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 InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (R-Okla.) and ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake 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 ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto 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 SmithStumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget House panel advances 8B defense bill 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 TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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.”