WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate began debate on the Armed Services Committee’s $716 billion annual defense policy bill Wednesday, which highlights the threats from Russia and China.
The panel’s 2019 National Defense Authorization Act expresses a “sense of the Senate” for a broad, long-term strategy that includes helping European allies, “backed by all elements of United States’ national power to deter and, if necessary, defeat Russian aggression.”
That call includes a forward-stationed U.S. Army armored brigade combat team in Europe. The bill would also order a report on whether to permanently station a BCT in Poland, which last month offered to host a U.S. Army division.
The bill also directs the Army to acquire an interim short-term capability to fill gaps in cruise missile defense, to defend against Chinese and Russian threats.
These provisions, according to committee aides, are meant to guide the Pentagon in line with the National Defense Strategy’s “great power competition” emphasis.
The 1,140-page bill, which still faces months of congressional debate before becoming law, tackles a broad range of policy and budgetary matters, including troop pay, weapons procurement and bureaucratic reforms. It must be reconciled with its House counterpart, which passed the lower chamber last month.
The Senate bill extends a limitation on military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia and continues security assistance to Ukraine by authorizing $200 million. It also calls for a comprehensive strategy to counter Russian malign influence and mandates a report on Russian security cooperation with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
On China, the bill includes the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act as adopted by the Senate Banking Committee to give new tools to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Proponents say current process to review foreign investments in the U.S. has not been updated in nearly a decade, allowing China to exploit gaps in the current process to invest in U.S. companies for a military advantage.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from using telecommunications equipment or services produced by Huawei Technologies or ZTE Corp. It’s a hot-button issue, as Democrats have blasted President Donald Trump for weighing how to let Chinese telecom-equipment maker ZTE resume business with American companies—after the Commerce Department blocked its access to U.S. suppliers in April over trading with Iran and North Korea.
The proposed NDAA would bar China from participating in a major U.S.-led naval exercises in the Pacific Rim, until it ends land reclamation activities, removes weapons from reclamation sites and engages in stabilizing activities for four years.
The bill also calls for a number of reports on Chinese aggression—including details of China’s “military and coercive activities” in the South China Sea. The U.S. last month rescinded an invite to China to participate in the most recent RIMPAC exercises.
It would also ban Pentagon funding for Chinese language programs at universities that host a Confucius Institute and include reporting language on China’s efforts to “influence media, cultural institutions, business, and academic and policy communities in the United States.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.