Every year, the United States Congress must allocate money to the US Department of Defense in what is known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These series of legislation provide funding for all aspects of the military and national security agencies. At times it can be controversial, such as in 2011, when the subject of indefinite detention for American citizens without charge was slipped into the bill. This year’s NDAA is no different, bringing several issues to light which may delay its passage and possibly cause more conflict with China.
The US House of Representatives approved its version of the bill, which includes a limit on the president’s power to attack Iran. The Senate version of the bill (both houses must agree on a common bill to send to US President Donald Trump) does not include such wording, as Trump’s party controls the Senate. Even if it were to make it into the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would likely refuse to even hold a vote on it, as he has repeatedly done with legislation that he considers too liberal. Taking it a step further, if the Senate were to somehow approve the NDAA with a provision requiring Congressional approval before attacking Iran, it would most definitely be vetoed by Trump, without a veto-proof majority to overrule him. Going this route would threaten to delay pay for military and defense services.
The situation between Iran and the US has continued to deteriorate, after Tehran shot down a US drone that may have been flying over international waters. Trump rapidly ordered the Pentagon to strike back, but backed down at the last moment after raising fears of a full-scale Iran – US war. Twenty-seven Republicans joined their Democrat colleagues to support the measure of curtailing the president’s war powers. Matt Gaetz, Republican representative from Florida, promoted the idea.
“If my war-hungry colleagues – some of whom have already suggested that we invade Venezuela, North Korea and probably a few other countries before lunch time tomorrow – if they’re so certain in their case against Iran, let them bring their authorization to use military force against Iran to this very floor,” Gaetz declared during the voting process.
Most Americans are against the idea of attacking Iran unless it strikes US troops first, and have grown tired of nearly two decades of conflict in the Middle East. With war hawks such as National Security Advisor John Bolton surrounding the president, the possibility of engaging Iran on the battlefield hangs overhead.
Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA also feature a provision to provide arms sales to Taiwan in a move that has riled Beijing. It includes $2.2 billion worth of tanks, missiles, and other related equipment, which China said violates its sovereignty. Taiwan has historically had a complicated relationship with China. At the end of World War II, the Republic of China government lost control of China to the Communist Party of China and fled to Taiwan. There, the ROC continued to assert itself as the legitimate ruling party of China. In the decades that have followed, China has maintained the position that Taiwan is part of China and regularly holds military exercises to deter Taiwan from holding a referendum on independence.
China promotes a One China policy and the US government actually supports this by refusing to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, yet Beijing claims the arms sale violates this principle. In retaliation, it announced that it would sanction US companies involved in the deal. The agreement to supply Taiwan’s military comes during a time of increased tension between Beijing and Washington, after a year of engaging in a trade war.
“The US arms sale to Taiwan has severely violated the basic norms of international law and international relations,” said Geng Shuang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, in response to the bill’s provision.
The US Department of State defended the sale by pointing to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. This agreement forces the US to defend the breakaway territory, mostly against threats of a Chinese military invasion.
“Our interest in Taiwan, especially as it relates to these military sales, is to promote peace and stability across the strait, across the region,” said Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the department.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited New York City on Friday during the middle of her trip to Caribbean nations which recognize Taiwan’s government. Tsai has long-rejected Beijing’s calls for reuniting Taiwan with mainland China, even under a framework similar to that of Hong Kong. Beijing protested not only the arms sale, but also her visit to the US.
“Hong Kong’s experience under ‘one country, two systems’ has shown the world once and for all that authoritarianism and democracy cannot coexist,” Tsai commented. Citizens in Hong Kong recently protested proposed extradition legislation which many viewed as Beijing taking control of the government. The measure ultimately failed after millions rallied against the bill. Tsai said the Taiwanese fully supported their Hong Kong brethren in resisting mainland China.
Supplying the Taiwanese military is likely less of a show of force by the US government in the wake of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea or the ongoing trade war, but more of it simply adhering to the prearranged defense agreement. “Taiwan stands in the frontline of China’s ambitious expansion and faces enormous threats and pressure from Beijing,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said in a statement.
Nonetheless, the increased defense support will likely be a sticking point in future negotiations between Beijing and Washington. China is not one to take it lightly.
The NDAA will not be official until it bears Trump’s signature. Considering its contents and the political divisions in Congress, the process may take a while, as both sides attempt to hammer out a bill that can pass both houses while also appeasing the president.