Tensions in Congress Running High, Gridlock to Continue
“Infighting in the authorizing committees,” will be a mark of the
upcoming year in Congress, said a congressional expert. Legislation to create
a homeland security department, transportation security administration and passage
of a war on terrorism resolution were highlights in a year characterized by
congressional gridlock. That gridlock is expected to continue through 2003,
the official said.
“The only thing we’re going to have this year is a defense appropriations
bill, but there will be huge pressure to do better than last year, where only
two of the 13 authorization bills were passed,” he said.
Tensions are running high in Congress, and “pots are just going to boil
over,” he said. One item worthy of special attention is the creation of
a select committee on homeland security in the House of Representatives. The
Senate has yet to determine whether homeland security issues will be dealt with
by the intelligence or government affairs committees.
“They might take out the District of Columbia appropriations subcommittee,
to make room for a homeland security appropriations bill,” he said.
Latvia Outlines Military Modernization Plan
Representatives of Latvia’s government recently visited Washington to
meet with U.S. Defense and State Department officials, as well as policy analysts
and journalists. After announcements late last year that Latvia would be invited
to join both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union,
Latvia plans to reorganize its defense and international policy.
Latvia joins a bevy of small European countries, which are strengthening niche
defense capabilities rather than attempt to compete with NATO’s large
military powers. The country’s military is moving toward the creation
of an “all-specialization force,” said Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s
deputy minister of defense. While Latvia is working to increase the number of
deployable military units, the country also has developed specialized medical
units, which have been part of the International Security Assistance Force in
Afghanistan, Rinkevics said. Other niche capabilities Latvia continues to develop
include explosives ordnance demolition teams, military police units and diving
Rinkevics also mentioned that Latvia’s relationship with Russia has changed
significantly in the last year. Though Russia and the Baltic States have weathered
an uneasy relationship throughout the Cold War, Russia’s new task force
within NATO has eased tensions somewhat. “Baltic ascension to NATO will
improve relations with Russia,” he said, adding that Latvia has created
the post of defense attaché to Moscow, and that the diplomat will be
posted during the spring of 2003.
The Latvian National Security Council, led by Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga,
also reported that it would provide support to the military operation in Iraq.
“Latvia as a would-be NATO member again confirms its readiness to defend
democracy and justice in the world, not only on its own territory,” Vike-Freiberga
Spratt: Defense Spending Plans Not Realistic
“The Bush administration is committing itself to a huge defense buildup
whose costs exceed the administration’s budget projections and will last
long after President Bush leaves office,” said Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C),
the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Spratt’s comments were
in response to the release of a Congressional Budget Office report, “The
Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans.”
“The administration’s current defense plans call for ambitious
increases for defense through 2007 on top of substantial increases made so far.
By 2007, funding for defense will rise to the same level in inflation-adjusted
terms as the average level of defense spending in the 1980s,” Spratt said. “By 2012, funding would exceed the peak year of 1985,” he said.
“Procuring the weapons systems the Bush administration is developing
to replace current or retiring systems will require large defense increases
through at least 2012. These increases exceed substantially the Bush administration
budget estimates of last year over the 2008 to 2012 period,” he said.
“Using very conservative estimates, CBO concludes that the cost growth
risk of the Bush administration defense plan is, on average, more than 10 percent
over the 2003-2020 period. In other words, CBO concludes that the Bush administration
has probably underestimated by more than 10 percent the amount of funding the
nation will need in order to follow through with the administration’s
defense plans,” he said.
American Group Seeks Peace in Chechnya
The Washington D.C.-based American Committee for Peace in Chechnya recently
introduced a peace plan, which is now being considered by Russians parliamentarians
and Chechen leaders.
The committee is led by Carter-era National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski,
retired Gen. Alexander Haig and Ambassador Max Kampleman. The three are joined
by a diverse set of past and current foreign policy makers such as Caspar Weinberger,
Robert Kagen, R. James Woolsey and Eliot Cohen.
The war in Chechnya has been going on for four years. Russian military losses
are estimated at 4,750, while the Chechens estimate that 80,000 civilian and
rebel fighters have died since 1999. Some 300,000 Chechens – 30 percent
of the population – are displaced, and evidence of war crimes continues
to be uncovered.
The Chechens have agreed to abandon their bid for independence in exchange
for a high degree of autonomy from Russian in managing their state’s affairs,
said Chris Swift, the committee’s spokesman. The peace plan calls for
a demilitarized zone in the region, where “Russian and Chechen troops
would jointly patrol the border with Georgia,” he said.
Finally, the peace plan calls for the participation of an international peace
monitoring group such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE), to create “an international guarantee that future atrocites will
not be allowed to happen,” Swift said.