A House panel has made progress on a bill aimed at strengthening the authority of U.S. special operations units to provide weapons to militias and irregular forces in unstable regions. Supporters of the legislation argue that this provision would act as a deterrent against countries like Russia and China.
Implementation of these activities in Ukraine, a major concern, is currently on hold. The draft legislation received approval from the intelligence and special operations subcommittee through a voice vote. It will now undergo consideration during the markup of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the Armed Services Committee next week.
Jack Bergman, a Republican representative from Michigan and the chairman of the subcommittee clarified that the purpose of the legislation is to “formalize the existing Section 1202 of the FY18 NDAA, which supports special operations in irregular warfare. This is part of the United States’ ongoing efforts to compete strategically with partner nations and enhance their capacity to resist and counter aggression from countries such as Russia and China.”
The temporary Section 1202 authorities were initially established in 2018 as a response to Russia’s support for Ukrainian separatists. These authorities allow U.S. special forces to provide weapons and support to allied forces and militias engaged in unconventional warfare in other nations. However, these provisions, primarily used for intelligence-gathering missions, are scheduled to expire in 2025.
The proposed legislation includes a budget increase for Section 1202 in the fiscal year 2024, increasing it to $25 million from the current $15 million. Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona stressed the importance of permanently establishing these authorities, and the House attempted to include them in the NDAA last year.
Gallego explained, “There was some confusion about whether or not this could potentially cause a gray area in terms of operations in places like Ukraine. I thought it was very clear. I thought it was not an issue. I don’t think it was that much of a change from the past if anything. I just want to make it permanent.”
The current language proposed by the House does not address the Pentagon’s request to modify the requirement that irregular warfare and militias forces should not escalate to “traditional armed conflict”. Gallego cautioned that it requires further attention, and suggested conducting a thorough study before rushing into it.
Experts have raised concerns regarding the codification of Section 1202 authorities, as it has the potential to restrict congressional oversight. Katherine Ebright, a counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, explained that enshrining the authority into law would not expand the Pentagon’s legal capabilities, but would diminish Congress’ influence and may loosen the political constraints on how the Pentagon executes and reports on 1202 programs to lawmakers.