US Congress includes $410 million for Ukraine, addresses China in massive defence Bill

The compromise version of the fiscal 2022 National Defence Authorisation Act authorises US$770 billion (S$1 trillion) in military spending. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US lawmakers included efforts to push back against Russia and China in a massive annual defence Bill released on Tuesday (Dec 7), proposing US$300 million (S$410 million) for Ukraine's military and a statement of support for the defence of Taiwan.

But they omitted some measures that had strong support in Congress, including a proposal to impose mandatory sanctions over the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and a plan to subject women to the military draft for the first time.

The compromise version of the fiscal 2022 National Defence Authorisation Act, or NDAA, authorises US$770 billion in military spending, US$25 billion more than requested by President Joe Biden and about 5 per cent more than last year's budget.

The plan includes a 2.7 per cent pay increase for the troops, and more aircraft and navy ship purchases to send a signal to Russia and China, in addition to strategies for dealing with geopolitical threats.

The NDAA normally passes with strong bipartisan support. It is closely watched by a broad swathe of industry and other interests because of its wide scope and because it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law every year.

This year's Bill was released shortly after Mr Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes.

The 2022 NDAA includes US$300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to Ukraine's armed forces; US$4 billion for the European Defence Initiative; and proposes US$150 million for Baltic security cooperation.

It does not include a provision that would force Mr Biden to impose sanctions over the US$11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany. The measure's supporters argue that the pipeline would be harmful to European allies.

Lawmakers also omitted an amendment that would have banned Americans from purchasing Russian sovereign debt.

Mr Biden's fellow Democrats control both the House of Representatives and Senate.

The White House has said administration officials support sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, but not provisions that could threaten trans-Atlantic ties.

On China, the Bill includes US$7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defence of Taiwan, as well as a ban on the Department of Defence procuring products produced with forced labour from China's Xinjiang region.

The United States has labelled China's treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang as genocide, and lawmakers have been pushing for a ban on imports of products made with forced labour from Uighurs.

China dismisses the genocide charge as a slanderous assertion about conditions in Xinjiang.

The compromise text omits a proposal to require women to register for the military draft that was included in earlier versions.

The proposal faced stiff opposition from socially conservative lawmakers who thought it would erode traditional gender roles, threatening to stymie the entire NDAA.

The compromise Bill includes an overhaul of the military justice system to take decisions on whether to prosecute cases of rape, sexual assault and some other major crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

The change was a partial victory for activists because it did not strip military commanders of the authority to prosecute all felonies.

It came after advocates led by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand waged a years-long effort to change the system in response to the thousands of cases of sexual assault among service members, many of which are never prosecuted.

Ms Gillibrand said she still wanted a separate vote on her full proposal.

To become law for the 61st straight year, the NDAA must pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by Mr Biden.

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