Possible US Sanctions on Uzbekistan

by Nathan Hamm on 5/9/2006 · 15 comments

John McCain and Chris Smith have introduced bills that would impose sanctions against Uzbekistan. McCain’s specifically targets Uzbekistan while Smith’s would only impose sanctions against Uzbekistan but also promote democratization across the region. Under either bill, Uzbek officials would be subject to a travel ban, assets would be frozen, and there would be a ban on weapons exports.

I am unable to find the text of either bill, but Smith mentioned the legislation today at Carnegie’s conference on Uzbekistan. His Central Asia bill seeks to bring greater consistency to US policay and would:

  • Provide $118 million for human rights and democracy training
  • Provide an additional $15 million for RFE/RL and VOA broadcasts to the region
  • Establish a certification procedure for distributing assistance to each government that determines whether or not each government has made human rights improvements. It would, however, include a national security waiver as in the Foreign Ops appropriations for Kazakhstan.
  • Require the State Department to report whether not regional government are “forcibly returning Uzbeks or other refugees who have fled violence and political persecution.”

On the matter of sanctions against Uzbekistan, he says,

Notably, my new legislation will create a sanctions section for Uzbekistan. First, the bill concretizes into law the limitations already in place in Foreign Ops appropriations. The limitation prevents funding to the Uzbek Government unless the Secretary of State determines the government is “making substantial and continuing progress” towards respect for human rights and that the Uzbek Government begins a “credible international investigation” of Andijon.

In addition, the new Act mirrors EU sanctions by establishing a visa ban and an export ban on munitions. The sanctions section also establishes an asset freeze for Uzbek officials, their family members, and their associates implicated in the Andijon massacre or involved in other gross violations of human rights.

I hope there is an expiration date on the legislation because the “credible international investigation” is not going to happen and it has been abundantly clear that it won’t for the better part of the last year.

Overall, I am eager to applaud anything that focuses and harmonizes US policy in Central Asia. Something better than what sometimes seems like feeling our way along in the dark would be a welcome change. I am, however, always cautious about anything that smacks of moral posturing. It is hard to see what sanctions on Uzbekistan could accomplish. On the other hand, it is hard to see any room for relations to get any worse.

UPDATE: IHT has a longer story on the possible sanctions.

UPDATE II: RFE/RL has a longer story up now.


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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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{ 14 comments }

Brian May 9, 2006 at 8:10 pm

Glad to hear about an asset freeze. That’s giving it some teeth. I know that most accounts are probably in the Middle-East, Cyprus, Russia or places like that, but it’s a pretty hefty punch nonetheless. Like what was mentioned after the EU sanctions, perhaps this could upset the ruling elites enough to stir up the pot a bit? Anyone with a frozen account would not be too happy at Karimov, I’d presume.

James May 9, 2006 at 9:08 pm

I attended this event, and will have a summary up on uzbekistan.neweurasia.net in a day or so with some more details. Very interesting day….

Rustam May 10, 2006 at 3:18 am

Senator McCaine – “Uzbekistan is not part of our coalition, nor is it a partner of the United States, and our policy toward that country must recognize this reality. America has rightly put ever greater emphasis on the promotion of human rights abroad, and Andijan poses a clear test. Tashkent’s actions are clearly inimical to our security interests, and they fly in the face of our efforts to promote freedom and democracy abroad. I believe that, as Americans, we cannot stand silent in face of such abuses as we have seen in Uzbekistan”.
I could not say better!!!!!
This is the America that Uzbekistan, its people have been waiting for a long long time!!!

Rustam May 10, 2006 at 3:25 am

Senator McCaine’s “Andijan Accountability Act of 2006” bill – http://mccain.senate.gov/_files/CRA06731_xml.pdf

Laurence May 10, 2006 at 3:40 am

Well, such sanctions might backfire against the US, not only helping Russia and China, but also helping Al Qaeda and its Islamist extremist allies, at least according to this report about Abu Musab al Suri’s “Muslims in Central Asia and the Future Battle of Islam” published by the SITE institute:

“Muslims in Central Asia and the Future Battle of Islam,” a twenty-seven page white paper authored by Abu Musab al-Suri AKA Musatafa Setmarian Nasar in November 1999, advocates jihad in the states of East Turkistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and the capture of resources. This document is circulated amongst other archived al-Suri materials, such as his 1,600 page book International Islamic Resistance Call , and an assortment of terrorist training lectures, currently placed on a hacked directory of the website, “Meat’s Joke of the Day,” http://www.mjotd.com . Abu Musab al-Suri writes historically of the Soviet invasion of Central Asia, the strategic importance of the area in terms of natural resources, industrial institutions, Islamic capitals, commercial market, and the “military vigor” of the Muslims in this region.

As this document is written in 1999, al-Suri references the success of the Afghan jihad and the availability of the Taliban regime for providing assistance and experience to the mujahideen in Central Asia, spearheading a “rejoicing Islamic and Jihadi arousal”. The states of this region are purportedly subjected to a “vehement crusading invasion,” formerly occupied by the Russians, but now open to economic invasion by the West, including heavy financial investments. Al-Suri summarizes aggression against Muslims in addition to the aforementioned, highlighting “hostile policy” and armed clashes. He cites arrests and confrontations in Tajikstan and Uzbekistan to illustrate rancor by these governments towards the mujahideen and Muslims.

Concerning the importance of jihad in Central Asia and reasons for its priority, Abu Musab al-Suri explains that in the new global order, this region is the “weakest spot of the enemy,” and may be a prudent epicenter for operations. He notes the natural geography of the countries, and the “the military inheritance, including equipment, structures and ammunition of the [former] Soviet Union that has accumulated in this region is a military resource and an inheritance that the people of Islam cannot even dream of finding elsewhere”. Importantly, al-Suri advocates the possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the hands of Central Asian Muslims because they will not be able to wage a successful “classical war” against the West. The weapons are to be used for threatening and casting fear amongst the enemy. Further, the document reads: “The developed state of the industries and the existence of raw materials for these weapons make Central Asia a base, as well as the subject of the Muslims’ hope, for possessing these weapons”.

Media reports indicate that a suspect believed to be Abu Musab al-Suri was captured in Quetta, Pakistan during the beginning of November 2005. Abu Musab al-Suri, AKA Mustafa Setmarian Nassar, or Umar Abd al-Hakim, is an al-Qaeda operative who ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and instructs in poison and chemical warfare. On November 18, 2004, the U.S. State Department offered a $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Al-Suri, meaning “The Syrian,” was indicted in Spain in 2003 for allegedly training al-Qaeda sleeper cells for deployment in Spain, Italy, and France and is believed to have masterminded the Madrid train bombings in March 2004.

Dolkun May 10, 2006 at 5:23 am

My knowledge of Iranian history is patchy at best. But does anyone else see a parallel between the U.S. pre-revolution backing a repressive, secular ruler for strategic interests? In the case of Iran, clearly not a sustainable policy, and one wonders had the U.S. pushed for democratic reforms when the Shah was still in, whether his successors might have toned down the whole “Death to America” thing.

Michael May 10, 2006 at 6:31 am

I very much like Dolkun’s parallel. In the event that sanctions are adopted, are they necessarily a good thing? It seems to me that while it may be easy and morally satisfying for the US govt to hurl abuse at the Karimov regime the Uzbek govt has enough reason (post Abu Ghraib and Khanabad, and as Dolkun points out, Iran) simply to suffer the sanctions as yet another example of US double-standards.

It may be that if the sanctions take effect that it will hasten the end of the regime, and there will be many who will applaud that as an end in itself. But there doesn’t seem to be any appealing substitute (and there are some -to a Western liberal democratic eye – to be even less appealing). I see Uzbekistan’s geo-political role as being absolutely crucial to the West, and our recent track-record in Afghanistan and Iraq of inducing regime-collapse as opposed to regime-change makes it all the more important that we are diplomatically sensitive.

I do not mean to advance a “better-the-devil-you-know” argument. I simply don’t think it is realistic that sanctions are going to persuade the Karimov regime to adopt more open government and promoted human rights (and a cynic might suggest that they are not supposed to). I do think, however, that some form of limited engagement might.

elizabeth May 10, 2006 at 7:33 am

Good point Dolkun which leads me to two thoughts:

1. Backing for strategic interests is not a unique thing nor exclusively American. It’s the reality of what States do. I’m not saying it’s the morally right thing, but the reality. There’s always the “greatest good” argument (which I am well aware really diminishes the individual).

2. Winning or reforming with some carrots might have more merit than sticks at this point. Is it even plausible that sanctions from the west would have behavior altering impact especially when Russia or China are in the neighborhood? just some thoughts…

jonathan p May 10, 2006 at 8:37 am

Laurence, does Abu Musab al-Suri also write about the average Central Asian (former Soviet) person’s recent history of complete disinterest in anything resembling mass disorder and radical Islamic military action? Just wondering.

Regarding Dolkun’s idea:
The Iran situation was laden with Cold War fears. US policy makers were afraid that anyone other then their man the Shah would take away our cheap access to Iranian oil and side with the USSR. (Don’t forget there was a fairly robust Communist/Socialist movement in Tehran back in the day.)

Anyway, the fact is that Iran did produce a popularly elected leader (Musaddiq/Mossadegh), but after he led a move to nationalize Iran’s oil industry and take control of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he was promptly removed by a CIA/British operation and the Shah was reinstated. So that was that. Maybe if the US and Britain hadn’t been so concerned with their own short-term interests the shah’s radical cleric successors might have toned down the whole “Death to America” thing.

I wonder: What is the point of sanctions against Karimov? Are we just lashing out in frustration here? McCain’s comments seem to indicate he wants to take action based on principle. That’s nice. I hope it works. But…

IMHO, sanctions, etc., are hardly going to drive him back into our loving arms. If anything, they’ll push him closer toward China and Russia. And then I’ll have to listen to my mother-in-law tell me how evil and mean-spirited America is and how Karimov is just trying to keep the country stablized so she and the other hard-working people of Uzbekistan can live and work in peace.

Rustam, I know a few young people (especially in the big cities) who feel the way you do about IAK and his cronies, but I’m afraid that most “average” people in Uzbekistan are OK with things as they are, just as long as they can keep their private gardens and afford to buy bread, sugar and oil.

Rustam May 10, 2006 at 8:56 am

I don’t think that call for democracy in the Shah’s period would stop the revolution because as it is well known it all started with the 1953 CIA organised coup against democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh for his nationalization of Iranian Oil Industry. This US action won enemies from the side of secular Iranian political establishment and then plus to this is the policy of supporting Shah’s brutal regime, especially Savak – secret service which killed and tortured thousands in Iran, the resentment to Savak and disgust to the Shah, his lavish lifestyle while Iranians in general were desperately poor, and the US Foreign Policy towards him was used masterfully by Ayatollah. And all this at the same time when US was selling arms to Saddam and Iran, by doing so fuelling Iraq-Iran war which took lives of thousands and supporting Saddam in his repression of shias in Iraq.
Parallel – Yes, until recently the situation was quite similar, with the exception of coup, but there were so called “extraordinary rendition” flights to Uzbekistan and millions USD to the “law enforcement”, SNB and MVD which in the similar way to Savak, perhaps more brutal then Savak, were and continue to kill political dissidents and believers, intelligence partnership between the CIA and SNB as well as the hugs and kisses between Colin Powel and Rumsfeld for relieving Karimov from IMU who wanted to burn him alive.
Will we hear in Uzbekistan slogans -“death to America” – I don’t think so, history of Uzbekistan, culture are different and with these moves from the US side that we are following now a lot could be improved for sure. Besides, Uzbek people are very practical people for them it is home, family and food on the table in the first place not ideology, and everyone is well aware about the Afghanistan, Uzbeks automatically think about Afghans when You talk about Iran and Pakistan and they don’t like to live like Afghans, image is the devastating poverty, dust, afghan wind, narcotics and continued war. Besides everyone thinks of US as a counterbalance to Russian chauvinism and now Chinese dominance. Furthermore, now if You look at how many Uzbeks live in US and how many of them are thankful that they are able to work and send money to their families, You better understand that it will never likely to happen.
And sanctions, freeze on accounts and assets, are not there to alter behaviour of the Karimov or his killers, it is there to destabilise the regime, to support, facilitate coup d’Etat in his palace, to loosen his grip on law enforcement, so the next time when he gives orders to shoot at the people the law enforcement will turn the gun on him and his clan. Sanctions are there to show Uzbeks that it is time to demonstrate and fight for their rights and freedoms and that they are not alone in the world.

Rustam May 10, 2006 at 9:14 am

Jonathan – I don’t really think that in general population does not care. Agree that there are like me who are eager to see him in jail, at least, but the resentment in the general population is very high, they need and waiting for mass meetings, some kind of a spark. In Andijon everyone thought the same way, that no one will come out but what happened everyone knows, everyone knows what was said that day by elderly, women and men. Situation got out of the hand of the government very fast, local government and law enforcement disappeared immediately they needed Tashkent to support them. Now imagine what happens if this Andijon will happen in 2-3 places simultaneously.
When it comes to Your mother in law, the same situation was with me and my grandfather, he always used to tell me “don’t talk about politics”, kind of Uzbek saying – “it is better to be hungry but live in peace”. But I resisted him and now he agrees with me, however, I agree with You there is general sentiment among elderly, they are by their nature more peace loving but they are old and the future of this country is not as vital for them as it is for the younger generation who will live there for another 40 years at least, and my grandfather does recognise this, now it is more like – let them fight for their future we have lived all what we deserve.
What I would like to ask everyone here though is what do You propose, You don’t like McCaine bill and toughening of rhetoric and think about Putin and China but what do You say to people in Uzbekistan, should Karimov keep on ruling unconstitutionally and keep on killing people, don’t You think that if we will keep on this way tomorrow or day after tomorrow for sure we will here DEATH TO AMERICA!!!

Brian May 10, 2006 at 10:36 am

Jonathan and Elizabeth,

I don’t think the point right now is to force Karimov back into our loving embrace. I think the die is cast and Karimov has chosen his backers in Russia and China for the remainder of his presidency.
Unless we make our carrots ridiculously big and juicy (which would make America look like even bigger human-rights/democracy hypocrites in the world), I don’t think there’s any way that Karimov is going to believe that the West is a better guaranteer of the security of his regime than Russia and China.
I think the point of these targeted sanctions (along with providing McCain some airtime) is to cause consternation amongst the political elites in Tashkent.

Russia and China might be fine allies, but how many of the elites send their kids to America or Europe (using money that is stolen from the Uzbek people)? How many go there for vacations or medical checks? Well, this will clearly make things uncomfortable for them. Some will question the course they are on.

Jonathan, as far as your mother in-law (I can relate… man that can be frustrating), just tell her that these are targeted sactions, and shouldn’t directly affect the Uzbek people.

Dolkun May 10, 2006 at 6:37 pm

I’ll just expand on the point I was trying to make. The point of sanctions is to give a clear sign of which side the imposer is on. This can also be strategic and realist, not only idealist. I’d argue that it’s broader strategic thinking than backing a specific leader, which actually could be interpreted as a tactical move.

In Iran, the perception was that the Cold War would not end in the foreseeable future. Now, the world has come to understand that changes do happen.

Rustam said “This is the America that Uzbekistan, its people have been waiting for a long long time!!!” If this is true, and one believes that Karimov is not immortal, then it may be strategically smarter for the U.S. to take a consistent position with moral underpinnings.

jonathan p May 11, 2006 at 7:09 am

Contrary to the impression I may have given in my previous post, I have to say that, when push comes to shove, I’d rather have a government that takes a stand on principle than on expediency (or at least appears to do that). And so I actually support a tougher stance on Karimov’s Uzbekistan.

What I am wary of, however, are those who might expect the kind of action proposed by McCain and Smith to result in positive change insofar as the short-term interests of the US are concerned. The fact is, the effect may be a negative one from a purely selfish US-centric point of view. And, truth be told, things could get even uglier inside Uzbekistan as well. Time will tell.

People need to be realistic about how much worse things couold get in the short term. The bright side, should the US take a stand on the side of human rights, government accountability, etc., is that there’s a chance the Uzbek people will reject the despotism model of government they have for so long been willing to accept in exchange for security.

Rustam, I hope you’re right about the younger generation.

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