House defense bill to counter threats from Russia, North Korea

The House Armed Services Committee is proposing several policy moves in its annual defense authorization bill to counter threats from Russia and North Korea.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday that the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would move funds for the European Deterrence Initiative from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to the base budget.

OCO is a war fund that has been a way for lawmakers to inject money into the budget without going over spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Many have accused the Pentagon of using OCO as an all-purpose slush fund.

“I’m trying to slowly, as best I can, make OCO about OCO,” Thornberry said. “I think it sends a clear signal to allies and adversaries alike that we’re there to stay.”

{mosads}The European Deterrence Initiative is designed to provide aid to the militaries of European allies worried about Russian aggression.

The bill will also include a requirement that the committee receive a report on what a permanent presence in Eastern Europe would require.

“There’s a cost to rotating forces through, and I don’t know that any of us want to make a conclusion about that,” he said, adding that there will also be several elements in the bill to “strengthen further our commitment to NATO and the Ukraine.”

The Army already has one brigade in the region, but on a continuous rotation. Supporters of a permanently stationed brigade argue it would be a stronger deterrent.

Similarly, there are a number of provisions related to the Asia-Pacific region, with more money for joint training and a variety of policy and funding commitments devoted to the region.

“I kind of think of it as an [European Deterrence Initiative] for the Asia Pacific,” Thornberry said. “It’s not just talk it’s dollars and commitment.”

Thornberry last month introduced a $2.1 billion bill on Indo-Asia-Pacific security that he plans to fold into this year’s NDAA.

The bill is timely, as North Korea on Thursday conducted another rocket engine test as part of its efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, on top of a dozen missile launches this year, as well as three engine tests in March.

The bill would also authorize millions for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, meant to help train and equip that country’s military.

“It does continue to include military assistance to Ukraine and encouragement that the administration provide lethal assistance so the Ukrainian can defense themselves against the aggression that is coming at them from the east,” Thornberry said.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been tense since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Thornberry’s comments come as the State Department on Thursday condemned Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for “violence and intimidation” against civilian members of the aid group Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in the region.

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