House bill threatens Russia with nuclear treaty suspension

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The House Armed Services Committee’s $696.5 billion defense policy bill includes several provisions aimed at curtailing rising Russian aggression, including the possible suspension of the long-held nuclear treaty between the two countries.

“Over the past year, Russia has maintained its gains in Ukraine, continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, interfered in U.S. elections, violated landmark disarmament treaties, and continued to take unprecedented provocative actions against U.S., NATO-allied, and partner ships and planes,” according to a summary of the House bill released Monday. 

“These events all point to the importance of ensuring the U.S. Military has the capability needed to protect the country and our interests, and to assure America’s allies and partners.” 

{mosads}The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stipulates that should the Russians violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and fail to comply within 15 months of the bill’s enactment, “the U.S. would no longer be legally bound by the treaty as a matter of domestic law,” according to a summary of the bill. 

The House bill also includes $50 million to develop a new missile “to respond to Russian capabilities deployed in violation of the treaty, of which $25 million will be invested for research and development of U.S. intermediate range systems.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 and bans nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 300 miles to 3,400 miles.

The U.S. has accused Russia under President Vladimir Putin of developing and fielding such a weapon, using it as recently as February. Russia denies that it has violated the treaty.

Lawmakers have pushed the Trump administration to respond to the threat.

In February, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the Intermediate-Range Forces Treaty Preservation Act, which would allow the United States to “bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty and begin developing similar missile systems.” 

Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) introduced similar legislation in the House.

The House NDAA will also move the billions of dollars provided for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) from the Pentagon’s ever-shifting Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) war fund to the base budget, according to committee aides.

Aides told reporters Monday that the move is “one of the more significant things that we will do in this mark … to signal we’re moving from an assurance posture to more of a deterrence against Russian aggression.”

The EDI, formerly known as the European Reassurance Initiative, is designed to provide aid to the militaries of European allies worried about Russian aggression. 

“The chairman’s view is this is something we’re going to be engaged in for years to come and not something that we need to continue to fund in OCO,” one aide said. “To send a message that the United States is committed, not just on a year-to-year basis, but over the long term, to this effort.”

The bill summary notes that the EDI will fund requirements including “heel-to-toe rotations of U.S. combat units into the region, the pre-positioning of up to a division set’s worth of equipment in Europe, vital infrastructure improvements for the U.S. Air Force, and additional training and exercises.”

The bill also requires that the Pentagon produce a plan on the future of the EDI, including an assessment of permanently stationing troops in Eastern Europe and what it would cost. 

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. 

This NDAA would also pause the divestment of any remaining sites under the European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) — enacted into law in 2015 for the Pentagon to rid itself of excess buildings on the continent — until the required EDI plan is submitted to Congress. 

“Since the EIC was enacted into law in 2015, the strategic landscape of Europe has evolved with the resurgence of aggression by the Russian Federation,” the bill states. “The committee notes that in a changing strategic environment, a re-evaluation of the sites the Department is planning to divest is necessary for long-term strategic planning.”

In addition, the bill holds “significant funds” to increase intelligence, communication and warning capabilities in Europe, investments in more modernized ground combat vehicles and munitions “in an effort to deter future Russian aggression,” aides said.

The proposal also denies funding related to the Open Skies Treaty, which now allows Russia and the United States to fly unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other member countries. The idea is to increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation.

But the House Armed Services Committee wants the coordination of current flights to be decided upon by higher officials, such as the Defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Today it’s done by some GS-12s in a closet in [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency],” one aide said, referring to a government worker with a mid-range salary. 

The legislation also holds funding from modernizing a new Air Force drone, “because we have other means of conducting surveillance over Russia than this aircraft,” the aide said. “Those monies could go to other things.”

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