Senior state official sees ‘tectonic shift’ in security assistance while traveling in Europe

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Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Jessica Lewis testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

EUROSATORY 2022: The global rush to ship lethal weapons to Ukraine’s frontlines in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion has caused European nations to reconsider their defense choices – and, a senior government official said on Monday. Department of State, provided the United States with an opportunity to increase its regional influence.

“This war has truly created a tectonic shift, as the world examines the defense and security systems it will need moving forward, and countries re-evaluate their own security needs,” he said. Jessica Lewis, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs. military affairs at the US State Department, said during a media roundtable at the US Embassy in Paris. “People ask: what will our defense needs be in the future? »

Lewis, on her first overseas trip after being confirmed in September, is visiting an increasingly unified European continent in the face of a new security reality. This opens up many opportunities for Lewis’s office, which oversees US foreign security assistance and serves as the main link between the State Department and the Pentagon.

Russia’s action toward Ukraine resurfaces years-old calls to wean European allies off Russian military equipment. Lewis said in Senate testimony last month that the United States should use the occasion to encourage European allies to turn away from Russian military equipment, spare parts and technical assistance. Although she said on Monday the primary focus of her trip was Ukraine, it will also include meetings on how the US defense industry can help meet capability needs.

Related: Norway’s defense chief: Finland and Sweden in NATO ‘open many possibilities’

During the eight-day trip, she will meet with French officials and spend time at the Eurosatory land warfare exhibit in Paris, visit NATO officials in Brussels, and then travel to Latvia for talks. with senior officials. Lewis pointed to the latter as a country where she would discuss the subject of Russian kit weaning, but said there were a number of others the United States could engage with.

“There is a range of countries that have different types of relationships [with Russia]but we think it’s a moment of opportunity,” Lewis said.

Weapons tracking in Ukraine

In recent weeks, the United States has provided more powerful and longer-range weapons to Ukrainian forces as they struggle to defend against a Russian artillery barrage. But US officials have tried to strike a balance between sending effective weapons to Ukraine, while avoiding escalating the conflict and risking fracturing a NATO coalition which, in its most unified form in years.

Lewis said US officials are “always” assessing the risk of escalation and looking at specific capabilities in terms of “what that means in the context of combat…You’re seeing a shift in the capabilities that we’re providing to them, including including more sophisticated capabilities”. abilities that require training and that correspond to the stage of the war in which we find ourselves.

The latest $700 million security package included four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which can fire up to 300 km, but which the United States has capped at 70 km for Ukrainians. Washington was initially hesitant to send HIMARS because of the potentially escalating risk the weapons posed if Ukraine were to use them to strike Russia’s borders. Although the United States got an agreement from Kyiv that it would not fire on Russian territory, the nature of the conflict means that there is no real way to ensure that such a strike does not happen. not produce.

Asked about that risk, Lewis said the United States “has no reason” to believe Ukrainian forces would breach this agreement. “We’re very confident when it comes to this issue,” Lewis said. “And Ukrainians use these weapons responsibly.”

Another important issue facing the United States is being able to account for the weapons it sends to Ukraine and ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. When asked how confident she was that the United States could explain where the weapons were, Lewis did not answer the question directly, but noted that all overseas arms sales come with agreements in place on how the weapons will be used by the recipient country.

The United States has a “myriad of ways” to work with countries to make sure weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands, Lewis said.

“We are confident that the Ukrainians have worked hard to ensure these weapons are used for the proper purpose,” Lewis said. “They worked with us to sign all these agreements. Obviously, this is a war zone. And so we are always aware of the challenges within a war – an ongoing war.

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