In Face The Nation's December 18, 2023 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a "difficult partner," Sen. Chris Coons says (cued at 05:23), Delaware Senator Chris Coons is asked about US foreign military aid to entities that may violate international law:

BRENNAN: So you have leverage here though policy-wise, I mean the president has been very vocal in defending the Prime Minister and his choices but president Biden did say the bombing is indiscriminate. The US provides billions of dollars - like three billion or more a year, we're looking at another 10. Can't you put in some kind of provision here to force adherence to international law or US law as Senator Van Hollen is proposing?

COONS: Margaret, there already are requirements in American law that when we send military assistance to another country whether it's Ukraine or it's Israel, that they have to abide by international law, and President Biden and the senior members of his team who've gone to Israel repeatedly have had some success in pressing prime minister Netanyahu to change direction most recently in reigning settler violence in the West Bank. because of elements of Netanyahu's cabinet folks like Smotrich and Bengoir, that's been difficult for Netanyahu to do but we have imposed sanctions on those who are fomenting settler violence and President Biden has successfully pressed to get more humanitarian Aid into Gaza and a reduction in settler violence.

Question: What US law(s) require countries receiving US military assistance to abide by international law, do these laws have teeth, get enforced, and if so, how?

Brennen suggests (to me at least) that it's not working, and it sounds as though the existence of Senator Van Hollen's proposed provision acknowledges as much.

And "...gone to Israel repeatedly have had some success in pressing prime minister Netanyahu..." sounds to me like a euphemism for "these laws are toothless".


1 Answer 1


The United States Code (a collection of US federal laws), in this section:

Part I - Declaration of Policy
Sec. 2304 - Human rights and security assistance

says that:

Except under circumstances specified in this section, no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. ...
unless the President certifies ... that extraordinary circumstances exist warranting provision of such assistance

the President is directed to formulate and conduct international security assistance programs of the United States in a manner which will promote and advance human rights and avoid identification of the United States, through such programs, with governments which deny to their people internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international law or in contravention of the policy of the United States as expressed in this section or otherwise.

That looks like it is just a direction, not a requirement and the President can use "extraordinary circumstances". Thus the law might not be enforceable, especially when the President has bipartisan support.

  • 3
    There are also export laws, e.g. ITAR, that may impose restrictions based on generic principles. Dec 26, 2023 at 17:46
  • My impression is that the answer to "do these laws have teeth" is pretty much, "no, these laws are toothless" and Coons' reference to "there are already requirements a deflection of the question.
    – uhoh
    Dec 28, 2023 at 22:42

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