US & Russia Block NATO Call for Andijon Inquiry

by Nathan Hamm on 6/14/2005 · 5 comments

Who’s manning the helm of US policy on Uzbekistan?

Given State & Defense’s long-running dispute between/inability to send the same message–a problem recently highlighted by the USCIRF–it seems pretty obvious that nobody is.

One would have hoped that this problem would have been at least partially addressed over the past month. It hasn’t.

Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government’s shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

British and other European officials had pushed to include language calling for an independent investigation in a communique issued by defense ministers of NATO countries and Russia after a daylong meeting in Brussels on Thursday. But the joint communique merely stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan,” had been discussed.

The outcome obscured an internal U.S. dispute over whether NATO ministers should raise the May 13 shootings in Andijan at the risk of provoking Uzbekistan to cut off U.S. access to a military air base on its territory.

The communique’s wording was worked out after what several knowledgeable sources called a vigorous debate in Brussels between U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers.

Look, the investigation doesn’t have that much concrete meaning to Uzbeks in and of itself. It does have tremendous value in that it forces the Uzbek government to shit or get off the pot–it helps us find out if they value the west enough to give ground to our interest in political and economic reform.

I found this link via Sean-Paul who says that we need to build ties with Uzbek civil society. I go another couple steps and think that military and government ties are worth building as well. But, we don’t need to pussyfoot around and worry endlessly about hurt feelings to do this.

I suppose the guys at the Pentagon feel that they are just doing their job to ensure the success of the mission in Afghanistan. To an extent they would have a point. But, you know, the State Department kind of has the policy end of things down already and they should be allowed to do their job. Yes, there are potential costs–money, convenience, and bliateral ties–to pressing for an investigation. There is not any guarantee that we would necessarily have to pay them though especially if Russia was willing to allow the call for an investigation to be included. The walls are closing in on Uzbekistan, and the Department of Defense’s silly “this is the wrong venue to make our policy clear” argument conveniently ignores that our military relationship is probably the most important lever we have with Uzbekistan. Even worse, the department’s continuing foray into making foreign policy (for which Bush deserves blame for not stopping at least a year ago) has handed Uzbekistan’s government breathing.

What’s at stake is the entire region. The success of all of Central Asia is much more dependent on Uzbekistan’s success than Afghanistan’s. Not that the latter needs to be disregarded, but that trading one for the other–and that’s exactly the risk we’re running–is shortsighted and foolish.

Update: Smash has a roundup of reaction.

If I have anything to add to what I’ve already written, it’s that–and this is probably obvious to most readers–I think the base should be kept in place because it offers lots of potential for twisting arms. But, like I said, we should not bend over backwards to keep it in place. We should not be worrying about upsetting the Uzbek government. Frankly, they should worry about offending us (which means there actually need to be consequences for offensive behavior). And we really should not be allowing ourselves to enter a situation in which the Department of Defense starts making foreign policy on its own.

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This post was written by...

– 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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Mark June 14, 2005 at 3:39 pm

Hey I thought this was ‘Nathan and the Bush boys’.

Actually, I think the ‘Bush Doctrine’ is a good idea but the excution has been less than stellar.

Robert June 14, 2005 at 5:56 pm

Great post Nathan — telling it like it is. The idealistic democracy doctrine needs an approach that is real and implemented well, but the the DoD is more interested in its influence in policy and its budget. Bush definitely should have reigned in on this and set the priorities straight early on. These things just don’t work themselves out automatically.

TC June 16, 2005 at 12:03 am

In theory, if the US supported Civil Society more in Uzbekistan, it would be a step in the right direction. In practice, Civil Society in Uzbekistan is a farce. It is neither civil nor society–discussed! I liken it to the dotcom era. The INGOs function (ed) as the venture capitalist. The local NGOs are/were the dotcoms (ala Tashkent was Silicone Alley. Essentially, all of these local NGO Directors went to these seminars in the capital just to be seen. A vast majority of these ‘Civil Society’ leaders don’t have a clue what ‘Civil Society’ is. (The ones that I know of who do, I can count on one hand.) They are mainly displaced, Russified members of the nomenklatura who: a) have a deep-seeded contempt of the Uzbek people, who they claim to advocate and represent (at least to the Western INGOs anyway) and b) are just in it strictly for the money. In light of the restrictions imposed on the local NGOs (via the Women’s Committee and Banking Board presiding over grants), and the virtual exile of the INGOS who essentially bankroll Civil Society in Uzbekistan, the sector has only a handful of months left (at best). In a dysfunctional way, the preventative restrictions that the Uzbek government has imposed on the Civil Society are going to backfire. If anything, it will invigorate Civil Society and make it into the functional opposition faction that it should be. So once Civil Society in Uzbekistan becomes a real one, the US can rally behind it, and their will be the possibility of reform in our lifetime.

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