Top Policy Problems in the NDAA

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Top Policy Problems in the NDAA

Top Policy Problems in the NDAA

May 14, 2014

Last week, NSN discussed key ways the current House version of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) hampers smart and effective Pentagon spending. But problems with the NDAA are not only budgetary. The bill also includes policy provisions that would undermine U.S. national security. The legislation that was marked up by the House Armed Services Committee last week includes measures that would hurt the chances of a comprehensive deal with Iran over the nuclear issue by suddenly changing the subject to broader and non-nuclear concerns and provisions that would continue to forestall the closure of Guantanamo despite the cost the facility imposes on America’s image and ability to conduct diplomacy abroad. The bill also includes policies in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine that would damage American and European security, including unhelpful accelerated deployment of missile defense to Poland and limiting U.S.-Russian cooperation on key nuclear security issues. Such measures not only damage American interests, but further demonstrate an acute lack of understanding of using national power effectively to achieve outcomes at a time when careful and effective statecraft are needed to navigate complex challenges.

Tying a comprehensive deal with Iran over its nuclear program to other issues undercuts the chance of success and could violate the Joint Plan of Action. The NDAA calls for not signing any deal with Iran on the nuclear issue unless Tehran ceases uranium enrichment, ballistic missile development, and support for terrorist organizations. However, as John Gay of The National Interest explains in connection to a different bill that contained identical provisions, “the state of Iran’s ballistic-missile program and its support for terrorist activities…are both critical areas of concern for U.S. national security, and that concern should be reflected in U.S. law. Yet that does not mean that they should be tied to the nuclear program (especially when resolving the nuclear issue would make Iran’s ballistic missiles and terrorist proxies a bit less threatening). It also does not mean that the best way for Washington to address its concerns about missiles and terrorism would be to breach the commitments it made in the Joint Plan of Action….it would move the goalposts set in the Joint Plan of Action. In the Joint Plan, the parties agreed that a final deal would ‘involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters,’ and would ‘fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak’” whereas the problem section in the NDAA holds a deal should be signed “only if… Iran ceases the enrichment of uranium,” according to the legislation.  [John Allen Gay, 4/22/14]

Shutting down key nuclear security initiatives with Russia is unnecessary and self-defeating. The NDAA effectively shuts down the National Nuclear Security Administration’s cooperation with Russia on nuclear security initiatives by preventing the agency from using any funding for the “contact, cooperation, transfer of technology between the United States and the Russian Federation.” Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation explains in connection with another bill with identical provisions, “this would bring to a halt NNSA’s nuclear security work in Russia, most of which is conducted under the auspices of the International Nuclear Materials Protection (IMPC) program. Examples of activities that the IMPC program plans to pursue in and with Russia in FY 2015 include consolidating of all category I/II fissile material into a new high security zone at a nuclear material site in Russia; completing a perimeter upgrade around two guarded areas with 13 buildings that store and process weapons-usable nuclear material in a large bulk processing facility; providing upgrades at three additional buildings in a large bulk processing facility; and completing upgrades to closed city perimeter entry points at the two primary weapons design facilities and one bulk processing facility in Russia.”

He adds, “Yet it’s important to remember that we don’t cooperate with Russia on nuclear security as a favor to Moscow. We do it because it is strongly in our national security interest.” [Kingston Reif, 4/10/14]

Accelerating missile defense in Poland is not an effective counter to Russia, invites unnecessary escalation and wastes resources better spent elsewhere. The NDAA calls to accelerate the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense in Europe by deploying land-based interceptors to Poland by 2016, two years earlier than presently planned, in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. But as Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association explains, “There are two major reasons why spending hundreds of millions of dollars to accelerate the deployment of missile interceptors in Poland is the wrong response to Russia’s interference in Ukraine.” First, the system in Poland “was never meant to counter Russian strategic (long-range) missiles. It is intended to intercept medium-range missiles from Iran. (Russia does not have medium-range missiles.)…The planned interceptor for Poland, the SM-3 IIA, has a speed of about 4.5 km/sec, which is too slow to intercept Russian long-range missiles. Even so, fielding the SM-3 IIA by 2018 is already an aggressive schedule, and moving it up to 2016 is likely to be impossible given the state of the technology.” Second, doing so would be “providing the ‘smoking gun’ Moscow has been looking for to show that EPAA really is a threat…This would further reduce the chances that Washington will be able to reduce Russian strategic weapons, which would otherwise continue to be a threat to the United States. It would also give Moscow an excuse to move Iskander short-range missiles closer to NATO, as it has threatened to do. None of this is helpful.” [Tom Collina, 5/9/14]

Preventing the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo forestalls ending detentions there, which undermines American national security. The NDAA includes a measure that prevents the transfer of detainees to the United States, complicating efforts at ultimately closing the detention facility. In a letter, over two dozen retired generals explain, “Guantanamo imperils our nation’s ability to secure cooperation and intelligence from our allies abroad. Both the military and the intelligence community are only as effective as the information we collect from partners on the ground, who remain less likely to cooperate so long as the United States turns a blind eye to the rule of law. There remains a clear path to closing Guantanamo. The 2010 Guantanamo Review Task Force, which included all the relevant security and intelligence agencies, provided a comprehensive framework for moving forward. That work should continue unimpeded by statutory transfer restrictions that impede the work of our Defense, State and intelligence agencies.” [Letter, 7/24/13]


The NNSA removes last remaining highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Czech Republic in April 2013, a major nonproliferation milestone reached with the close coordination of Russia. [National Nuclear Security Administration, 3/24/13]

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