While Uzbekistan has made a highly publicized decision to evict US military forces from an airbase at Karshi-Khanabad, it does not appear that Tashkent will take similar action against German troops stationed at a facility near Termez, along the Uzbek-Afghan border.
The German government has maintained a low-key approach toward Uzbekistan since the Andijan events in May. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Germany's reticence is partly explained by the fact that political leaders have been preoccupied with the country's looming parliamentary elections. Polls show that Gerhard Schroeder's incumbent Social Democratic Party-Greens coalition will be hard-pressed to retain power in the September 18 vote.
The vocal demands made by the United States for an independent Andijan inquiry, and Tashkent's subsequent decision to send American forces packing have left many German policy makers feeling conflicted. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In Berlin, outrage over Uzbekistan's human rights conduct is weighed against national security concerns. For now, the Termez base issue appears to be tipping that balance in favor of a non-confrontational policy course.
Johannes Pflug, a Social Democratic Party expert on Central Asia, indicated that many German officials are wary about the prospects for long-term cooperation with Uzbekistan, considering Uzbek President Islam Karimov's administration to be unreliable. He went on to suggest that while German troops appear set to remain at Termez for the foreseeable future, Berlin should consider policy changes. "The policy regarding Termez should not restrain the assessment of [Uzbekistan's] human rights situation," Pflug said in an interview.
The opposition Christian Democratic Union, which could regain power in the upcoming elections, has signalled that it wants to maintain the Termez base, although party leaders, like their SPD rivals, feel uneasy about cooperating with Karimov. Christian Schmidt, the party's spokesman on defence issues, noted that the security situation should be reviewed when Germany's mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to come up for parliamentary debate in mid October. "The situation will not improve, when one partner of the Afghanistan mission is evicted from Uzbekistan," Schmidt was quoted as saying by the Spiegel Online website.
Some German human rights and civil society groups, including the International Society for Human Rights, have urged Berlin to withdraw German troops from Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, smaller political parties, including the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), have been more outspoken in their criticism of Uzbekistan. For example, the office one Green MP, Winifried Nachtwei, has described Germany's past arms exports to Uzbekistan as "irresponsible and not in accordance with the political principles of the German government." A FDP spokesman, Markus Lõning, said in an interview that he would prefer a complete cut in all development cooperation with Uzbekistan with the exception of humanitarian and ecological aid. "The problem is Termez, which restricts us in doing what we want."
Known in German as Lufttransportstùtzpunkt 3, the Termez base is currently home to about 300 German soldiers, who help maintain seven C-160 transport planes and five CH-53 helicopters used to support military operations in Afghanistan. It is Germany's only outpost in Central Asia, and is thus deemed by strategic planners in Berlin as indispensable. The base is also used by other members of the anti-terrorism coalition, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France and Great Britain.
A treaty signed in February 2002 granted Germany basing rights in return for "financial assistance of an unspecified amount," as well as a pledge to strengthen military cooperation, including the provision of arms and equipment for the Uzbek military. The precise amount of financial aid extended by Germany to Uzbekistan is guarded by Schroeder's government. According to a member of parliament, however, it is a seven-digit figure.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has confirmed that 120 Uzbek army officers have received training in Germany since 1994 under the auspices of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. In addition, Germany provided assistance for the establishment of a munitions factory in 2000, and delivered a consignment of firearms in 2001. Berlin has also provided military uniforms and night-vision equipment.
Since the May 13 events in Andijan, the German Defense Ministry has given no indication that it will alter its military cooperation with Uzbekistan. The Defence Ministry noted, that none of the officers trained in Germany are known to have participated in the Andijan events.
On August 5, the Berlin daily Tageszeitung reported that a shipment of medical supplies worth 280,000 euros (about $349,000) had been delivered to Uzbekistan three days earlier. At the same time, German arms exports to Uzbekistan have declined dramatically. In 2000, the German arms trade with Tashkent totalled 3.35 million euros ($4.17 million). Today, the value of arms exports in negligible, official statistics show.
Overall, Germany has been the third largest contributor of development aid to Uzbekistan, with 239.4 million euros (almost $300 million) worth of assistance pledged from 1992-2005. According to the latest country report prepared by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), development aid has slowed due to Uzbekistan's resistance to the implementation of economic reforms. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Wolfgang Armbruster, head of the BMZ's Central Asia and Caucasus Department, said the ministry's strategy on Uzbekistan has shifted in recent years toward an emphasis on combating poverty, instead of on state-oriented projects, such as the renovation of Tashkent airport.
A German defense official indicated that Berlin explored relocating the troops and equipment currently based at Termez, but added that the available options were deemed unappealing. "Alternatives have been evaluated, with the result that the dependence on Termez can only partially be reduced," the official said. The Termez facility's comparatively better infrastructure, and its relative security, makes it the most desirable option. "In Dushanbe the capacity is inadequate, while in Afghanistan the relative security is lacking. In an emergency the loss of Termez could be compensated temporarily, but not for a longer period of time," the official said.
There has been no public outcry in Germany over continuing military cooperation with Uzbekistan. While German media outlets offered extensive coverage of the Andijan massacre, the ensuing refugee problem, the Karimov government clampdown on civil society and the eviction of US troops received relatively little attention.
Pflug, the SPD expert, sought to play up a benefit of continued military cooperation with Uzbekistan, arguing that Berlin could use the ongoing diplomatic dialogue to influence Uzbek security policy. "We have to continue to train Uzbek military officers - not in using arms, but in democratic values," he said. "When they go back and have moral conflicts, this is a positive sign and an achievement."
Anja Schoeller-Schletter has been directing the social science parts of a joint UNESCO/ZEF (Center for Development Research, Germany) project in Uzbekistan. Here expertees lies in state reform with a focus on Central Asia and Latin America.