Overnight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to 'fully pursue' once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea's Kim as 'friend'

Overnight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to 'fully pursue' once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea's Kim as 'friend'
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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

Programming note: Overnight Defense will be on vacation next week. We will return Aug. 14, publishing on Wednesdays for the remainder of the August recess.

 

THE TOPLINE: It's the end of an era.

The United States is officially out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, a 1987 pact between the United States and the Soviet Union that was credited with helping end the Cold War.

Friday's move was a long-time coming after years of U.S. accusations that Russia was violating the treaty. The Trump administration formally announced the U.S. withdrawal in February, and Friday was the end of the treaty-mandated six-month withdrawal period.

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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard Pompeo'China will not sit idly by' if US sells fighters to Taiwan, official says The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Iceland's prime minister will not be in town for Pence's visit MORE described Moscow as "solely responsible for the treaty's demise," noting that Russia has for years been in violation of the treaty by fielding a new ground-launched missile, the 9M729.

"The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia," Pompeo said in a statement early Friday. "Russia's noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia's development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners."

Pentagon response: The Pentagon said in March it plans to flight-test a non-nuclear cruise missile with a potential range of 1,000 kilometers in August, as well as a non-nuclear ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers in November.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBahrain joins US-led coalition to protect Gulf shipping Congress must exercise its power to ensure America has no war with Iran Pentagon tests previously banned cruise missile MORE didn't specifically mention flight tests in his statement Friday but did promise the Pentagon will "fully pursue" development of new systems.

Esper said the Pentagon's "initial research and development efforts focused on mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems."

"Because the United States scrupulously complied with its obligations to the INF Treaty, these programs are in the early stages," he continued. "Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia's actions and as part of the Joint Force's broader portfolio of conventional strike options."

NATO response: NATO allies said in a statement Friday that the Trump administration's decision is "fully supported" by the alliance, echoing Pompeo in blaming Russia for its demise.

"NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile to Allied security," the statement says. "We have agreed a balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures to ensure NATO's deterrence and defence posture remains credible and effective."

Russian response: The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday that the United States made a "grave mistake."

"By denouncing the INF Treaty, the United States confirmed its commitment to abolishing all international instruments that do not suit it for one reason or another. This leads to an actual dismantlement of the existing arms control architecture," the ministry said.

Congressional response: Leading Republicans unsurprisingly backed the Trump administration's decision.

In a statement Thursday night, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line MORE (R-Okla.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTrump moves forward with billion F-16 sale to Taiwan Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Overnight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to 'fully pursue' once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea's Kim as 'friend' MORE (R-Idaho) blamed Russia for "its refusal to return to full and verifiable compliance."

"Finally, while tomorrow marks the end of one treaty, it does not mark the end of arms control or nonproliferation efforts," they added. "The United States will continue to uphold current treaty commitments and remain open to supporting new frameworks that enhance international security."

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Utah), meanwhile, introduced a resolution affirming the treaty withdrawal.

"For arms control to work, all parties must be committed, lawful participants," Lee said in a statement. "Russian non-compliance has prevailed without consequence for far too long and the United States should not remain unilaterally bound to a one-sided agreement."

Arms control response: Also unsurprisingly, arms control advocates warned Friday of the potential for an arms race.

"Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia," Arms Control Association executive director Daryl Kimball said in a statement. "It is now critical that President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control options to avoid a new Euromissile race."

"Withdrawing from this landmark treaty is shortsighted and will ultimately undermine the security of the United States and its allies," David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. "The president's decision will increase tensions between the United States and Russia and open the door to a competition in conventionally armed missiles that will undermine stability."

 

RATCLIFFE WITHDRAWS: President Trump said Friday that he will not nominate Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (R-Texas) to be director of national intelligence, just days after announcing plans to tap the GOP congressman to replace Daniel Coats.

Trump blamed the media for treating Ratcliffe "very unfairly" in a string of tweets sent Friday afternoon, saying Ratcliffe had decided to stay in Congress and withdraw his name from consideration. Trump said he plans to announce an official nominee "shortly."

"Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people," Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.

"John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country. I will be announcing my nomination for DNI shortly."

Trump's abrupt announcement came after days of scrutiny of Ratcliffe's background and past statements critical of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's Russia investigation. Several Republican senators had declined to weigh in on his nomination, as he withstood a barrage of criticism from Democrats for being too political for the role. 

Trump had not officially nominated Ratcliffe.

Several news reports have described Ratcliffe as overstating parts of his biography relating to his work on terrorism cases as a federal prosecutor in Texas since Trump announced his intention to nominate him on Sunday.

 

TRUMP SIGNS BUDGET DEAL: President Trump has signed a sweeping budget deal that increases federal spending and lifts the nation's borrowing limit, the White House said Friday.

The new law suspends the debt ceiling through July 2021, removing the threat of a default during the 2020 elections, and raises domestic and military spending by more than $320 billion compared to existing law over the next two fiscal years.

Trump signed the measure without fanfare at the White House one day after the Senate voted 67-28 to send it to his desk. The House last week passed the budget package by a vote of 284-149 before starting its August recess.

Reminder: The deal sets a defense budget of $738 billion for fiscal year 2020 and $740 for fiscal 2021.

Despite hoping for a higher number, defense hawks backed the deal for the potential to provide the Pentagon stability.

Fiscal hawks and some conservative Republicans decried the measure, which is projected to add nearly $2 trillion to the projected national debt over the next decade.

But Trump threw his support behind it in large part because it cleared the decks of a messy budget fight as the 2020 campaign kicks into high gear and because it boosts military spending. Under the deal, defense spending will increase roughly 3 percent over current levels and nondefense spending will go up around 4 percent.

Not done yet: While the deal averts a debt default, it does not remove the possibility of a government shutdown at the conclusion of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Instead, it sets spending levels for House and Senate appropriators.

Congress still must pass roughly a dozen spending bills, or a package containing the various bills, which Trump also must sign to keep the government open.

 

TRUMP DEFENDS 'FRIEND' KIM: Trump on Friday defended Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSouth Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' Romney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests MORE after North Korea's third short-range missile launch in just over a week, saying they did not violate the "agreement" he struck last year with the reclusive leader.

Despite acknowledging the launches may violate United Nations resolutions, Trump expressed confidence that his "friend" Kim "does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust" and that "there is far too much to lose" for North Korea if Kim does not strike a deal with the U.S.

"Chariman [sic] Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true," Trump tweeted. "He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!"

Background: Trump's message came just hours after reports surfaced that Pyongyang had conducted a test launch, firing what South Korean officials described as short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

The president on Thursday also downplayed the short-range missile launches, saying they were "very standard" and not a part of the framework agreement he made with Kim last year at their Singapore summit.

"I think it's very much under control. Very much under control," he said.

 

RECESS VICTORY LAP: Inhofe wants you to know the Senate Armed Services Committee has been hard at work filling Pentagon vacancies.

In a news release Friday, the chairman touted the committee's pre-recess race to confirm key jobs, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and incoming Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.

A chart also highlighted that 3,293 military nominations were acted on in June and 1,233 were acted on in July, as well as two civilians confirmed Thursday: Thomas McCaffery as assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs and Lisa Schenck as a judge for the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review.

"Ranking Member [Jack] Reed [D-R.I.] and I, along with our entire committee, adjusted our schedule and process to clear as many nominations as possible," Inhofe said in a statement. "But this doesn't mean we cut any corners when it came to treating each and every nomination with the care, consideration and close scrutiny it deserves; in fact, in many cases, we did extra work and put in overtime to ensure we did our due diligence. I thank every member of the committee for their dedication, time and support throughout this process. Our work isn't done yet--far from it--but we are in a much better position as we continue to fill these important civilian and military leadership posts."

Still more vacancies: With Esper moving from Army secretary to Defense secretary, the Army needs a new secretary.

The White House has announced Trump's intention to nominate acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy for the job but hasn't sent the Senate the paperwork.

The Senate is also still waiting for the paperwork for Barbara Barrett, who Trump announced he would nominate for Air Force secretary. That position has been filled by an acting secretary since former Secretary Heather Wilson resigned at the end of May.

The No. 3 position at the Pentagon, chief management officer, is also still vacant. Lisa Hershman's nomination for that job has been sent to the Senate, meaning she should be coming up in the committee's batting order for confirmation hearings in September.

The most high-profile and controversial vacancy continues to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As previously reported, the Armed Services Committee advanced Gen. John Hyten's nomination despite sexual assault allegations against him, but a confirmation vote didn't happen before recess. 

 

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