WASHINGTON, D.C. —
In times of economic uncertainty and mounting national security issues, it is critical that each branch of government is allowed to play its constitutional role. We must protect the uniquely American system of checks and balances set forth by our forefathers, which helps prevent abuse or overreach of power. Stepping outside of the roles intended and defined only leads to unfortunate, harmful decisions that affect the entire country.
Rosoboronexport, the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of defense-related products, is currently providing weapons in the horrific Syrian civil war that already has claimed more than 93,000 lives. Last year, however, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law (P.L. 112- 239) legislation that prohibited the Department of Defense from doing business with this company. In May, the House unanimously passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, requiring that all contracts with Rosoboronexport cease.
It is clear that it is not in our nation’s best interests to continue any commercial relationship, indirectly or otherwise with this Russian-owned arms dealer. However, the Pentagon has continued to move forward with the purchase of 30 Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport for the Afghan National Security Forces despite legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama prohibiting such expenditures. The administration continues to defy and to blatantly disregard congressional intent in this matter, which is unacceptable.
First, not only is it reckless to subsidize a dealer that provides weapons to terrorists fueling the tragic Syrian civil war, but the purchase doesn’t even further the mission of ANSF. Due to lack of operational knowledge and expertise by the personnel charged with using the helicopters, the equipment itself is likely to go unused. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has reported that this $908 million investment in the Afghan Specialty Mission Wing (SMW) is ill-advised as “the Afghans lack the capacity — in both personnel and expertise — to operate and maintain the existing and planned fleets.” If the investment doesn’t help the mission, why purchase the helicopters in the first place?
Second, even if ANSF had greater expertise and was better equipped and trained to use these helicopters, we must return to the fact that this firm provides weapons to regimes that suppress their people and support terrorists. By entering into an agreement with Rosoboronexport, America is indirectly and unknowingly adding to, increasing and encouraging greater conflict in the Syrian region. This is certainly an abuse of taxpayer dollars, and it demonstrates that the Department of Defense must be held accountable to laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.
In response to this outrageous contract and the administration’s disrespect for the role of the legislative branch, I joined with more than 80 of my colleagues in sending a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, demanding that the appropriate steps be taken regarding this Russian arms dealer. In this bipartisan effort, we reiterated the requirement and expectation that the Department of Defense provide a detailed assessment to Congress explaining its purchase of this equipment from Rosoboronexport, rather than alternatives manufactured in our own or allied countries. We also asked for an explanation about how this purchase is in the best interest of our national security.
Again, the president signed the NDAA last year that prohibited taxpayer FY13 funds from going to this Russian firm, yet this devious move appears to show the administration’s disdain for laws already set in place and the unique role of the legislative branch in authorizing the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Accountability in decision-making in the executive branch is severely lacking. It can only make us wonder what liberties will continue to be taken and power abused by the executive branch if Congress does not act to assert and protect its legislative authority.
U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.