Quite a Big Bed

by Nathan Hamm on 8/6/2004 · 3 comments

I tend to worry about incrasing ties between certain Central Asian states, China, and/or Russia. The latter two states show little concern for human rights or democracy. China is particular, seeks to repackage its repression of Uyghurs as a fight against terrorism* and scores points in Central Asia as an ally in a shared struggle, even encouraging neighbors to cooperate against Uyghurs.

At the same time, I try to keep in mind that there are many signs that the US is not going to be shut out by Central Asian governments even if our role diminishes somewhat. As Russia and China appear to be taking a larger role in Uzbekistan, I get the impression that the US is becoming closer to Kazakstan. (I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find the story I was looking for about military cooperation. Let it be remembered though that Kazakstan sent troops to Iraq and Uzbekistan did not.)

Kazakstan in particular is an interesting case because it has been adept at never getting so close to any of the three major powers that any one in particular is left in the cold. They have skilfully used their oil wealth to build strong ties with the US, China, and Russia and participate in the SCO, major economic and military cooperation with Russia, and, as mentioned, sent a small number of troops to Iraq. Though oil certainly helps, playing all sides seems to keep Kazakstan fairly free to do what it wants.

I have to wonder if Uzbekistan isn’t so much moving towards Russia and away from the US as it is trying to emulate Kazakstan. Recent moves have indicated a sharp turn away from the US. Just look at the following (all from Laurence).

Uzbekistan seeks $1 bln in Chinese loans
Russian investment strengthening ties with Uzbekistan (and making Gulnora Karimova stinking rich). Note that Russia seems more interested in economic investment than strategic presence (so far…).
Russia & Uzbekistan to hold joint maneuvers

Ever since the March bombings, it’s looked like Uzbekistan was thoroughly fed up with the US insistence on “Democracy Now!” and more than willing to turn to Russia. As I’ve said, I worry about the implications of the shift. But, stepping back, one need not be so pessimistic. After all, what foreign countries have military bases in Uzbekistan? Germany and the United States.

And, it looks like there’s a good chance that the US plans to be in Uzbekistan for the long haul (much of the article relates more to Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan).

There are four key factors that expose the deeper U.S. basing strategy in Central Asia. First, Washington wants the continued military access to Afghanistan provided by bases in Central Asia; notably Kharshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan and Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. These supply an important jumping-off point for differing mission requirements in Afghanistan, ranging from search-and-rescue to humanitarian operations. Second, U.S. military-to-military training and support for the Central Asian forces has been increased since 9/11 as the strategic importance of the region has been more fully appreciated. Third, the U.S. global re-basing strategy is facing its largest transformation in scope and structure since the end of the Cold War. Finally, the continued frequency of American military and diplomatic visits to the host countries suggests little indication that American forces will pullout soon. On the contrary, the quantity of fiscal spending, training, and assistance, and the focus on military infrastructure all point to a longer-term commitment of U.S. forces to the region.

As McDermott points out, the “temporary deployment” to Saudi Arabia lasted over a decade.

US military cooperation in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, remains very strong, especially in training and arms sales. While increasing Russian involvement bothers me, I certainly need not entirely despair. So far, Uzbekistan seems willing to continue cooperation with the US as long as we’re willing.

*That’s not to deny that some of the Uyghur opposition is of the Islamist bent, but there’s a large part of it that would be happy to still be part of China but not treated like second-class citizens.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

praktike August 6, 2004 at 1:45 pm

I think these guys are playing the old non-aligned game — flippity-floppety, collect the checks.

As for the basing in Uzbekistan, I think that’s the case. Tom Barnett wrote in his book that he predicted we’d be there for years, and the DoD called him in for a briefing … he thought they were going to upbraid him for going off-message, but instead they asked for a summary of his book.

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