U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Turkey on Friday, and some reports suggest that the Turkish government is prepared to agree to host a NATO missile defense system there. Turkey, you'll recall, wanted to impose several conditions on the system's deployment in Turkey, mainly that it not explicitly target Iran and that information from the system not be shared with Israel.
It's not clear that any of those issues have been resolved, but a couple of U.S. senators have called on the administration to consider using the South Caucasus, instead. Senior U.S. missile defense officials, the senator wrote, have said that "a forward-deployed X-Band radar in either Georgia or Armenia would have significant advantages for the missile defense of the United States," according to a letter (pdf) obtained by ForeignPolicy.com blogger Josh Rogin. (Presumably the reference to Armenia is a mistake and they mean Azerbaijan, which gives a sense of how attuned to the regional dynamics the senators are.)
If this sounds familiar, it's because the same senators said the same thing in February -- though then they were accompanied by two additional senators. It's not clear why those senators dropped out of this campaign, but it could be because the whole idea makes little sense. As Daniel Larison writes:
Kazakhstan's Afghanistan deployment may have been abandoned, but its (almost) neighbor Mongolia is increasing its troop contribution. Within the next couple of months, the country will be adding about 120 soldiers to its contingent in Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan's far northeast (bordering Tajikistan) where the German military leads operations. According to AFP (in German), the new Mongolian troops will amount to one company of infantry, snipers and medics and will patrol (but not participate in "offensive operations") in addition to its current mission of guarding the German camp.
NATO public relations has a video report on the Mongolian deployment in Afghanistan, though they use some different numbers -- AFP says there are now 74 Mongolian soldiers in Afghanistan, while this report says it's 200 (though NATO's own numbers support the AFP figure):
Be sure not to miss the display of "traditional combat skills" at the end of that video.
What does a soccer/football match-fixing scandal in Turkey have to do with the country's arms trade? Well... something, even if it's not clear yet what exactly that might be. But one of Turkey's best defense journalists, Lale Kemal, writes in her column in Today's Zaman that the Ergenekon conspiracy, in which many senior members of the military were alleged to have been plotting a coup against the "Islamist" AKP-run government, may have been getting funding both from corrupt arms sales and from the match-fixing.
Kemal writes that some soccer club members are also local representatives of foreign defense manufacturers, and have been cut out as the AKP government makes a push to import less and produce more of its defense goods.
As the current government has adopted policies to boost the development of local arms, the financial resources of some middleman in the arms business are believed to have fallen.
Early in 2009 a defense industry specialist submitted a thick, confidential file to then-Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz. The file contained, among other things, allegations that some Ergenekon suspects might have used resources earned in arms deals to fund the activities of alleged coup plotters. At the time, this defense industry expert filed a complaint with prosecutor Öz's office against the alleged generals and colonels who, he claimed, abused fund revenues earmarked for arms purchases. Öz reportedly launched an investigation over possible links between the arms trade and financial resources that went to Ergenekon activities.
France's sale of sophisticated warships to Russia has inspired reams of commentary speculating on what threat this might pose to NATO members or other Western allies, in particular Georgia. (Most recently, Vlad Socor wrote last week in the Eurasia Daily Monitor that the sale was motivated by "mercantilism... bypassing NATO and trumping basic notions of allied strategy and solidarity.")
Now, a U.S. Navy officer has published his master's thesis (pdf) on the purchase, which Dmitry Gorenburg says "may be the definitive work on the subject." The officer, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Thomas Baker, argues that Russia wants the ship not for any particular combat capability, but as the linchpin of a larger naval modernization strategy:
[T]he Mistral sale is driven by Russia‘s need to acquire modern command and control and shipbuilding technologies, rather than increase its amphibious assault capabilities per se.
Russia's naval chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy -- who is notorious for arguing that with the Mistral, Russia would have been able to defeat Georgia "in 40 minutes, not 26 hours" -- was interested in the ship since before the Georgia war, which Baker says "suggests that a desire to acquire a new system preceded identifying a required capability and developing a system to fulfill that capability.":
The U.S. and Tajikistan have broken ground on the joint military training center that they announced last year, and it should open by the end of this year. U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Ken Gross and Tajik National Guard Commander General Rajabali Rahmonali laid the cornerstone of the live-fire training building at the $3.1 million center at Qaratogh. Rahmonali said the center would be used for training special forces both from Tajikistan and also from neighboring countries, like Afghanistan. Reports RFE/RL:
Gross said "this project demonstrates the U.S. commitment to supporting Tajikistan's efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics and to defend the nation against terrorists." He said the facility will support the training of Tajik counternarcotics and counterterrorism units.
Asked about reports in some Tajik newspapers that the center will become a U.S. military base, Gross said "this [facility] is strictly for the Tajik military and there is no American component to that."
There will presumably be U.S. forces rotating in to do the training, because otherwise, what's the point? It's also worth recalling the recent International Crisis Group report on Tajikistan, which said that Dushanbe's requests to get training for its elite forces was "met with a cool response" by Western embassies:
Training, though undoubtedly needed, would seem impractical. It is doubtful whether a command structure like the Tajik military, premised on unquestioning loyalty to the president and tolerance, if not participation, in corrupt practices, would provide trainers with a viable longterm partner.
The Pentagon apparently has decided that it's worth the risk. We'll see.
Kazakhstan has established a small new air base in the western port city of Aktau, part of the country's push to strengthen its maritime defenses on the Caspian -- Aktau is also the base of the country's nascent navy. But it's also apparently engendering some suspicion among residents, who have been embroiled in recent oil- and gas-industry strikes and who see the presence of fighter jets as a means of domestic intimidation.
The 612th air base in Aktau will include two Su-27 fighter jets, seven Su-27 pilots and 12 helicopter gunship pilots, according to a report in Interfax-Kazakhstan (not online, via BBC Monitoring). The report doesn't say what kind of helicopters, or how many, but they're presumably Mi-24s.
The curious part of the story is how the locals reacted. Interfax cites a press release from the military:
[T]he fighter jets conducted training flights between 31 May and 22 June.
"By mere chance, the second training flight (...) coincided with the opening of a kindergarten and a district hospital in the Shetpe village. (...) The country's several publications suggested then that military fighters are aimed at intimidating the population. It was also suggested that the aircraft belonged to the head of the regional security service," the report said.
"The emergence of such rumours is related only to the fact that people in Mangistau are not accustomed to the sound of supersonic manoeuvrable aircraft," the report quoted the commander of the air base, Col Yerlan Kozgulov, as saying.
"During flights, the fighter jets produce a characteristic sound. Therefore, as it turned out, people in the region, who are not accustomed to such a roar, have began to invent various stories on this topic," he added.
India may have been thwarted in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, but now it's building military ties with Kyrgyzstan, agreeing to train UN peacekeeping troops and establishing a joint high-altitude military research center in Bishkek.
India's defense minister, AK Antony, has been visiting Bishkek the last two days and announced those two initiatives. The altitude research center will host about 20 Indian soldiers at a time, and be based in Bishkek with a field station in the mountains outside the city, reports The Economic Times:
The centre has a field station at Tuya Ashu, located at a height of 3,200 metre. Akpay Sarybaev, a leading cardiologist and expert in mountain medicine, has been nominated as the centre's director.
The proposal for joint collaboration in the area of mountain medicine and to establish the centre was mooted during talks between then Kyrghyz President A. Akaev and then Indian president A.P.J Abdul Kalam in November 2003.
"The realisation of that shared vision has finally culminated in the establishment of this centre. The joint endeavour of our scientists will provide a platform to utilise the expertise of both the institutes in a holistic manner to evaluate, as well as improve the performance and enhance the process of acclimatisation at high altitudes using psychological, biochemical and molecular research tools," Antony said at the event.
A new railroad in Uzbekistan, used extensively as part of the U.S.'s transportation network shipping military cargo to Afghanistan was built using low-quality steel and goes through such mountainous terrain that when the train gets to the bottom of the mountain crossing, the wheels are glowing red from the friction of so much braking. That's according to a new U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks and the Washington Post.
The Post published a story today on this transportation system, the Northern Distribution Network, and while readers of this blog won't find much new in it, the Post did publish a few Wikileaked cables in conjunction, and they shed a bit more light on the NDN.
All the cables are from 2009, the early days of the NDN. The juiciest is the one that described the new rail line. The Soviet-era line that ran from Karshi to Termez, on the Afghanistan border, dipped into Turkmenistan. So Uzbekistan built a new line that stays entirely within its territory -- but there was a reason the Soviets routed theirs through Turkmenistan. The alternative is apparently through terrain that is borderline dangerous, according to the U.S. embassy's source, whose identity was redacted, but was someone "heavily involved" in the new rail line's construction
Azerbaijan may have canceled joint military exercises with the U.S. two years in a row, but security cooperation between the two countries is still on track, says U.S. ambassador to Baku Matthew Bryza. A senior Pentagon official visited Baku last week and among the agreements made was to take part in two new sets of military exercises later this year, Bryza said in an interview with Trend:
Last Friday's bilateral security dialog was very positive and achieved several concrete results, said Bryza.
"One is that we are going to accelerate our cooperation to help Azerbaijan protect its critical energy infrastructure. Two - move ahead with some military exercises and cooperative programs including one that will take place in Romania in August, one other one will be in Germany involving a hundred and more Azerbaijani solders with the NATO partners," said the ambassador.
Bryza acknowledged that U.S.-Azerbaijani relations haven't been the best for the last couple of years, the period in which Baku twice, without much explanation, canceled the bilateral military exercises that were supposed to take place in Azerbaijan.
"We did go through a difficult period for several months but I strongly feel that we not only have come out of the negative trend but we've built on an already existing strong foundation and we are moving forward," he said.
There aren't too many details about the new exercises planned for Romania and Germany. I asked Adil Baguirov, managing director of the U.S. Azeris Network, for his take. He says exercises held outside the country are less susceptible to Russian or Iranian pressure:
Russia saw last week's visit of a U.S. warship to Georgia as a provocation, because the ship was equipped with Aegis missile defense radar, and Moscow opposes the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system on its borders. As Russian naval expert Dmitry Gorerburg pointed out then, the U.S. knows this is provocative to Russia, but claims the principle of sending its ships wherever it wants "without regard for the sensitivities of countries such as Russia."
But the U.S. Navy does take the sensitivities of some countries into account, notes Robert Farley, an international relations professor at the University of Kentucky who also studies Russia and naval issues. For example, it avoids sending nuclear-powered ships to Japan, he points out:
I wonder whether the Russians fully understood the implications of the shift towards sea-based missile defense, especially given the proclivity of the USN to send its ships anywhere. As more US warships become BMD capable, this may become a growing point of irritation. On the other hand, the USN has certainly made accomodations for other countries with specific sensitivities (nuclear carriers in Japan, for example), so there would be some precedent for avoiding provoking Russia. US doesn't have the same kind of relationship with Russia as Japan, though, so I don't really know that we could expect that.
Really, I think that the Russians are just trying to make the US think about it whenever we deploy Aegis ships to the Black Sea. Doubt it will work, unless we really need something from Russia in the short term.