Attention for Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 8/24/2004

The news that US troops are being redeployed from Europe and East Asia is sparking rumors of a new base in Azerbaijan and Azeri officials are doing nothing to dispel the rumors:

Azerbaijani officials are coy on the base question, prompting some local political analysts to say Baku is trying to leverage the issue to achieve a breakthrough on the stalled talks on a Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement.

Speculation over whether the United States would establish a military base in Azerbaijan began almost immediately after US leaders announced August 16 that up 70,000 US troops in Europe and East Asia would be redeployed. Most US soldiers appear headed back to the United States, but some will staff new facilities, in keeping with the Pentagon’s desire to create a more mobile armed forces.

A few days before the announcement, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Baku for hastily arranged talks. The Azerbaijani government provided only a vague description about the discussions. However, Zerkalo, an independent daily newspaper, claimed that a tentative base deal had been reached. “Moreover, the USA is interested in modernizing … military airfields in Azerbaijan,” Zerkalo reported on August 17, without citing a source.

Azerbaijani media have also seized on recent comments attributed to Gen. Charles Wald, the deputy commander for US forces in Europe, who reportedly indicated that US defense officials were considering Azerbaijan, Uganda and the island state of Sao Tome as potential host sites for US rapid deployment forces. According to the Azerbaijani reports, the United States is seeking a base in Azerbaijan to ensure the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and to monitor developments in Iran, which Washington believes is working hard to develop nuclear weapons.

I’m inclined to dowplay news coming from the Azeri press on this unless corroborated by outside reports. This is certainly in the “highly-possible rumor” department and is certainly worth entertaining. Never, by the way, totally dismiss news from the rumor mill in this part of the world–I seem to remember knowing about US troops deploying in Uzbekistan before CNN reported it.

In the same vein of paying attention to the region, it is worth mentioning that the OSCE is paying more attention to Central Asia & the Caucasus. Kazakstan is showing an interest in taking over the rotating chairman position.

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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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