Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) led a bipartisan group of members today urging Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel not to purchase additional helicopters from the state-owned Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport. That company has continued to transfer weapons to the Assad regime, enabling mass atrocities. The group sent the letter amid reports that the Department of Defense is considering purchasing 20 helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces from the firm.
Last year DeLauro authored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act prohibiting the use of funds to enter into any contracts or agreements with Rosoboronexport. That provision is now law. However, there is an exemption if the Secretary of Defense deems it to be in the interest of national security. The members asked Secretary Hagel to explain his justification, writing "What is the national security justification of continuing business with Rosoboronexport? Relatedly, last year, DoD notified Congress of plans to purchase 33 Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport for the Afghan National Security Forces. What is the national security justification for the additional 20 helicopters this year?"
The full letter follows:
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel,
We write to oppose any continuation of the Department of Defense's (DoD) business relationship with Rosoboronexport, Russia's primary arms exporter and an enabler of the ongoing mass atrocities in Syria. In January, Section 1277 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13 NDAA; P.L. 112-239), which expressly prohibits the use of funds to enter into any contracts or agreements with Rosoboronexport, was enacted into law. Further, during consideration of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an amendment prohibiting further contracts with Rosoboronexport by a vote of 407-5. We urge you to uphold this law and clear expression of Congressional intent by ensuring that any further DoD procurement of helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces is not conducted through Rosoboronexport.
Russia continues to transfer weapons through Rosoboronexport to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Since the Syrian uprising began, Russia has continued to serve as the Assad regime's chief supplier of weapons, enabling the mass murder of Syrian citizens at the hands of their own government. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 70,000 Syrians have been killed since the Syrian conflict began nearly two years ago. Despite the ongoing atrocities, Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, announced on February 13 that Russia would continue to supply weapons to Assad's regime. In addition, Rosoboronexport Director Anatoly Isaikin told reporters that "in the absence of sanctions, we are continuing to fulfill our contract obligations." As you know, it is Russia's veto power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council that has blocked the imposition of sanctions on the Syrian regime to this point.
Last summer, DoD notified Congress of plans to exercise an option in an existing contract to purchase additional Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport -- plans that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and human rights groups opposed. Despite these clear objections, DOD proceeded, and in response Congress enacted Section 1277 of the FY13 NDAA.
Despite this new law, we learned that the Army intends to enter into a new contract with Rosoboronexport in the coming weeks to procure 20 additional helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces. This plan runs in direct contravention to both the spirit of the FY13 NDAA and the clear legislative intent of Congress -- to ban further business dealings with Rosoboronexport. In our view, any attempt by DoD to utilize prior-year funds would constitute a direct subversion of existing law.
The United States Government has imposed punishing sanctions on Syria and invested precious diplomatic resources to end the conflict there. The NDAA provision is intended to bolster U.S. policy and ensure that U.S. contracts with Syria's primary arms dealer do not undermine it. In order to make certain that U.S. policy on Syria is clear, consistent, and effective, we strongly urge you to certify that no new contracts are concluded or options acted upon between DoD and Rosoboronexport. Moreover, we urge you to hold an open competition for any further purchases of helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces.
Accordingly, we request that your Department prepare a detailed briefing focusing on the following questions and present it to us before the Army takes any action on the pending contract.
§ What steps has DoD taken to ensure compliance with Section 1277 of the FY13 NDAA and to consider alternative suppliers of helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces?
§ Section 1277 requires DoD, in order to exercise its waiver authority, to certify to Congress that conducting further business with Rosoboronexport is "in the national security interests of the United States." What is the national security justification of continuing business with Rosoboronexport? Relatedly, last year, DoD notified Congress of plans to purchase 33 Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport for the Afghan National Security Forces. What is the national security justification for the additional 20 helicopters this year?
§ The Government Accountability Office and the Defense Contract Audit Agency are undertaking a Congressionally mandated examination of the Army's existing contract with Rosoboronexport. How is DoD planning to address and incorporate the review's findings into its practices and protocols?
§ What steps is DoD taking to ensure that it does not support -- financially or otherwise -- enablers of mass atrocities?
Thank you for your serious attention to this request. We appreciate your prompt response.
ROSA L. DeLAURO
JAMES P. MORAN
WALTER B. JONES
FRANK R. WOLF
JAMES P. McGOVERN