White House knocks defense bill's Crimea, INF Treaty provisions

White House knocks defense bill's Crimea, INF Treaty provisions
© Getty

The Trump administration on Wednesday took issue with a number of provisions in the House version of the annual defense policy bill, but generally commended lawmakers for bulking up military spending.

Among the provisions targeted by the administration are ones that would prevent a new round of base closures, establish a new branch of the military dedicated to space, limit an arms treaty with Russia, require congressional notification of cyber operations and prevent recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

“The administration appreciates the House Armed Services Committee’s (Committee) continued work on behalf of our national defense and supports a number of provisions,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy. “The administration is in the midst of conducting several strategic reviews that affect multiple provisions in this bill, such as those addressing space organization and management and naval ship force structure. Once these reviews are complete, the administration will be prepared to suggest modifications to these provisions.”

ADVERTISEMENT
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is coming to the House floor on Wednesday, would authorize a total of $696.5 billion for defense. Approximately $621.5 billion would go toward the base defense budget and $75 billion would be allocated for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Roughly $10 billion of the OCO account would be used for base budget items.

The bill is $28.5 billion above what President Trump had requested, but $8.5 billion less than what committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) originally planned to put in the bill.

The White House statement said the administration “strongly supports” eliminating cuts to defense spending.

But it added that increases in defense spending should be matched with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, as the administration proposed in its budget request.

The administration also took issue with the way the bill uses OCO funding.

“The bill also proposes using OCO to fund additional end strength, ships, and homeland defense,” the statement said. “Funding these enduring requirements in OCO would complicate the funding stability for associated outyear costs and runs contrary to the purpose of OCO.”

The White House likewise knocked a provision the bill that would prohibit a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. The administration asked Congress to authorize a new BRAC round in its budget and estimated it would save $2 billion annually, but Congress is poised to block it, as it has for years.

The statement also raised constitutional objections to a provision in the bill that bans funds from being used to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea. The provision has become standard, noncontroversial language in the measure in the years since Russia annexed Crimea.

But the White House contends it would “interfere with the president’s exclusive authority to recognize foreign nations,” according to the statement.

The White House also took issue with the bill’s provisions on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a landmark agreement with Russia that bans certain ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles.

The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty. In response, the NDAA would allow for the development of a missile banned by the treaty, make it official U.S. policy that Russia is in violation and set the stage for the United States to suspend the treaty.

Suspending the treaty would “raise concerns among NATO allies and could deprive the administration of the flexibility to make judgments about the timing and nature of invoking our legal remedies under the treaty,” the White House said. “The administration would support broad authorization of research and development on missile systems, including those prohibited by the treaty, to determine candidate systems that could become programs of record.”

A provision on a separate treaty known as Open Skies also drew the ire of the administration. Russia and the United States are both signatories of the treaty, which allows participating countries to fly unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other member countries.

In response to concerns that Russia may also be violating that treaty, the NDAA provision would limit funding from being used to upgrade the aircraft the United States uses for the observation flights. The committee argued the United States has other methods of surveilling Russia and should spend the money elsewhere.

“This section will prevent the United States from keeping pace with Russian Open Skies aircraft sensor upgrades, fully implementing the Open Skies Treaty, and increasing the value of the treaty to United States national security,” the White House statement said. “Cancellation of the project at this late date, after significant resources have already been expended, would further put the United States in breach of contract, thus incurring cancellation fees.”

The statement also called the bill’s creation of a Space Corps “premature.”

“As directed by the FY 2017 NDAA, the administration is assessing a wide range of organizational options, including a Space Corps,” the statement said. “Upon completion of these analyses, the administration looks forward to working with Congress to implement military space organizational changes (while considering the budget implications) in a practical timeframe to best posture the nation’s joint forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.”

The White House also took issue with a provision that would require the Pentagon to notify Congress within 48 hours of conducting sensitive cyber operations, arguing operations could be exposed.

The Pentagon “already regularly briefs the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services on major cyber operations,” the statement said. “This provision would risk exposure, and potentially restrict use, of cyber capabilities; jeopardize foreign partnership cooperation; and impose additional, unwarranted administrative requirements on DOD.”