U.S.: With a New Defense Bill Draft, Congress Tones Down Some of Washington's Policies

3 MINS READJul 24, 2018 | 18:39 GMT
The Big Picture

Stratfor's 2018 Third Quarter Forecast references the pushback that U.S. partners have been exerting on Washington regarding its secondary sanctions on Russia. The U.S. Congress' latest compromise on the National Defense Authorization Act has made some progress on managing some of these tensions.

What Happened

Defense committee leaders in the U.S. Congress on July 23 unveiled a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill that reflects compromises made on both sides of the aisle. The NDAA provides the budget for the Department of Defense and broadly outlines priorities and policies for U.S. defense and foreign policy issues. In the past, progress on the act often has stalled until well after its Oct. 1 deadline, but this year, things have been moving along at a brisk pace since last year's bill provided a two-year budget. The next step for the bill is a vote by the full the House and Senate.

Why It Matters

The NDAA, one of the most important annual bills passed by Congress, sets the tone for how the United States would approach a variety of national defense and foreign policy issues. The compromise version just offered walks back several of the more extreme positions the United States had taken recently regarding its international relationships.

For example, rather than upping the pressure it has been putting on Turkey — a previous version of the bill barred delivery of U.S.-made F-35 fighters to the country — the compromise measure prevents delivery of the warplanes only until the U.S. government submits assessments of both the U.S.-Turkish relationship and the risks posed by Turkey's purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems. The United States after all, is not keen to cause too much damage to its relationship with Turkey, nor is it eager to see Turkey reach out more often to Russia instead.

The NDAA also includes guidance on the future of the U.S. initiative known as the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which implemented sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia and has threatened secondary sanctions on U.S. partners who work with those countries, such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam. The redrafted bill, which modifies CAATSA's earlier text, contains a compromise waiver allowing the government to refrain from sanctioning strategic partners and allies as long as it can make the case that these countries are taking steps to lessen their reliance on Russian equipment. These allowances would enable those countries to avoid having to make the choice between cutting off all defense ties to Russia or losing all U.S. support. More broadly, the changes to U.S. defense policy indicate the ability of global middle powers to resist U.S. extraterritorial legislation to a certain degree.

What's Next

The current version of the NDAA bill still faces a final round of votes, and its exact language is still unclear. But it does appear that the punitive measures leveled against many U.S. allies and partners in previous versions of the bill have been diminished and that Congress has attempted to provide credible alternatives to extreme, black-and-white stances on various foreign policy and defense concerns.

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