The Cable

Foreign Relations Committee approves new U.K. and Australia defense pacts

After some behind the scenes wrangling, the Obama administration and Congress agreed this week on terms for new defense trade agreements that will allow freer movement of military goods with two of its top allies. The Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties, which were signed with the British and Australian governments, were approved by the Senate Foreign ...

After some behind the scenes wrangling, the Obama administration and Congress agreed this week on terms for new defense trade agreements that will allow freer movement of military goods with two of its top allies.

The Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties, which were signed with the British and Australian governments, were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 21 and now must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. Accompanying implementation legislation must also  passed by both the Senate and then the House.

"This bipartisan vote comes after three years of negotiations and thorough examination. It is a critical step toward enhancing our cooperative efforts to combat the mutual threats we face," committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. "These treaties help make cooperation between the United States and two of its closest allies more streamlined, efficient, and effective by removing unnecessary bureaucratic delays."

Basically, the treaties will remove the need for the British and Australian governments, and a select group of companies from those countries, to apply for arms export control licenses when buying or selling military items for joint projects they are working on with the United States. This will primarily affect the allies’ cooperation in Afghanistan, but it could also have implications for a host of other programs, including missile defense. Nuclear technology and other highly sensitive technologies are not included in the agreements.

Though the vote was unanimous and the agreements enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, it still took three years to get from the initial signing of the agreements to this point. The Bush administration signed the treaties in 2007, after failing in several attempts, dating back to 2003, to push through legislation permitting "executive agreements," which would not have required Congressional advice and consent.

Congress insisted on maintaining its ability to oversee and monitor these agreements, which are the first of their kind, besides Canada’s country-specific exemption. Lawmakers held hearings in 2008 and 2009 as part an effort to make sure Congress could ensure the agreements were properly enforced and that violations would be punished.

"Senator Lugar and I crafted these resolutions, and the accompanying implementing legislation, to ensure that our law enforcement officials will have the tools they need to catch and prosecute anyone who might try to abuse the treaty regimes," Kerry said. "These measures will also fully preserve long-standing Congressional prerogatives in the oversight of military assistance and cooperation."

Administration sources said that in the home stretch leading up to the committee vote, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher played a large role in ironing out differences, not only between the administration and Congress, but also between the State Department and the Justice Department.

No full Senate vote has yet been scheduled.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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