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: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Congress braces for chaotic December MORE (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Trump administration releases 5M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay Two budget staffers resigned after voicing concerns about halted Ukraine aid, official says 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) MenendezThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Senate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Graham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting MORE (D-N.J.) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedRepublicans 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 (D-R.I.) penned a similar letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS, Sudan to exchange ambassadors for first time in decades Iran expert: Trump's foreign policy approach aimed at instigating 'unrest' Fox's Napolitano says obstruction 'easiest' impeachment offense for Democrats MORE and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records 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 House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' MORE.
 
The Wall Street Journal has reported that President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE signed a document signaling his intent to withdraw from the treaty at the urging of former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe key impeachment hearings are before an appeals court, not the House Judiciary panel Beyond the myth of Sunni-Shia wars in the Middle East The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment of Trump resumes 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 CottonHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators urge FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Enhancing protections for sensitive information in congressional investigations 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