Bipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China

Bipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee will include in its annual defense policy bill a fund meant to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region, the bipartisan leaders of the panel said Thursday.

In an op-ed published on the national security commentary website War On the Rocks, panel Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases MORE (R-Okla.) and ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports MORE (D-R.I.) said the so-called Pacific Deterrence Initiative “will enhance budgetary transparency and oversight, and focus resources on key military capabilities to deter China.”

“The initiative will also reassure U.S. allies and partners, and send a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that the American people are committed to defending U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific,” they added.

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Inhofe and Reed’s support increases the already favorable odds for some form of the fund becoming law in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal MORE (Texas), previously unveiled his version of the fund, which he called the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative. Draft legislation he released in April would put an initial $6 billion into the program.

A spokeswoman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown MORE (D-Wash.) has said he also backs the concept of a fund dedicated to deterring China, though he has not detailed a specific proposal.

The proposal for a China deterrence fund is being modeled off the European Deterrence Initiative created in 2014 to counter Russia.

Though the idea predates the coronavirus pandemic, it is moving forward at a time when U.S.-China tensions are running high because of the crisis. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE has sought to blame China, where the virus was first reported, for the pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans and devastated the U.S. economy.

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The National Defense Strategy released in 2018 calls for the military to focus on so-called great power competition against Russia and China. While Inhofe and Reed said the Pentagon has “made some important progress” in implementing the strategy in the Indo-Pacific, they argued in their op-ed “the progress to date has been insufficient.”

In their vision of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, the program would fund missile defense, airfield and port infrastructure, and fuel and munitions storage in the region, among other investments.

“As one example, it doesn’t matter how many F-35s the military buys if very few are stationed in the region, their primary bases have little defense against Chinese missiles, they don’t have secondary airfields to operate from, they can’t access prepositioned stocks of fuel and munitions, or they can’t be repaired in theater and get back in the fight when it counts,” the senators wrote.

The fund would also increase U.S. security assistance to allies and partners in the region, from whom Inhofe and Reed said they “hear over and over again ... that they are hedging their bets for the future because they don’t know if they can count on the United States.”

“The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will not be a panacea. It will not solve every military problem America faces in the Indo-Pacific, let alone the numerous non-military challenges the United States faces there,” they concluded. “But it is an essential step to reorganize U.S. thinking and resources around the key priorities for the joint force, and restore the credibility of American deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will help ensure that America’s adversaries know that whether it’s today or tomorrow, there will never be a good day to test America’s military.”