Biden's nomination for new national intelligence director sets the tone
Scrap House defense authorization provision benefitting Russia
When the House of Representatives passed its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that Democrats have always stood for a strong and smart national defense - and maintaining a tough stance on Russia. A close look at one of the provisions casts serious doubt on the accuracy of her statement.
This provision in the House bill (Floor Amendment 42) may actually increase reliance on Russian natural gas at U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization military installations in Europe. And it could conceivably jeopardize the missions of U.S. and NATO troops if Russia ever decides to weaponize this important energy resource (e.g. by disrupting fuel supply lines from Russia to Europe) for economic, political or military gain - as it has done in the past, most notably during its 2014 military intervention in Ukraine.
In developing the defense authorization, the House and Senate passed vastly different bills, which conferees from both congressional chambers are now attempting to reconcile. The GOP-led Senate approved its version of the 2020 NDAA (S.1790) on June 27 by a bipartisan vote of 86 to 8. The Democrat-led House approved its version of NDAA (H.R.2500) on July 12, including the questionable floor amendment, by a partisan vote of 220 to 197.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) is the sole sponsor of the dubious floor amendment. It got included in the House NDAA bill by voice vote without going through regular order where contentious bills are often debated and approved in subcommittee and committee. In a press release, Huffman claims the purpose of his amendment is to eliminate the use of a "permanent domestically sourced energy" requirement in the FY2019 NDAA, which may have allowed the use of American anthracite coal as one of the energy sources at an overseas U.S. installation in Germany.
In an August letter to House and Senate Armed Services Committee chairmen and ranking members, bipartisan critics of Huffman's amendment warned that, "...the provision in the House NDAA would explicitly repeal what is now U.S. law (Public Law No. 115-232), and make our defense installations more susceptible to Russia reducing, or even cutting off, gas supplies to our service members in Europe...."
This is true. The more dependent Europe becomes on Russian natural gas, the greater the security risk to the U.S. and its European allies. NATO serves as a bulwark against Russian adventurism and aggression and could be targeted for a major gas disruption. The U.S. provides nearly 70 percent of the organization's defense funding and has about 60,000 troops deployed in Europe, 35,000 stationed in Germany at 21 U.S. military installations and the remainder in several other countries. Nearly all U.S. military installations in Germany use the German commercial natural gas network, which contain Russian supplied fuel.
How dependent is Europe on Russian natural gas? The European Union (Eurostat) reported that Russia supplied EU countries with 40 percent of its natural gas needs in 2018, making Russia the EU's largest supplier. European dependency on Russia's natural gas is expected to grow in 2020, when the Nord Stream 2 project is completed. This project's pipelines run from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany. Gazprom, which is majority-owned by the Russian government, reportedly owns 51 percent of Nord Stream 1, and all of Nord Stream 2. The offshore pipelines are the most direct connection between Russia's reserves and the energy-hungry European market.
And if the European market needs natural gas to fulfill its energy demands, why doesn't it turn to its NATO ally and benefactor, the United States, as a primary source as President Donald Trump has suggested? According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is the world's largest producer of natural gas.
In reconciling the House and Senate NDAA bills, conferees should remember that the nation faces enormous security challenges from a dangerous and sometimes unfriendly world. As stated in the Trump administration's National Defense Strategy, Russia poses one of the greatest threats to Europe and the U.S. If conferees truly want to produce a strong and smart national defense bill that is tough on Russia, they will scrap the House provision from the final bill because it benefits Russia. U.S. national security demands it.
Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He served in the U.S. departments of State and Defense.