OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Syria alters US-Russia relations

The Obama administration has urged Russia to stop supporting Assad’s regime — Clinton’s charges Tuesday being the latest step — but so far the administration has not wanted to take actions outside of the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has vetoed most attempted actions. The administration has faced criticism from defense hawks in Congress for not supplying the Syrian opposition with arms or using airstrikes to establish a safe haven for the rebels.

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The Russian arms sale also has the potential to upend a trade deal with Russia to normalize trade relations before Russia joins the World Trade Organization. 

(Four-) star wars: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding two separate hearings on the long-sought Law of the Sea Treaty on Thursday, as the committee’s chairman, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), attempts to get the treaty ratified. The hearings have become a battle over whether the military supports or opposes Law of the Sea: the first hearing will have senior Pentagon officials testifying in support of the treaty, while the latter will feature former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld voicing his opposition. The Coalition to Preserve American Sovereignty, a group run by Frank Gaffney trying to defeat the treaty, sent a letter to Kerry and the committee members signed by nine former generals and admirals who oppose the treaty.

Sequestration redux: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey warned Congress Wednesday that cutting war funds would put the Pentagon’s already precarious financial situation further into doubt. Dempsey told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee if war funds for Afghanistan are rolled into sequestration, DOD will have to raid its training, maintenance and procurement coffers to pay those bills. Since those areas are already set for automatic reductions, department officials are unsure how much more they can pull out of those accounts without affecting national security priorities. Those decisions could become easier as the war winds down in Afghanistan. That said, getting U.S. troops out of the country has become a more expensive endeavor than the Pentagon had planned for. 

Movin' out: The United States has likely paid billions in blood and treasure over the past decade of war in Afghanistan. Now it seems the Pentagon will be paying a lot more to get U.S. forces out of the country. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Senate Appropriators on Wednesday it was costing the Pentagon roughly $100 million a month to move troops and equipment out of Afghanistan via routes in Central Asia. Military leaders have been forced to use those routes since Pakistan closed its borders to American forces last November. Panetta said there was still hope in getting those supply lines in Pakistan opened back up, despite a decision to suspend all negotiations with Islamabad. "It's a complicated relationship [with Pakistan] but it's also a necessary relationship by virtue of our security and needs in that area," Panetta told the committee. 

Finishing the budget-hearing gauntlet: The duo of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for their sixth and final hearing this year on the 2013 budget. The 2012 budget gauntlet was 50 percent longer than last year, as the House and Senate Budget Committees invited the defense chiefs to testify for the first time in recent memory, in addition to the usual Armed Services and Appropriations hearings. Of course, it’s not likely that Congress has seen the last of the Panetta and Dempsey duo this year to talk about the defense budget — expect hearings on sequestration will be coming to a committee room near you later this year.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Feinstein fires back at McCain leak criticism

— Alternate supply lines cost $100M per month

— Dempsey: Sequestration could cripple key accounts

— Panetta orders review of mental-health cases

— Cornyn blocks Army nominee over Russia

— Lawmakers want legal justification for drone strikes


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