Defense & National Security — Senate approves Sweden, Finland NATO bids
The Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution ratifying Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, sending another signal that Congress remains unified in opposing Russian aggression toward Ukraine and Europe.
We’ll detail the vote and the lone senator to oppose the Nordic countries’ bid to join the alliance, plus Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) message to Taiwan, the first Black four-star general in Marine Corps history and a new call for an investigation into Pentagon officials’ Jan. 6 texts that weren’t preserved.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
Senate ratifies Sweden, Finland accession to NATO
The Senate on Wednesday voted 95-1 to approve a resolution ratifying Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO, with every member of the Democratic caucus and most Republicans voting in support. It ratifies protocols of accession that alliance allies signed on July 5.
The lone holdout: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who argued in a recent op-ed that the United States should focus on containing China instead of expanding the NATO alliance, was the only Republican to vote “no.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted “present” on the resolution.
“We cannot strengthen our deterrent posture in the Pacific if we’re sending more forces and resources to Europe to defend new allies. That’s the bottom line,” Hawley said on the floor before the vote.
A top priority: The resolution was a top priority of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who visited Sweden and Finland in May as part of a congressional delegation that also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
McConnell insisted the Senate ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership before leaving for the month-long August recess.
“There is just no question that admitting these robust democratic countries with modern economies and capable, interoperable militaries will only strengthen the most successful military alliance in human history,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
A mistake: He suggested that Republican colleagues who voted against expanding NATO made a mistake, arguing that standing up to Russian aggression will send a strong message to Chinese leaders.
“Even closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China. Their accession will make NATO stronger and America more secure,” he said.
“If any Senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote ‘no,’ I wish them good luck. This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support,” he added.
A growing number: The Senate resolution supports Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to join NATO and calls on all NATO members to move quickly to complete the ratification process.
The U.S. would be the 20th of 30 NATO countries to ratify the two nations’ entry.
Strengthened resolve: Lawmakers say the Senate vote is the latest example of how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the resolve of NATO members. They say that Putin wrongly thought he would divide Western allies.
“Enlarging NATO is exactly the opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine. Indeed, he may have been trying to test the resolve of the alliance, and I am pleased that we have passed that test with overwhelming unity of vision and purpose,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Meanwhile, in the House: The House voted 394-18 last month for a companion resolution to express support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The 18 “no” votes were all Republicans.
More from The Hill:
- Senate defeats Rand Paul amendment clarifying war powers in NATO resolution
- McConnell to senators looking for excuse to oppose Finland, Sweden NATO bids: ‘Good luck’
Pelosi: US will not abandon Taiwan
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave a forceful defense of Taiwan on Wednesday following her meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
“Our delegation came here to send an unequivocal message: America stands with Taiwan,” Pelosi said at a press conference.
A major visit: Pelosi on Tuesday became the highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot in Taiwan in 25 years, angering Beijing, which views the self-governing, democratic island as part of its territory.
No backing down: At the press conference, Pelosi said she respected the “One China” policy and the Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the United States to supporting Taiwan without a promise of direct engagement if China invades.
“We want Taiwan to always have freedom with security,” Pelosi said. “And we’re not backing away from that.”
Militaries scramble: Her trip has prompted a flurry of U.S. military activity in the region, and China has reportedly responded by placing two of its own aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and flying its planes near the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait from the sea.
When asked about Beijing’s military activity surrounding her visit, Pelosi downplayed its importance.
“There are certain insecurities on the part of the president of China as to his own political situation that he’s rattling a saber, I don’t know,” Pelosi said.
A personal trip: The trip to Taiwan is deeply personal for Pelosi, who has long rallied against Chinese human rights issues that stretch back decades.
“That’s one of the purposes of our trip: to show the world the success of the people of Taiwan,” Pelosi said. “Their courage to change their own country to become more democratic.”
TAIWAN: CHINESE WAR DRILLS VIOLATE ISLAND’S SOVEREIGNTY
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense on Wednesday condemned China’s plans to conduct live-fire drills following Pelosi’s visit to the island, saying the move violates Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Beijing on Tuesday announced it would conduct military exercises, including live-fire drills, in six maritime regions and their air space off the coast of Taiwan between Thursday and Sunday local time, just days after Pelosi’s trip.
‘Military intimidation’: Taiwan’s defense ministry called the move from China a threat to Taiwan’s ports and urban areas and described it as “military intimidation” by the Chinese Communist Party in a release on Wednesday.
“The reckless behavior by Communist China of conducting live-fire drills in waters and skies close to Taiwan, some of which are in the neighboring waters of Taiwan, threatens international aviation routes, challenges the international order, damages the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and destroys regional security,” Sun Li-fang, spokesperson for Taiwan’s defense ministry, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
He added that the exercises will not help Beijing’s “national image,” while another Taiwanese defense official argued the drills go against the rules of the United Nations.
Also from The Hill:
- Pelosi: Solidarity with people of Taiwan more important than ever
- Pelosi’s Taiwan trip spurs new military activity in Pacific
- Kirby: No ‘public spat’ between White House, Pelosi on Taiwan visit
Marine Corps gets its first Black four-star general
The Senate confirmed Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Langley to command U.S. forces in Africa on Monday, making him the first Black four-star general in the Marine Corps’ history.
The Marines said in a release that Langley will serve as the commander of U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany. He has commanded Marines at every level from platoon to regiment and has served in Japan and Afghanistan.
Langley’s credentials: The release states that Langley attended the University of Texas at Arlington and the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School and College of Naval Command and Staff. He also holds a master’s degree in national security strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and a degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant as an artillery officer in 1985, according to the release.
President Biden nominated Langley in June.
Durbin calls on watchdog to probe ‘wiped’ texts
Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is calling for an investigation following news that the texts for top Department of Defense (DOD) officials were not preserved, losing their communications on Jan. 6.
American Oversight, a group that had sued for the texts following a public records request, disclosed that DOD notified them in March that it “wiped” the phones of former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy in the days after the attack on the Capitol.
The concern: “The disappearance of this critical information could jeopardize efforts to learn the full truth about Jan. 6. I don’t know whether the failure to preserve these critical government texts from Jan. 6 is the result of bad faith, stunning incompetence, or outdated records management policies, but we must get to the bottom of it,” Durbin said, noting that he would ask DOD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the matter.
Earlier: The disclosure follows news that numerous officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also had their messages erased during the transition, including former acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli. Both had their phones reset following the inauguration, losing any texts from Jan. 6 in the process.
DOD provided a similar explanation.
“DOD and Army conveyed to Plaintiff that when an employee separates from DOD or Army he or she turns in the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped. For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched,” the agencies wrote in a March court filing.
Why it matters: The effort to obtain Pentagon texts could have shed light on why the National Guard faced delays in getting approval to go to the Capitol as it was under siege.
The suit sought the military leaders’ communications with former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. The request also asked for communications from Kash Patel, Miller’s chief of staff; Paul Ney, the Defense Department general counsel; and James E. McPherson, the Army’s general counsel.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual discussion on “Toward a Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?” at 9 a.m.
- The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will host a virtual talk on “National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), United States Space Force and U.S. Space Command collaboration, current threats, and space acquisitions,” with National Reconnaissance Office Director Christopher Scolese, at 10 a.m.
- A Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee will hold a hearing on China’s role in the Middle East at 10:30 a.m.
- The Institute for Policy Studies will host a virtual book discussion on “Whatever Happened to the Peace Dividend, and Can We Get One Back?” at 12:30 p.m.
- The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion on “A Matter of Survival: The Future of Taiwan Arms Sales,” at 2 p.m.
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