A senior State Department official misled Congress on a Russian arms treaty violation and should not be named NATO’s deputy secretary general, according to a group of Republican House members.
Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is the expected replacement for outgoing NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.
The position is considered a key post for alliance policy and 13 House Republicans on Tuesday are seeking to block the appointment over what they say were several instances of misleading congressional testimony by Gottemoeller on Russian arms control violations.
"We strongly urge you to rescind the nomination, due to Ms. Gottemoeller’s history of providing conflicting information to Congress and our NATO allies," the members stated in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated March 15.
Gottemoeller is regarded by critics as one of the principal architects of the Obama administration’s reset policy toward Russia, which sought to adopt conciliatory policies toward Moscow with the goal of developing closer relations.
Russia, however, has turned hostile toward the United States due to its opposition to U.S. missile defenses in Europe. Russian militarily annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in March 2014, triggering a NATO backlash against Russia, including economic sanctions.
A Russian-speaking arms control specialist, Gottemoeller is considered a pro-Russian policy advocate who favors extensive arms negotiations—despite evidence that Russia in the past used the talks to limit U.S. arms and seek relaxed U.S. controls on technology transfers.
NATO is toughening its military posture toward Russia following the annexation of Crimea and continuing covert destabilization of eastern Ukraine.
Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended Gottemoeller without addressing the House members’ concerns.
"We strongly support the candidacy of Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller for the position of NATO Deputy Secretary General," Toner said in a statement, adding that she has "impeccable credentials, with extensive experience in European security affairs."
Gottemoeller is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the administration’s nuclear agenda.
Her appointment to NATO does not require Senate confirmation.
The 13 Republicans said Gottemoeller "misled Congress and the public" during a Dec. 1, 2015, House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee hearing about a newly-disclosed Russian nuclear weapon and her knowledge of the talks leading up to the 2010 New START treaty with Russia.
"Ms. Gottemoeller denied prior knowledge of the weapons system," the members stated. "Less than an hour later, she attempted to reverse this testimony in a private classified session. To date, she has failed to correct the public record, despite having the opportunity to do so."
The lawmakers said the Dec. 1 testimony reflected "a concerning pattern of behavior" by Gottemoeller in her testimony and actions. "She may have repeatedly deceived members of Congress and our NATO allies," they stated.
Earlier incidents included false statements to multiple congressional committees about her knowledge of Russia’s 2008 violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
U.S. officials have said American intelligence agencies knew about Russia’s development of a new cruise missile in 2008, but the State Department kept the violation secret to advance its arms control agenda.
Critics say if the violation had been shared during Senate debate on the New START treaty, the treaty might have been rejected.
The Senate approved the treaty in exchange for a promise by President Obama to invest some $50 billion to modernize U.S. nuclear forces.
The new Russian missile, known as the SSC-X-8, was flight tested as recently as Sept. 2. Moscow denies the missile violates the INF treaty.
Other concerns about Gottemoeller outlined in the letter include accusations that she withheld information from NATO on Russian’s INF treaty violation and failed to impose any sanctions on Russian firms involved in the INF violation despite promising twice during congressional testimony to take action.
"Given the critical role NATO plays in ensuring a stable security environment in both Europe and North America, it is imperative that the right individuals are selected to execute its important tasks," the House members said. "We therefore ask that any consideration of Ms. Gottemoeller’s nomination to the position of NATO deputy secretary general be immediately dismissed."
Russia in recent months has issued threats, including threats to use nuclear arms, against NATO and the United States over planned U.S. and NATO military deployments close to Russia’s borders with Eastern Europe.
NATO commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told reporters earlier this month that Russia has reverted to being a major threat.
"Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term, existential threat to the U.S. and to our European allies and partners," Breedlove said. "Russia sees the U.S. and NATO as threats to its objectives and as constraints on its aspirations. So Russia seeks to fracture our unity and challenge our resolve."
The Pentagon is spending $3.4 billion in the coming months to bolster European defenses. The effort includes adding more rotational forces, increasing training, and providing new arms and support for allies.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated in Senate testimony last month that Russia’s ground-launched cruise missile violates the INF treaty, although Russia has denied the treaty breach. Clapper said Russia has stated it is developing new weapons because the INF treaty is unfair and that the world has changed since the 1987 treaty was signed.
The pact prohibits Russia and the United States from building ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of between 310 and 3,400 miles.
Clapper noted that "Putin is the first leader since Stalin to expand Russia's territory."
"Moscow's military venture into Syria marks its first use since its foray into Afghanistan of significant expeditionary combat power outside the post-Soviet space," Clapper said, adding that Moscow interventions "demonstrate the improvements in Russian military capabilities and the Kremlin's confidence in using them."
The letter was signed by Reps. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee; Ted Poe (R., Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade; Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla), chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa.
Turner said in a statement that the lawmakers believe the undersecretary "has exhibited a pattern of behavior that suggests she may have repeatedly misled" Congress and NATO.
"Given the important role NATO plays in bringing stability to both Europe and North America, it is imperative to have the right individuals selected to execute this role," Turner said. "Ms. Gottemoeller has shown she does not posses the qualities necessary that this esteemed position requires."
Other signers include Reps. Joe Heck (R., Nev.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel; Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats; J. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on seapower; and Robert Wittman (R., Va.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.
Foreign Affairs committee members Reps. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.) Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), and Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.) also signed the letter.