RAND on US Assistance to Uzbekistan

by Nathan Hamm on 1/12/2007 · 10 comments

In a recent post on Afghanistan, Josh mentioned the RAND Corporation’s assessment of US security assistance to Afghanistan. That was one section of a larger assessment of US security assistance to repressive and transitioning regimes that included a chapter on US assistance to Uzbekistan.

RAND finds that US security assistance to Uzbekistan has had mixed results. Some programs have had results, while others appear to have been wasted efforts. The report identifies three factors that determined success. First, long-standing programs have borne more fruit than newer ones. Second, efforts that began when Uzbekistan was eager for US support have been more effective. Third, programs that teach specific skills with practical application have been most effective. And it may be that the third factor is most important as RAND identifies all three as having contributed to the success of counterproliferation and export control programs, while it notes that new programs that have taught specific skills have also been successful. The reports also claims US success in improving Uzbekistan’s legal framework so that it better reflects international norms and raising awareness of human rights, transparency, and accountability issues. RAND stresses that the assistance has not improved practices except for with individuals and at the margins of the security apparatuses, most notably the border guards. In fact, they call the record here, “disheartening,” but the rhetorical changes are cited as noteworthy.

RAND identifies serious problems with US security assistance to Uzbekistan. 9/11 led to an expansion of the bilateral relationship, but also to a a change in emphasis on the US side. Assistance shifted away from training to providing more equipment to the Uzbeks. Also, coordination between different programs and oversight of programs deteriorated. They also note that the applicability of the Leahy Law is inconsistently understood, and that because the law is, as a quoted congressional staffer characterizes it, “convoluted,” US staff tends to ignore the letter of the law in favor of the spirit. Some of those interviewed say that coordination between programs has improved over the past four years. I would venture that this is at least in part due to different government agencies finally starting to act like they are working from the same play book on Uzbekistan policy.

RAND’s assessment of US assistance to Uzbekistan is the most sober and thorough that I have read, and hopefully its suggestions will be taken to heart by policymakers responsible for potential future security programs assistance to Uzbekistan. RAND says that the US should not expect significant improvement from Karimov’s government, but that “assistance should continue where there is potential to lay the groundwork for change without doing harm” and that the US should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise to improve the transparency, effectiveness, and accountability of Uzbek security forces.

The report makes specific suggestions, some of which appear below:

  • The US should restructure or reduce, if not eliminate altogether, ineffective programs or ones that are likely to support greater repression. Toward that end, assistance should only come if security forces disassociate anti-opposition activities from counterterrorism efforts.
  • The US should emphasize the need for implementation of positive legal changes. The report says that there are real chances for implementation focuses on specific skills.
  • The US should make aid conditional on transparency, accountability, and human rights, and the key criterion should be to avoid doing harm.

In a nutshell, RAND finds very slim chances for US security assistance to have an impact given the current political realities in Uzbekistan. The report does find though that even in hostile environments, progress can be made, and that the US should be prepared to take advantages of opportunities in Uzbekistan with reformulated and retargeted assistance.

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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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Laurence January 13, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Isn’t this the RAND report that Soros paid for? I think it was the one announced on Eurasianet, which Soros also pays for…

If so, I imagine the RAND authors wouldn’t say too much the sponsor didn’t want to hear–so might suggest the study and conclusions be taken with a grain of salt…

Nathan January 13, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Yep, OSI commissioned it. Yet they said that US security assistance toward Uzbekistan has been effective in some ways. It strikes me as consistent with what has been said in a wide variety of places before, but it’s all collected together here. And it’s based on interviews with the people who ran the programs, which makes it more valuable than many other assessments.

Plus, isn’t RAND fairly well-respected? Goodness knows why they’d want to diminish their reputation just to make the sponsor of one of their reports happy.

Laurence January 14, 2007 at 5:24 am

Well, on the Eurasianet site, it seemed to say that the report argued that Afghanistan was in better shape than Uzbekistan. Even from a “human rights” or “humanitarian” perspective, that struck me as hard to believe. Even on Registan, from our own Jonathan Foust, I read how awful the situation is in Afghanistan–constant violence, warlords, rise in Islamist extremism, rise in opium production, NATO bombing civilians, etc. The Taliban on the rise. While reporting from Uzbekistan seems to indicate authoritarian repression has kept the country out of war, despite the best efforts of Islamist extremists. Interviewing people who run programs may provide some interesting data, but can’t give the whole story. Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, plus self-interested testimony raises more questions. Sort of like giving yourself your own grade.

I agree with you that RAND’s acceptance of sponsored funding for research projects may have diminshed RAND’s reputation.

Laurence January 14, 2007 at 9:39 am

I’m sorry Joshua, of course it’s our own JOSHUA FAUST, not Jonathan Faust…

Nathan January 14, 2007 at 9:52 am

The report says that US assistance to Afghanistan has had more positive effects on government forces, but that it has not made them terribly effective.

Your right that the interviews can’t tell the whole story. Read the report. RAND admits that because of the way the programs were run, the best one can do is a qualitative assessment.

And for the record, I don’t think this report diminishes their reputation or that they came up with the conclusions OSI wanted to hear.

Laurence January 14, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Well, I’ll read the whole thing, as you suggest. I don’t think whatever it says (which sound dubious from the Eurasianet summary) changes the fact that the main job of government military forces is to supress extremists and terrorists. Based on what I’ve read from Joshua Foust in Registan, one would have to conclude that Uzbek forces must have done a better in that respect than Afghan ones, if only because Uzbekistan is more stable than Afghanistan. Whatever RAND/Soros says, the fact is that innocent civilians have been killed and tortured in Afghanistan–by Americans and NATO troops as well as Afghan government forces. Effectiveness matters. Ineffective government forces that respect human rights but fail to defeat the enemy are no help–for the enemy does not respect human rights. If a civilian is blown up by a Taliban bomb, the civilian is still dead; if the civilian is tortured by an Al Qaeda cell, the civilian has still been tortured. Human rights are harmed by a failure to win, as much as by actually doing the torturing–IMHO, perhaps more so. Securing human rights demands more than just keeping one’s own hands clean–it requires decisively defeating the declared enemies of the Rights of Man.

Laurence January 14, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Nathan, I looked over the Uzbekistan section, and glanced at the rest. In El Salvador, one result of increasing human rights training for police was a crime wave that has not subsided. In Afghanistan, it’s pretty inconclusive. In Uzbekistan, it actually reads like the programs work fine–just that the authors put in references to Andijan that are at best misleading, if not manifestly untrue. It wasn’t a jailbreak that turned into a demonstration–demonstrations had been going on peacefully for days beforehand. The armed guerrillas who took hostages used the demonstrators as human shields in the hope that police would not shoot. They guessed wrong. When I see that Seth Jones and his RAND report gives the Soros party line on Andijan, I’m not sorry that I suggested the authors wouldn’t want to offend their sponsors. There is nothing in the report that George Soros wouldn’t agree with–though Igor Rotar, Mjusa Sever, and Shirin Akiner might present different accounts. So, I’ll stick by my initial reaction–this report damages RAND’s credibilty (in my eyes, if not yours). And I say this as someone who grew up in the former home of RAND’s vice-president in Santa Monica, Californa; has eaten at Chez Jay, and known a number of former RAND reserachers who were and are brilliant.

It was interesting to read that Seth G. Jones co-authored a RAND study called Building a Successful Palestinian State: Security. So, Nathan, my conclusion is this: I’ll believe Seth Jones, RAND’s and OSI’s recommendations for Uzbekistan–once I see their successful Palestinian state…

Brian January 15, 2007 at 12:58 pm

Well that assumes that the parties involved follow the RAND recommendations, correct?

Nathan January 15, 2007 at 11:59 pm

Laurence, the report does say that effectiveness is important. But they also say that transparency and human rights are important. They acknowledge that at least some of the US programs in Uzbekistan have been effective, but they are not being adequately assessed to determine whether or not they are harming or hurting other important goals. They say that assistance should go forward if possible, and don’t discount the importance of small achievements. Goodness knows whether or not Soros would agree with that. He never really talks about US policy toward Uzbekistan. But their position hardly strikes me as one shared by the harsher critics of US engagement with Uzbekistan.

Brian II January 16, 2007 at 7:31 pm

Yeah, I don’t see where ripping Soros for funding a slanted report adds any value. I read the report, and it seems to be more or less a summary of the assistance to date, with little on commentary.

As an aside, there are a number of younger people in the government in Uzbekistan who have participated in both direct USG funded assistance programs (more on rule of law) and on Soros funded programs. The information I have is that both programs have added significant value to these peoples’ understandings of how rule of law (including human rights but also government transparency) can lead to a stable, functioning government.

These people are certainly going to come back to the US for further assistance when the current regime passes on – perhaps even sooner – so taking pot-shots at how one program is slanted right and another is slanted left shows that there still exists a sizable contingency of pundits that really care less about the overall positive impact of USG (or private)-assistance programming to Uzbekistan, and more about their own domestic political agenda.

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