The US House of Representatives has passed a whopping USD 717 billion annual defence spending bill for the fiscal 2019, which among other things seeks to bolster defence ties with India and greater American commitment in the strategic Indo-Pacific region in view of the challenges being posed by China. The National Defence Authorisation Bill or NDAA-2019, was passed by the House of Representatives by 351-66 votes. It now needs to be passed by the Senate, before it can be sent to the White House for the President Donald Trump to sign it into law.
“In the Indo-Pacific region, the United States faces a near-term, belligerent threat armed with nuclear weapons and also a longer-term strategic competitor,” said Congressman Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “In fact, four of the five key security challenges – China, Russia, North Korea, and terrorism – reside in the PACOM area of responsibility. Critical to meeting all of the challenges in the region is our relationship with our allies and also with countries with whom we share interests,” he said. The USD 717 billion bill seeks renaming US Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command. It seeks a better defence relationship with India.
The NDAA bolsters the Department of Defence’s efforts to plan for and provide the necessary forces, military infrastructure, logistics capabilities, and bilateral and multilateral training in the region through the Indo-Pacific Stability Initiative. It invests in critical military capabilities to deter aggression and respond rapidly to crisis and supports strong missile defense systems to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, including the DoD’s development of new capabilities and efforts to provide for a layered defense of the homeland.
NDAA renames US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command to emphasise the Commands’ responsibility across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and requires the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the operational requirements needed for language expertise in Korean, Chinese Mandarin and Russian and a plan to address any shortfalls. To counter aggression in the region, NDAA requires the Administration to construct a whole-of-government strategy to address China’s activities.
It requires as assessment and planned responses to address activities by the Chinese Communist Party to include the use of political influence, information operations, use of intelligence networks, economic and military tools, and cyber activities and a US strategic communication plan to counter Chinese influence. It also highlights China’s provocative military, maritime and air activities in the Indo-Pacific region by requiring a quarterly report to Congress that may be disseminated to allies and partners.
NDAA modifies the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative by renaming it Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative. It would include India as a covered country and allow for the inclusion of additional countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In an accompanying report, the House said the US should continue to “develop and deploy robust missile defense” in the Indo-Pacific region. It allows the Pentagon to conduct missile defence exercises in the Indo-Pacific region with US regional allies and partners to improve interoperability, it said.
Supporting quadrilateral cooperation among the United States, Japan, Australia and India, NDAA said Secretary of Defense may conduct a quadrilateral naval military exercise with these countries. NDAA also adds new reporting requirement on India-US defense relationship.
It now would include a description of the progress on enabling agreements between the US and India, any limitations that hinder or slow progress, measures to improve interoperability and actions India is taking or the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State believe India should take, to advance the relationship with the United States.
Authorising USD 700 million as Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan, NDAA as passed by the House says that not more than USD 350.0 million may be provided until the Secretary of Defense certified that Islamabad is taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani terror group.
It also required the Defense Secretary to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act describing the manner in which the Department provides assistance to Pakistan.