$700 billion defence bill sails through both Houses of US Congress

RSTV Bureau

US CongressThe US Congress has passed USD 700 billion defence budget for 2018 which imposes tougher conditions on Pakistan for military and security assistance. The budget also seeks to advance military cooperation with India, which is now a ‘Major Defence Partner.’

The 2018 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) sailed through both the chambers of the Congress – House of Representatives and the Senate – by a voice vote.

The Act will now head to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign it into law.

The budget also accommodates the last minute additional White House’s financial request of implementing its new South Asia strategy.

The NDAA-2018 asked the Secretary of State and the Defence Secretary to come out with a common definition that recognises India’s status as a “Major Defence Partner”.

Welcoming the move, top Republican Senator Ted Cruz said few partnerships in the 21st century carried more strategic significance than the US-India partnership.

Cruz said that the current bilateral cooperation and joint development need to be more closely aligned with the shared interests of maritime domain awareness and anti-submarine warfare.

During the legislative process, Cruz secured an amendment that calls on the Department of Defence to reassess its approach to partnering with India and to appoint an individual to oversee this process.

The NDAA-2018 also asks the Pentagon to develop a “forward-looking” strategy for defence ties with India that would build upon current objectives and goals, underlining a mutual desire to develop an enduring defence relationship with India.

According to it, the two countries should work closely with Afghanistan to promote stability in the region to include targeted infrastructure development and economic investment, means to address capability gaps in country, and improved humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.

The US Congress had designated India as a “Major Defence Partner” in its military budget for 2017.

“The designation promotes joint exercises, defence strategy and policy co-ordination, military exchanges, and port calls in support of defence cooperation between the United States and India,” said the latest conference report by the Congressional leaders.

The NDAA-2018 also makes USD 350 million available to Pakistan under coalition support fund (CSF) contingent upon certification from the secretary of defence that Pakistan is taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani Network.

In the last two years, two successive US defence secretaries Ashton Carter and his successor Jim Mattis refused to give such a certification to Pakistan, in the absence of Islamabad taking demonstrable and satisfactory actions against the Haqqani network.

An accompanying conference report passed by the House and the Senate note that action on the part of Pakistan against Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as other terrorist groups operating within the borders of Pakistan, remains a priority for the United States.

It urged the Department of Defense to closely monitor US security assistance to Pakistan, to ensure that Pakistan is not using such assistance to support terrorist groups, and “to take appropriate measures to demonstrate to the Pakistani military the consequences of continuing to support” such terrorist organisations.

(With inputs from agencies)