Part Two: An Unserious Plan for National Defense

May 26, 2011

As the House of Representatives works its way through the 2012 National Defense Authorization Bill (NDAA), several provisions have drawn veto threats from the White House. The document, intended to be the legislative blueprint for the defense of our nation, is filled with efforts to reverse Department of Defense policy and make sweeping, un-debated policy changes on issues from how the Pentagon selects weapons systems and implements the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to how law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute terror plots.

Yesterday, NSN explored the proposed expansion of the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the profound changes to how the U.S. pursues and prosecutes terrorists.  Today, we examine four military provisions which seek to reverse past policy decisions and tie the hands of this administration.

Keeping the “waste of taxpayer money” that is the F-35 second engine on life-support. ABC reports that “the engine, which has survived for years with the backing of powerful Congressional leaders and a push from a brigade of lobbyists, is not dead yet. The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill would force the Pentagon to allow GE to keep developing and testing the second engine as long as the development is self-funded.” Backers of the second-engine have offered to self-fund in hopes that Congress will change its mind and re-start funding to the project at a later date. The Obama administration has stated: “If the final bill presented to the president includes funding or a legislative direction to continue an extra engine program, the president’s senior advisers will recommend a veto.” That threat follows the advice of the Pentagon, which has strongly recommended killing the second engine program. In issuing a stop-work order last March, DoD wrote, “In our view it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities, and should be ended now.” [ABC, 5/25/11. Statement of Administration Policy, 5/24/11. DoD statement via CNN, 3/24/11]

Obstructing New START and U.S. nuclear policy. Global Security Newswire reports, “President Obama could veto fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill if it retains amendments that would restrict his administration’s ability to implement a new Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control treaty.”  The NDAA as currently written “would prevent the White House from spending funds between 2011 and 2017 to retire any nuclear warhead covered by the New START treaty unless the Defense and Energy secretaries provide joint certification that the remaining arsenal is being modernized, according to a previous report. The legislation would also require the president to notify Congress before adopting any new nuclear targeting strategy or transferring armaments out of Europe. The White House voiced disagreement with the restrictions, adding that the legislation ‘raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the president’s authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy — a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties.’” The statement also notes that one particular provision “would set onerous conditions on the Administration’s ability to implement the Treaty, as well as to retire, dismantle, or eliminate non-deployed nuclear weapons.  Among these conditions is the completion and operation of the next generation of nuclear facilities, which is not expected until the mid-2020s.  The effect of this section would be to preclude dismantlement of weapons in excess of military needs.” [Global Security Newswire, 5/25/11. Statement of Administration Policy, 5/24/11]

Impeding missile defense cooperation. Former Ambassador to Ukraine and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution Steven Pifer recently explained, “Last November in Lisbon, [Russian President] Medvedev agreed with his NATO counterparts to explore NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation.  That welcome development opened a prospect of changing missile defense from an irritant in East-West relations to a subject of collaboration.”  Two sections of the NDAA would impede such collaboration. The administration “strongly objects” to section 1228, which “would prohibit the provision to the Russian Federation of a range of missile defense data, when the appropriate reciprocal exchange of such data may improve the ability of the United States and NATO to provide effective missile defenses of our military forces and other citizens; and section 1229 would unnecessarily impede the Administration’s ability to conduct discussions with the Russian Federation on missile defense matters both bilaterally and in the NATO context, and would be impractical to implement, for example by requiring that the Administration report on all ‘suggestions’ made by representatives of the Russian Federation in government to government contacts (which could include the legislative branch).  Among other things, section 1229 raises constitutional concerns, as it appears to encroach on the President’s exclusive authority to determine the time, scope, and objectives of international negotiations and to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive diplomatic discussions.” [Steve Pifer, 5/20/11. Statement of Administration Policy, 5/24/11]

Blocking the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Washington Times reports, “The bill contains several provisions that – excepting the unlikely event they are stripped out by a majority vote of the Republican-controlled House – will affect the repeal of the 17-year-old policy known as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ under which gays can serve if they don’t reveal their sexual preference.” As the administration’s statement on the bill notes, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law “in order to strengthen our national security, enhance military readiness, and uphold the fundamental American principles of fairness and equality that warfighters defend around the world.” That view echoes the view of Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, among other military leaders. He says “it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” Trying to repeal DADT represents yet another unserious attempt to overrule the advice of military and national security leaders. [Washington Times, 5/25/11. Statement of Administration Policy, 5/24/11. Admiral Michael Mullen via Washington Post, 2/3/10]

What We’re Reading

Serbian police have arrested a man believed to be Radko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader who is wanted by the United Nations for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war, including the Srebrenica massacre.

The Egyptian government said it would permanently open its Rafah border crossing point with Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Arab uprisings are expected to dominate the G8 agenda.

The foreign minister of Turkey said that President Bashar al Assad of Syria must deliver reforms that would constitute “shock therapy” to his country if he had any hope of ending a nine-week crisis that was roiling the region.

Afghan and coalition forces captured a Moroccan al Qaeda fighter during a raid in Afghanistan that left 10 insurgents dead, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense will eliminate 30 general-grade officers by the end of 2015, as part of the defense reform plan to streamline the armed forces.

At least two people were killed and six injured by three explosions within an hour at different government office buildings in a city in southern China.

Anti-U.S. Iraqi cleric Moqtada al Sadr brought thousands of Shi’ite supporters onto the streets of Baghdad in a show of force against any extension of the U.S. military presence in Iraq past a year-end deadline.

The Khartoum government’s Sudan Armed Forces are massing troops, tanks and artillery near Abyei, possibly in preparation for more conflict in the disputed area.

Commentary of the Day

Mark Leon Goldberg suggests it could be a very long process, but if done correctly, there can be justice for the terrible crimes of Radko Mladic.

Fareed Zakaria writes that it is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who broke with the past, ensuring a tortured peace process.

Suzanne E. Spalding warns that Congress is on the verge of squandering the strategic opportunity presented by bin Laden’s death and the Arab Spring if it passes an expanded Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

Daniel S. Markey argues that Washington should move quickly to convert the post-bin Laden crisis into an opportunity to create a more effective working partnership with Islamabad that will serve U.S. interests over the short and long run.

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