8 March 2017

Lawmakers’ Letters Endorse McCain Plan To Reinforce Pacific, Assist Asian Allies By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR.

Graphic courtesy Sen. Dan Sullivan

A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives is urging Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to budget $1.5 billion a year to reinforce US forces in the Pacific to better support Asian allies, stiffening their spines against Chinese intimidation. Known as the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative and endorsed by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, it’s a proposal first put forward by Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain. You can read the different letters from the House and Senate below.

Both documents warn against the rising power of China. The Senators also cite the threat of North Korea and of Russian forces in the Pacific. For its part, the more detailed House letter explicitly likens the McCain plan to the European Reassurance Initiative, created after the Russian conquest of Crimea to reassure US allies in the region. The representatives add the initiative could fund expanded international exercises, investments in infrastructure and munitions, and increased presence of US forces.

What’s particularly notable is this Senate-driven proposal is now getting some traction in the House, although it’s hardly a groundswell yet. Leading the effort in the House is Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. Signing the letter along with Bordallo are two fellow Democrats, both members of the House Armed Services Committee — Hawaii’s Colleen Hanabusa and Florida’s Stephanie Murphy — and two Republicans, both subcommittee chairs on HASC: Vicky Hartzler of Missouri (who heads oversight and investigations) and Joe Wilson of South Carolina (readiness).

Leading on the Senate side are Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan, who’s pushed hard on SASC to raise awareness of Chinese threats, and Mazie Hirono (Haiwaii), the senior Democrat on the seapower subcommittee. Republican co-signatories are Tom Cotton (Arizona), chairman of SASC’s Airland subcommittee; Joni Ernst (Iowa), chair of the emerging threats subcommittee; Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who’s on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense; and Todd Young (Indiana), who’s on Foreign Relations. The other Democrats are Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia), who sits on the intelligence and appropriations committees.

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