Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House chairmen demand answers on Open Skies Treaty | China warns US to stay out of South China Sea | Army conducting security assessment of TikTok

Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House chairmen demand answers on Open Skies Treaty | China warns US to stay out of South China Sea | Army conducting security assessment of TikTok
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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, 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.


THE TOPLINE: A pair of top House Democrats is demanding answers on the administration’s reported plans to withdraw from a multilateral treaty that proponents argue is integral to keeping watch on Russia.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons House passes defense bill to establish Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline MORE (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) in a letter released Friday accused the administration of “stonewalling” questions on the fate of the Open Skies Treaty.

“Congress has a constitutional duty to provide rigorous oversight of the executive branch’s operations, and the administration should not seek to hide information from Congress or otherwise prevent us from performing appropriate oversight,” Smith and Engel wrote to national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

“This stonewalling only serves to undermine collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of our government on matters of national security," they continued.

About the treaty: The 2002 treaty allows the pact’s 34 signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other signatories. The intention is to increase transparency and reduce the risk of military miscalculation.
 
Earlier: Engel previously wrote a letter to O’Brien in October warning against withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty. A day later, Engel, Smith, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSaagar Enjeti says Corbyn's defeat in UK election represents 'dire warning' for Democrats Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman MORE (D-N.J.) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-R.I.) penned a similar letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Judge orders State Dept. to search for and provide more Ukraine docs Pompeo launches personal Twitter account amid speculation over Senate run MORE and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOfficials say Trump to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan soon Trump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week MORE.
 
The Wall Street Journal has reported that President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE signed a document signaling his intent to withdraw from the treaty at the urging of former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE before he left the administration.
 
The two viewpoints: Republicans for years have accused Russia of violating the treaty by blocking flights over some of its territory, including Kaliningrad and areas near its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
 
Democrats, meanwhile, argue that Russia’s actions, while concerning, do not constitute a material breach of the treaty and that they should be addressed while the United States remains in the agreement. They have also argued that the pact provides an invaluable tool to monitor Russian military capabilities and signal resolve to U.S. allies, such as flights over Ukraine following Russia’s seizure of a naval ship in 2018 and invasion of Crimea in 2014.
 
‘Disturbed by reports’: At his confirmation hearing to become U.S. ambassador to Russia, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said he’s been assured that the United States has not withdrawn from the treaty. He also said a withdrawal would require “substantial evidence” supporting the national security case for leaving and pledged to consult with Congress and U.S. allies before any withdrawal.
 
In their letter, Smith and Engel highlighted Sullivan’s comments and said they have yet to receive any analysis supporting a withdrawal.
 
“We are specifically disturbed by reports indicating that both the State Department and the Department of Defense have been ordered by the White House not to discuss the Open Skies Treaty with Congress,” they wrote.

“We are also concerned that the White House may have used biased analysis as it pertains to potential treaty withdrawal, failing to ensure an objective process and neglecting to properly coordinate with the departments and agencies responsible for the treaty’s implementation.”
 
What Dems want: The chairman asked for written responses, followed by a briefing, no later than Dec. 13 on an analysis of Open Skies flights conducted by the United States and allies in 2018 and 2019; details on efforts to mitigate risks to U.S. assets based on information collected during flights; and communications from NATO allies and partners on their views of a potential U.S. withdrawal.

CHINA URGES US TO STOP ‘PROVOCATIVE ACTIONS’ AFTER NAVY SHIPS SAIL IN SOUTH CHINA SEA: China has urged the U.S. to stop what it described as "provocative actions" in the South China Sea after Navy ships sailed near islands China has claimed.

China's military told Reuters that two U.S. warships sailed through the area.

“We urge [the United States] to stop these provocative actions to avoid any unforeseeable accidents,” a spokesperson for China’s Southern Theatre Command said in a statement, according to the wire service.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its surrounding area,” the spokesperson added. 
 
Also taking issue…: China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also took issue with the action, saying it harms the country's safety and sovereignty, according to Reuters. 

“The U.S. actions severely damage China’s sovereignty and safety, destroy the peace and stability in the South China Sea, and we express our resolute opposition,” spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Friday. 

The US military’s side: The U.S. military also told Reuters that the ships sailed near the islands in the South China Sea in recent days, but said the action was based "in the rule of law."

“These missions are based in the rule of law and demonstrate our commitment to upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations,” U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet spokeswoman, Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, told Reuters. 

The wire service reported that the U.S. has accused China of militarizing the waterway and trying to intimidate other countries. 

ARMY CONDUCTING SECURITY ASSESSMENT OF TIKTOP AFTER SCHUMER WARNING: The Army is conducting a security assessment of the social media app TikTok after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) raised concerns about the Chinese company.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE told reporters Thursday that he ordered the assessment after Schumer asked him to probe potential risks associated with the video-sharing app, according to Reuters.

Schumer recently wrote to McCarthy, specifically expressing concern about Army personnel use of the app, including as a tactic to recruit new soldiers.

"While I recognize that the Army must adapt its recruiting techniques in order to attract young Americans to serve, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms," the senator wrote.

Prior warnings: The top Democrat and others have also previously expressed concerns about the social media platform.

Last month, Schumer and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (R-Ark.) asked intelligence officials to look into whether TikTok poses "national security risks.”

"Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party," the lawmakers wrote to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireKennedy doubles down on alleged Ukraine meddling amid criticism Director of National Intelligence Maguire should stand for the whistleblower Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House chairmen demand answers on Open Skies Treaty | China warns US to stay out of South China Sea | Army conducting security assessment of TikTok MORE.
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TikTok is an immensely popular app among young people in the U.S. and worldwide. The Hill has reached out to the platform for comment. 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters
 
-- The Hill: Pompeo asks Iranian protesters to send US videos, photos of Tehran crackdown
 
-- The Hill: Intel officials told senators Russia wanted to pin election meddling on Ukraine: report
 
--The Hill: Trump repeats debunked Ukraine claim a day after Hill's tough testimony
 
-- The Hill: House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues