This B-52 is not a part of the “military aid” the U.S. will provide Uzbekistan.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Obama administration waived a ban on military assistance to Uzbekistan in a move to bolster ties with a nation that is part of a vital supply line to Afghanistan, but was cut off from aid because of alleged human-rights violations…
The U.S.-funded supplies to Uzbekistan wouldn’t include weapons and ammunition, and would be limited to items meant to bolster the country’s border and transportation security. The military equipment would include body armor and other protective equipment, night-vision goggles and thermal-imaging sensors for border-patrol forces, according to officials familiar with the waiver.
In other words, there’s nothing really new here, but now it’s all signed and in action (see my earlier post for the full text of the waiver language and the law governing its usage). The real sticking point is going to be how human rights groups react to the move: unsurprisingly Human Rights Watch is voicing strong objection. In an interview with Uznews, Hugh Williamson, Director of HRW’s of Europe and Central Asia division, said:
This is a fundamentally wrong decision, and sends the wrong signal to Uzbekistan and to the world… The human rights situation has only worsened over the last nine years, and therefore Uzbekistan has done nothing to merit the lifting of these sanctions.
Williamson went on to say that US could have continued to use the transit route through Uzbekistan without lifting its sanctions, which is just not the case (and he would have known that had he spoken with any officials involved in these negotiations).
Officials, too, dispute that the rights situation is worse from 2010-2011. The WSJ quotes a State Department spokesperson as noting that Tashkent has taken some steps to curtail illegal labor trafficking, and released some imprisoned political activists. “We do not want to overstate Uzbekistan’s progress on human-rights issues, but it is appropriate to note positive developments just as we discuss setbacks,” she said.
Such limited praise surely won’t endear the State Department or the U.S. government to human rights activists, who continue to protest the imprisonment of political dissidents (like this small protest about human rights in Paris), and whose reports don’t include any language indicating limited progress on some issues.
So now that Uzbekistan will get night-vision goggles and bullet-proof vests, will the U.S. become complicit in the regime’s abuses? Maybe. Given how ineffective total disengagement was at improving the situation I’m still not sure what the other options are, given the broader strategic priorities the U.S. has in the region (i.e. Afghanistan, which, considering its deadliness and extent, really shouldn’t be discounted in these discussions the way activists usually do). But that doesn’t mean the U.S. government has any better or other options.
This remains the least-bad decision to make going forward, at least until the war in Afghanistan is wound down. Once that happens, there should be an immediate reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Tashkent. But until then, I think everyone needs to grit their teeth and end one war before trying to score points on a neighboring dictatorship.