Sens to SecDef: Not so fast on WestPac decisions
Here’s something unusual: Three key Senate lawmakers getting out front of a defense announcement before it’s even been made.
The top leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, penned a letter with Virginia Democrat Sen. Jim Webb on Tuesday urging the Pentagon to remember its obligations to Congress before it finalizes new basing agreements with Japan.
What new basing agreements? you ask. Why, ones that haven’t been rolled out yet, but are apparently set to be on Wednesday. Here’s what Levin, McCain and Webb wrote to Secretary Panetta on Tuesday:
We have been advised informally that the United States and Japan are preparing to announce an agreement regarding basing issues on Okinawa and Guam as early as this Wednesday, April 25, in advance of Prime Minister Noda’s coming visit to the United States. While we have been strongly encouraging a resolution of this complex and troubling issue, we feel compelled to emphasize that no new basing proposal can be considered final until it has the support of Congress, which has important oversight and funding responsibilities.
Quite. Levin, McCain and Webb say they’re invested in what happens with the disposition of American forces in Okinawa and Guam, and they reminded Panetta in their letter that DoD still owes them due diligence on the way forward:
As you know, we have been particularly interested in this matter and included in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act provisions that relate directly to the plans for U.S. forces in Asia. One provision, section 346, required an independent examination of the U.S. strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region and submission of that assessment, with Defense Department review, to the congressional defense committees for our consideration; we understand that independent assessment will not be received until June 28, 2012. Another provision, section 2207, prohibits the expenditure of funds for certain activities on Guam until various conditions are met; none of those conditions have yet been met.
Based on the information we have received about this emerging agreement, we have many questions that have not been fully addressed. We require additional information regarding how this proposal relates to the broader strategic concept of operations in the region, the Marine Corps’ concept of operations, master plans, and alternatives to base realignments on Guam and Okinawa, as well as the positioning of U.S. Air Force units in the Asia-Pacific region. We also remain concerned about the absence of firm cost estimates informed by basing plans, an analysis of logistical requirements, and environmental studies related to this new agreement. Further, a recent visit by Senator Webb to Okinawa (his third visit in the past two years) was characterized by a less-than-forthcoming series of responses from U.S. government officials.
As you’ve read here before, there is only one transgression that the Hill will not abide: A snub or a slight. You can do almost anything else — breach Nunn-McCurdy; offer no date for initial operational capability; or have delay after delay. But you resist calls for information; deal less than forthrightly; or dissemble at your peril.
So conclude Levin, McCain and Webb, who make clear that they intend for Congress to have a say in what happens with Japan and Guam, no matter what the U.S. and Japan are prepared to announce coming up:
[F]or the reasons given above, it is our position that any announcement on this critical matter that goes beyond an agreement in principle at this time would be premature and could have the unintended consequences of creating more difficulties for our important alliance.
There you have it — all that’s left now is to wait and see whether the Pentagon does, in fact, make an announcement soon about new basing agreements.