As we head into the new year, it's a good time to take a look at the year that was, and what the upcoming year might offer. While it's a fool's errand to make predictions about what might happen in 2011, several trends over the last year emerged that seem likely to continue to develop over the next year.
The Northern Distribution Network continues to grow both in scope and in importance to the U.S. and NATO war effort in Afghanistan, and there's no reason to expect that to change. For example, the expected completion of the Uzbekistan-built railroad to Mazar-e-Sharif in 2011 will be a boon. What will be interesting to see is whether the U.S. is able to negotiate passage of lethal equipment -- as of now they can only send nonlethal supplies on the NDN, but the Pentagon would like that to change.
The drama over the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan will no doubt continue, and now that a government has been formed in Bishkek it's logical to expect that they will begin to press the U.S. for a renegotiation of the base rental terms.
Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and (to a lesser extent) Turkmenistan have been quite active in building up their militaries, and show no signs of slowing down. The Kazakhstan/Eurocopter joint venture, for example, is scheduled to start producing its first made-in-Kazakhstan helicopters by the end of 2011.
Turkey is betting that Central Asia will be a growing market for its weapons manufacturers, with plans to set up an office in either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan to promote Turkish defense exports, reports Today's Zaman:
Turkey has decided to take yet another step in increasing its defense industry exports by launching three more promotional offices in Europe, Central Asia and the Gulf.
According to information Today’s Zaman received from Defense Ministry sources, Turkey has intensified efforts to that end in the past couple of months. The sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said the country already received an offer from Qatar to establish an office inside the country’s General Staff headquarters, while the remaining two offices will be opened in Belgium and either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan. The first such office was opened in Washington, D.C., last month and retired Air Marshal Maurice Lee McFann was brought as the head of the office in the US capital.
It's telling that Central Asia is included among the far larger defense markets of Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East, and suggests that Turkey foresees a lot of growth there. Turkey's straight defense exports to the region have thus far been pretty scanty, though it is lately setting up a lot of joint ventures with companies in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan, however, is a curious choice for the site of such an office. The Turkmenistan government doesn't announce much about their military procurement plans, but does Turkey know more than the rest of us?
The Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led would-be NATO of the East, has generally focused on physical security threats, e.g. forming a "rapid reaction force" and holding joint military exercises among member militaries (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). But the organization is fighting the information war, as well: Last week CSTO General Secretary Nikolay Bordyuzha announced that it has "revealed" 2,000 objectionable websites across the CSTO space, and is moving to shut them down:
“This operation, which received the name of “PROXI”, was the first experience of fighting against criminals in the virtual space on a scale of the whole CIS,” Mr. Bordyuzha continued. “Thanks to our joint efforts, we’ve revealed about 2 thousand Web resources who spread information which may cause political damage to our states. They stirred national or religious hatred or supplied information for terrorist groupings. On the basis of the data that we’ve collected, about one thousand proceedings have been instituted.”
Bordyuzha is pretty blunt about the political nature of the operation:
“For some time past, practically all post-Soviet republics saw cases when certain political forces widely used Web resources to manipulate people’s moods - Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and, recently, Kirgizstan. Today, some people use the Web to stir nationalistic feelings – or, to calm down people whom they consider to bee too active. In fact, information can be a weapon now....
An information war against terrorism and drug trafficking is no less important than other forms of fighting against these evils. From now, operations to close extremist Web sites will be constantly held.”
What does NATO expansion have to do with the war in Afghanistan? Quite a bit, according to an article in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. In it C.J. Chivers discusses the "arms cascade," by which small arms make their way from richer countries to poorer ones, and rebel groups. The process is familiar to anyone who's pondered the history of a city bus in, say, Kazakhstan, that has stickers on the inside in Norwegian and Hungarian. As with public transportation, countries that upgrade their military equipment sell their secondhand equipment to countries lower down on the geoeconomic food chain. But the arms trade, of course, is a lot more secretive and carries a lot more potential for mayhem.
And in the case of the arms cascade, the causes are as much political as economic. In particular, ex-Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries that are joining NATO get rid of their Soviet/Russian equipment as they buy Western equipment. Those surplus arms have created a glut in the worldwide market:
While human rights advocates in the U.S. have been warning about U.S. cooperation with Uzbekistan over the Northern Distribution Network since the NDN was set up last year, these discussions have been going on much longer in Germany. The German military has used a facility in Termez, on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border, since 2002, as a rear supply base for their NATO troops in northern Afghanistan. But that could be ending. Last week, Germany's foreign minister said his country would start withdrawing troops next year.
Back in 2006, Der Spiegel reported on Germany's involvement in Uzbekistan, and the tension that created between Germany's devotion to human rights and its military strategy:
[H]ow many million Euros should Germany invest in a corrupt country, knowing full well that the population hardly ever benefits from the money? And is it acceptable that the commander of the German air force squadron is even barring German journalists from entering the base -- in response to "discreet pressure from the Uzbeks," as military officials in Potsdam in charge of the Uzbekistan mission coyly explain? Is it acceptable that in banning the journalists, the German military is exempting a mission from public scrutiny that is subject to parliamentary supervision at home?
Berlin's dialogue with the regime in Tashkent is "as immoral as its dialogue once was with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Serbian butcher Slobodan Milosevic or Iraqi criminal Saddam Hussein," says Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbayeva, who fled to the West after barely escaping Andijan with her life.
The long-awaited report from a U.S. congressional committee on fuel contracting at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan has been released, and the findings already well dissected (recommended in particular are the pieces by Deirdre Tynan and Steve LeVine). From the executive summary of the report:
Policy officials at the Pentagon and State Department did little to nothing to assist DLA-Energy [the Pentagon agency in charge of supplying fuel to U.S. military] in oversight of its massive fuel procurement contracts. As long as the flow of fuel met demand, the civilian and military officials at the Department of Defense showed little interest in fuel contracting. The State Department, meanwhile, viewed the fuel contracts as solely a matter for the Pentagon to manage, even when fallout from the contracts badly damaged U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. In short, DLA-Energy, the Pentagon, and State Department all turned a blind eye to the fuel contracts’ serious political, diplomatic, and geopolitical collateral consequences.
But the question I had been most curious about -- how did these shadowy companies, Mina and Red Star, get these billion-dollar no-bid contracts in the first place -- was not answered by the report. I, and I think many people, assumed that the answer had to be that there was some high-level corruption in the Pentagon. Why else would the Pentagon give such a massive contract to such a mysterious company with such shady connections?
Is China giving the Taliban military aid? That's what a British military officer has told Aviation Week:
Chinese advisers are believed to be working with Afghan Taliban groups who are now in combat with NATO forces, prompting concerns that China might become the conduit for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, improved communications and additional small arms to the fundamentalist Muslim fighters.
A British military official contends that Chinese specialists have been seen training Taliban fighters in the use of infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles.
If true, this would be pretty rich, given that the U.S.'s main hardware aid to the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in the 1980s was the same sort of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Another source, this one from the U.S., says that Chinese contact with the Taliban is relatively benign, mainly oriented toward intelligence gathering for use in China's fight against its own restive Muslims on Afghanistan's border, the Uighurs:
Army officials told Aviation Week of an unsuccessful, multi-manpad attack against a U.S. helicopter in Iraq last year, but a senior intelligence official expressed doubt that Chinese aid to the Taliban has included weaponry. But he acknowledges that Chinese activities most certainly include intelligence gathering that could be of use in China’s own internal conflicts with its restive Muslim populations. That analysis could project U.S. hopes, whether well-founded or not, that China will not become involved in weapons trade to insurgent groups.
In a post I wrote a few days ago on the Northern Distribution Network and the Uzbekistan government, I implied that President Islam Karimov had an interest in maintaining whatever corrupt business the Pentagon might be (directly or indirectly) carrying on in Uzbekistan. But this may not be right. As easy as it is to take cheap shots at a guy like Karimov, he is perhaps unique among Central Asian leaders in not being motivated by personal wealth. As I wrote earlier this year for an analysis in Jane's (not online), based on interviews with lots of political types in Tashkent:
Many observers, even strong opponents of Karimov, agree that the president is not himself corrupt, and unlike many Central Asian leaders uses his authoritarian power not for personal enrichment but because he truly believes that Uzbekistan is insecure. Karimov is sheltered, has few trusted confidants and his subordinates are afraid to give him bad news, many believe, and so the president has been unaware of the vast extent of high-level corruption in the country.
Some analysts suggested that the closure earlier this year of Zeromax – the vast holding company associated with his daughter, Gulnara Karimova, was in fact intended to take his daughter down a notch because her actions with it were embarrassing him.
That adds a wrinkle to another point I should have mentioned in that post. Noting that one of the recent WikiLeaks cables referred to Karimova as “the single most hated person in the country,” a piece on the New Yorker website suggests that the Pentagon throwing its lot in with Karimova – as it may be doing via the NDN business – would then obviously reflect badly on the U.S.:
Well, the Mistral deal between France and Russia that everyone was so exercised about – especially Georgia – has gone through, and barely anyone noticed. As far as I can tell, none of the big English-language Georgian news sites have any notice of it. And this despite the fact that the news is not just a formality – the French agreed to include the various equipment that would make the ship dangerous, not just a shell of a ship. But as the blog Evolutsia.Net wrote, the response was “crickets chirping”:
The glaring incompatibility of the Mistral deal with Paris’ frequent lecturing on human rights and such has been qualified in the past with assurances that the warships would be sold ‘bare,’ or without the advanced equipment and electronics that really help make the Mistral the capable platform that its considered to be.
Russia seemed content with this for awhile, but last March it changed its requirements mid-course and demanded that the Mistrals be delivered with all the goodies intact. France, to its credit, held firm as long as it could. Unfortunately, ‘as long as it could’ lasted only until now.
Reported Defense News:
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Dec. 9 on a visit to Moscow that France was ready to transfer military technology if it won a tender to supply Russia with Mistral warships.
“There is no question about the technology transfer, no problem regarding technology transfers,” Fillon said at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.