Senate defense bill eyes threats from Russia, China

Senate defense bill eyes threats from Russia, China
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday unveiled the full text of its annual defense policy bill, with several provisions aimed at threats from Russia and China.

The $716 billion fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) addresses “China’s militarization in the South China Sea and deterring Russia’s military aggression and cyber attacks,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor as the full chamber began consideration of the bill.

Inhofe has taken over as head of the Armed Services panel while Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) is at home receiving treatment for brain cancer.

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Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis Reed Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal Barr says 'spying' took place on Trump campaign MORE (D-R.I.) said the bill “reflects that strategic shift towards prioritizing the strategic competition with Russia and China.”

“It supports the president’s budget request for resources to deter, and if necessary, defend against aggression from near-peer competitors,” Reed said.

“This includes $6.3 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative as a continuing demonstration of our commitment to the security of our European allies and the deterrence of Russian expansionism.”

Among the provisions on Russia, the bill would order an assessment on the feasibility and advisability of permanently stationing a U.S. Army brigade combat team in Poland.

Poland late last month offered the U.S. $2 billion for thousands of U.S. troops to be permanently stationed in the country, a move Russia criticized as being potentially destabilizing to the continent. U.S. troops are currently in Poland on a temporary mission with American officials.

The Senate NDAA would also limit military cooperation between Moscow and Washington, call for a strategy to counter Russian malign influence below the level of direct military conflict and authorize the defense secretary to direct U.S. Cyber Command to respond to Russian cyberattacks.

“Russia attacked the heart of our democracy in 2016 and our intelligence experts warn of even more sophisticated Russian attacks targeting this year’s midterm elections. Yet the administration has failed to bring together our military and non-military tools of national power to counter this Russian aggression,” Reed argued.

“This bill expresses the sense of the Senate that the administration should complete a counter Russian influence strategy without delay.”

For China, the bill includes a provision that requires a report on the nation’s “military and coercive activities” in the region.

It also bans China from participating in the biennial, multicountry Rim of the Pacific military exercise until it stops seizing islands in the South China Sea and until it removes weapons from those islands. 

In addition, China must establish a four-year track record of stabilizing the region before it will be allowed back into RIMPAC, from which it was disinvited last month over evidence it has moved missiles and electronic jammers to its militarized islands.

Inhofe, who was part of a congressional delegation to travel to Asia last month, said he witnessed first hand the Chinese activities in the South China Sea.

“When you see what the Chinese are doing, totally illegally, it’s not land that they owned ... They have seven islands now, we’re talking about over 33,000 acres,” he said Wednesday.

“When you see what they are putting on these islands, it’s all military, 100 percent of it, just as if they were prepared for World War III. We saw it there and we know that they are projecting it.”

Also under the bill, the Pentagon may not buy or use telecommunications equipment or services made by ZTE Corp. or Huawei Technologies.

ZTE has been at the center of debate between President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE and members of Congress. Trump said he wants to ease restrictions on the company while lawmakers see ZTE, which has a close relationship with the Chinese government, as a national security threat.

The Commerce Department in April blocked ZTE from purchasing or using U.S.-made components for its phones over trading with Iran.

But earlier this month ZTE reportedly reached an agreement in principle with the Trump administration to lift the Department of Commerce’s ban.

The Senate bill now must be passed by the full chamber and be reconciled with the House NDAA before becoming law, which will likely take months.