given Putin and Russia to build up their forces and make the advances that we have seen in the last few weeks. I’m also really concerned about reports of Russia’s increased weapons production, and the challenges the US, our European partners, and Ukraine will have in keeping up with them. You were just in Kyiv, given the recent gains on the battlefield by Russia, what is your assessment of how quickly the aid and support alongside our allies could translate to the Ukrainians holding the line or in fact, regaining territory?”


Secretary Blinken replied: “I think it's translating into that right now. Items that were funded or supported by the supplemental are already there, and much more is flowing. But we've already seen that arrive. I think it's had two impacts. Clearly a psychological impact, which Ukraine very much needed in this moment. It really bucked them up to know that all of this is on the way. But we're also starting to see a practical impact in terms of these necessary pieces of equipment, arms, getting into the hands of Ukrainians when they need it most. Now, what's going on in the northeast, you primarily have a challenge of making sure that, in the first instance, Ukrainians have effective defenses against the attempt by the Russians to create a buffer zone and to challenge Kharkiv. But I think we're getting to a point where that's starting to come into effect. So my hope and expectation based on what we've seen is you will see a stronger and stronger resilience to what Russia is trying to do, as a result of the supplemental, as a result of things that Europeans are providing. But I have to tell you, there was real damage done over the last eight months. And that gap, unfortunately, was filled, to some extent, by the Russians pushing forward. Now I think the Ukrainians have the means to more effectively deal with that.”