The Uzbek “Military” Waiver

Post image for The Uzbek “Military” Waiver

by Joshua Foust on 2/2/2012 · 27 comments

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.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Joshua Kucera February 2, 2012 at 9:21 am

Why do you say “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).” Your link doesn’t provide any proof of that. The argument HRW and others are making is that Uzbekistan already benefits heavily from the commercial contracts that the NDN provides, so there’s no need to sweeten the pot any more. I don’t know if that’s true — it requires getting inside Karimov’s head and knowing how he’s making these calculations — but I don’t think you can dismiss it out of hand.

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 9:35 am

You most certainly can dismiss it out of hand. State officials have told me, and I’m sure they’ve told you, that they’re making limited transactional arrangements to keep the Uzbekistan corridor open. That’s a far cry from “sweeting the pot,” as you put.

Secretary Clinton isn’t signing this waiver out of the evilness of her heart, or because of her love of tyranny. She signed it because that needed to happen because the war in Afghanistan takes priority for now. William’s assertion that somehow transit volume could have increased in Uzbekistan without anything more coming from the U.S. is unfounded.

Joshua Kucera February 2, 2012 at 9:53 am

Have State officials told you that restarting FMF is necessary to keep the NDN open? If so, you should push back. There have already been transactional arrangements, in the form of contracts with Uzbekistan shipping companies which, it’s not too hard to imagine, are enriching Karimov’s family members and allies. (Though, we don’t know because the efforts of journalists and Congressional investigators to get details on those contracts have met stiff resistance.) He’s already gotten the prestige boost of a visit from Clinton and a phone call from Obama. So is that not enough? Is FMF a necessary part of the package? As you’re fond of saying: evidence, please.

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 10:33 am

No, Josh, back up a second. Williamson said the US could have continued to use the transit route through Uzbekistan without lifting its sanctions. Do not lose sight of the logic of that statement, as it begs a very specific question: why, then would Secretary Clinton sign this new waiver, if there was no need to? Williamson is saying that the U.S. can get what it wants without giving Uzbekistan anything in return. That’s not only ignorant of how states actually relate to each other, it also requires evidence that Uzbekistan, with no further action from U.S. diplomats, would have permitted an expansion of the NDN through its territory.

Do you have evidence to suggest such a thing? I don’t. And Williamson doesn’t either.

Rather than you demanding I provide evidence that the State Department is doing exactly what they’ve publicly said they’re going to do in Uzbekistan, you should instead be demanding evidence of the activists who insist there is no need for concessions because everything would have worked out anyway. THAT is the assertion needs evidence, not “they are carrying out their stated policy.”

Joshua Kucera February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

The NDN has been operating for two-plus years without FMF. Perhaps reinstating FMF is a condition for Uzbekistan to do something additional, like allow lethal equipment or reverse transit. But if so, we haven’t heard anything about it.

Why would Clinton sign it if it wasn’t necessary? Government officials make poor decisions all the time. I don’t know why you take their claims at face value. I mean, they could be right, but demand evidence. In this case, a plausible explanation for her move is bad bargaining. Obviously, when you’re negotiating with the Uzbekistan government it’s easier to give them what they want rather than keep saying no. Anyway, the available evidence suggests that they were willing to let the NDN operate without FMF. So the burden of proof should be on the people who say FMF is necessary, right?

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

But the NDN has not been operating statically. Its usage has increased dramatically, and the U.S. government is currently seeking to expand it even further while using it to move troops and other forms of equipment through their territory.

When you use your cellphone more than your contract states you’re charged extra for it. I don’t know why you’re assuming idiocy or mendacity on the part of Secretary Clinton for the exact same principle here.

Which means, no, if you’re going to accuse Clinton of mendacity or idiocy you should muster up even a tiny shred of proof. Otherwise you’re literally complaining that a transactional relationship remains transactional, which is not at all the same thing.

Nathan Hamm February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

How much are those transit contracts worth/benefiting Karimov? In addition to people outside the government like HRW, I’ve heard people inside the government talk with the assumption that these transit contracts (are there any significant local procurement contracts?) are incredibly lucrative for Uzbekistan’s government. I haven’t seen compelling evidence to back that up though.

Ian February 10, 2012 at 7:35 am

Radio Free Europe quotes reports that claim $500 million go to Central Asia governments annually for NDN. Not clear whether the Manas $60 million lease is included in that, or just dwarfed by it.

Nathan Hamm February 10, 2012 at 11:19 am

Yeah, I recently saw that. The reporting is a bit ambiguous about who receives that though. My intent is not to split hairs, but the DoD spokesman who gave that figure originally said that it goes to the “Central Asian states,” which in DoD speak, doesn’t necessarily mean the governments. Not that it matters too much in this part of the world. But we still don’t (and probably can’t) know exactly the extent to which the NDN is a big moneymaker.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the lease and the fuel contracts, which have historically been huge, in Kyrgyzstan are part of the figure.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

From “The U.S. is one of the leading advocates in assisting the armed forces of Uzbekistan. With the help of U.S. officials earlier this year, more than 30 computer systems for tactical simulation of conflict have been installed in a specialized center of modeling and simulation.

“These systems have helped us to JCAT tricks like the script,” said
the professor of the Centre during the tour. Education will be used in the future to protect the people of our country, said the instructor.”

Read about JCAT here:

It offers simulation of operations in urban areas. Think Andijan, only better. Beats night googles. This is not harmless.

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am


Reading the actual link to the story, we learn that:

  • This training is focused on border control and counternarcotics;
  • The Uzbek military is chronically under-trained;
  • The Uzbek military faces systemic equipment shortages; and
  • There is no agreement to provide equipment, only a stated desire by Uzbek military officials to get some.

We also learn that they’re referring to 2011, which is not related to this waiver allowing night vision goggles and bullet proof vests for the border guards. So you’re talking about apples and oranges.

Presenting this stuff accurately is really important to understanding what it means and what it doesn’t mean. JCAT is a geospatial modeling system. It doesn’t do combat simulations, it makes maps. Installing a small mapping system for the Uzbeks is not going to create another Andijon.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 10:58 am

My broader misgiving is that military or defense assistance to Uzbekistan runs risk of being used against citizens. Yes, this could happen in any country, be we know Uzbeksistan has a track record of using force against protest. Anything the US waives for Uzbekistan may be used by the state against citizen opponents.

But more on JCATS. It is not mere maps.

“Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) is a high resolution, multi-sided, multi-service, entity level simulation with integrated capabilities used for training, analysis, planning and mission rehearsal. JCATS evolved from a merger of the Joint Tactical Simulation (JTS) and the Joint Conflict Model (JCM) and is capable of supporting training and exercises from the lowest military echelons through the Joint Task Force (JTF) level. Its high-resolution object oriented systems and aggregated units are capable of simulating tactical and a limited number of operational levels of exercise. Although designed to support force-on-force training at the company level and below, JCATS also supports force-on-force combat training at and above battalion level. JCATS supports joint and coalition warfare simulating up to ten sides.”

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

Anon, JCATS is a geospatial model. Its simulations are symbols on a map, for training movements. They did not recreate Battlefield 3 in 1080p with VR helmets here. They’re walking through standard operations on a computer monitor.

Yes, everything has a dual use and the world is scary. That doesn’t make it okay to blow a small-scale computer system out of proportion like this.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 11:15 am

As usual Mr. Foust you are a hairsplit. Dual use is dual use. Uzbekistan is Uzbekistan. You are naive about Uzbekistan.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

In addition, are you positive — do you really know — that anything given to one branch of Uzbek military or security system stays with that branch? Didn’t we see US Humvees in Zhanozhen? How did they get there? Do US gifted items have trackers on them? No.
By focusing on this waiver alone and excepting previous donations from the equation, you miss the picture. The vile (and don’t say they are not) Uzbek regime recieve useful things from the USA.

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am

Of course we don’t know. On the other hand, we don’t know that things given to the military DO wind up in the hands of, say, the SNB. That’s the other side to this — you’re assuming bad things that haven’t happened yet WILL happen, and using that to argue against a policy. That doesn’t make any sense.

And hush about the vileness of the regime. No one disputes, or has ever disputed that. The only debate here is over how to relate to that regime and what the associated costs are.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 11:24 am

But why relate? The latest round of US-Uzbek relations appear premised on needs of US actions in Afghanistan. I see the real-politik requirement. But it is hypocrisy. No good for Uzbek opposition, group or private citizen, can come of it. US gives Karimov’s regime assistance. Material help. It equals aiding an oppressive state. Why do it? The answer serves only US not Uzbek interest.

Joshua Foust February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

Yes and what a scandal that the U.S. government is first and foremost concerned with U.S. interests and needs. How dare they.

But look this policy has come with some minor and symbolic actions from Tashkent. A few prisoners have been released. They have genuinely increased and improved their cooperation on countertrafficking policies. And now U.S. officials travel much more freely through the country to meet with people. It’s not 100% hopeless.

BUT, it’s also not like things were improving with U.S. absence, either. In fact, going by HRW’s own reporting, under the U.S. absence 2005-2011, things got a helluva lot worse. So there’s that to consider as well — what the real consequences of engagement are over time.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm

You are an American patriot, no? I do not fault you as an American for that. It is good for you. But if US needs vile Karimov as a friend, it empowers him. In Washington DC you need not care about this? Do you prioritize US policy over domestic political evolution of indviduals and groups who seek freedom from current Uzbek structures? I think you prioritize US policy. As a US patriot this is good. For others, who seek opportunity for change, no. Small gestures make a total sum. The US would like no upsets in the region. As a patriot you see the US logic in that. It is about status quo in Uzbekistan. It serves US but not others. “It is all about me” – US policy. You deserve a medal.

Joshua Foust February 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

If you have any evidence that this arrangement empowers Karimov to… do something, I guess, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I think you’re working off an awfully big assumption about the ability of the U.S. to really change things in Uzbekistan short of invasion (which no one wants, including activists in Uzbekistan), and badly overestimating what even Uzbek state media say about the U.S. in return.

The two states are not warm friends by any stretch, not even now.

Don Bacon February 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

But until then, I think everyone needs to grit their teeth and end one war before trying to score points on a neighboring dictatorship.

Exactly. There is no human rights violation that in any way compares with war with its killing and destruction. It is not a computer simulation.

Dilshod February 3, 2012 at 12:21 am

Every time “we” run out of arguments, “we” end up with personal attacks.
It somehow seems to me that US policy is not based on zero-sum situations which is more than often assumed in postings.

Justin February 5, 2012 at 5:29 am

The big question that no one seems to ask is: after the final demise of the Karimov regime will the World be faced with yet another fundamentalist Islamic state and the imposition of Sharia? This seems certain to happen sooner or later in Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan. Unfortunately, and I hate saying this, it seems only Karimov may prevent this happening in Uzbekistan.

Don Anderson February 5, 2012 at 11:06 am

For all of the policy dialectics, this is a non event.

The Military Waiver announcement was decided last year. The policy formulation was part of last years “action plan” that State has for each country. The SecState Visit was the precursor. She signed off on it, and reviewed it twice. Too busy for much more. ]

Bokhara? Where is that?

It is neither a master stroke, or a significant one on either side. In the veil of History when Karimov is gone it will be a thorn but not important.

We are back to 2001, and this is the relationship that Karimov wanted with us. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Progress, and All Systems are Go” is the love song of two countries with no major disagreements. To say anything more is to misrepresent in the extreme.

We neither care about the Uzbek situation, nor Karimov as long as the Action Plan and whatever transit is going to be necessary are met.

It is as cynical as the critics portray it, and as neutral as the “reengage the target” crowd declare. It is both. It is of little effect for the very same reasons. It leaves us in the same place, without moving much more than our lips. It meets our ends, and is thus near nothing.

What it is not, is Foreign Policy. In an era where we stand for very little, these meaningless gestures only reinforce the incredible lack of center and focus that our policy in any one country represents. Each Action Plan is purely reactive and thus we never achieve anything and are always behind events as they occur. We are never sure what we want, and thus never get anything right.

Practical and So Very NonEnlightened at the same time.

Andijon yesterday……..Damascus Today and Tashkent tomorrow?
Which is an issue and why and when?

When you stand for something, you are clear about each answer. Until then you are in react mode every day, every briefing, every visit.

Graded out Policy in Uzbekistan 2001-2012: a C for Attendance, D for Comprehension, and an F on the Final Exam.

Guy Fawkes February 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

I have a question for everybody here. Do you think that the US rapprochement with Pakistan means the NDN is going to be eventually scrapped and become irrelevant because of it is not cost-efficient? Or maybe NDN will anyway be kept on the table as an option to stop Pakistan from throwing tantrums and make them acquiesce?

Nathan Hamm February 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

No. What happened with Pakistan only underlines the importance of the NDN. If I’m not mistaken, the latest shutdown of the Pakistan route was the worst that’s taken place to date, but there have been other shutdowns before. The point of the NDN was to have a reliable backup to reduce the ability of Pakistan to disrupt the flow of supplies.

Guy Fawkes February 12, 2012 at 3:02 am

Thank you. I read in one of the Russian websites that the French and some other allies are complaining about how expensive NDN is compared to the Pakistan route. I understand Pakistan route has other risks such as Taliban attacks, etc, the mitigation of which requires additional funds, increasing the costs. Moreover, not everything should come down to dollars and cents, there are human lives to consider. Along with my original concern about NDN’s feasibility my other reservation was that the Uzbek regime may overplay its hand and put too much to ride on NDN. While friendship with the West could be used for propaganda purposes when needed, the regime has nothing to lose from not befriending the west. I doubt allies have enough patience to deal with such a whimsical state.

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