Great Games, Local Conspiracy Theories

by Joshua Foust on 8/6/2012

Feel the smolder!Alexander Cooley is talking about his new book with Harper’s Scott Horton. Let’s see what they talk about:

4. Uzbekistan is known to be in the market for military assistance from the NATO alliance operating in Afghanistan, and seems to be hoping that it will benefit from equipment left behind as allied forces leave the region. What issues does this desire raise, and how should the allies go about addressing them?

The Uzbeks have been pressing for equipment transfers for many years now, ever since negotiations began on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). There are two relevant categories of transfers. The first, official arms purchases from the United States, is subject to special restrictions, including vetting procedures. However, what the Uzbeks are mostly pressing for is the other type of transfer: equipment from the Afghanistan theater that is being left behind. They seem especially interested in helicopters, as well as armored personnel carriers and night-vision equipment. As Karl Eikenberry, a former U.S. ambassador in Kabul, stated at a conference at Columbia University in April, the United States intends to leave behind as much as possible so as to cut down on reverse-transit costs. Uzbekistan clearly perceives an opportunity here.

One of the issues this raises relates to transparency. The U.S. military has been more open about what it will transfer to the Afghan National Army than about its negotiations with the Central Asian militaries. Another issue is whether the Uzbek security services genuinely require strengthening. Are they behaving, both within and outside of their borders, in a manner consistent with international standards? I believe it’s best to have these debates now as opposed to in two years time, when the process is a fait accompli.

Actually, the U.S. has been quite explicit with what it will transfer to Uzbekistan, in particular. In fact, they even wrote a law about it and it’s like, online and stuff.

BILLS 112hr2055enr

The text of the national security waiver for Uzkeistan is neither hard to find nor is it particularly difficult to understand. On page 466 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 7063, posted above, you can see the language that governs this new agreement with Tashkent. After language stipulating the process by which the waiver is granted and how often it must be renewed and how the government will report that to Congress, the bill says very plainly:

Provided, That the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 180 days after enactment of this Act and 12 months thereafter, on all United States Government assistance provided to the Government of Uzbekistan and expenditures made in support of the Northern Distribution Network in Uzbekistan, including any credible information that such assistance or expenditures are being diverted for corrupt purposes…

Provided further, That for the purposes of the application of section 7075(c)to this Act, the report shall be submitted not later than October1, 2012, and for the purposes of the application of section 7076(e)to this Act, the term ‘‘assistance’’ shall not include expanded international military education and training.

As a scholar and professor, Cooley owes himself, his students, his school, and his field basic, like Google-level research on this. It is, literally, against the law for the U.S. to provide Uzbekistan with the equipment Cooley either assumes or asserts they will provide. Cooley, rather than reading what the law specifies will happen, instead has tweeted his beliefs that, somehow, the U.S. government is going to arm Uzbekistan in contravention of every single law that governs our relationship with Tashkent.

That’s not scholarship. It’s not even punditry; that’s just being a hack.

The rest of his interview with Horton is basic and, frankly, not interesting in the slightest. Really, I don’t think he could be any vaguer in his answers. Wow, so governments cynically misuse counterterrorism to achieve abusive domestic policy goals. How novel! I especially like this casual dismissal: “border states will continue to wave the scepter of Taliban spillover to justify security and aid requests.” Take that, Khorog!


You know, it’s strange — government officials are not shy about their plans for the region and what safeguards they are taking to try to limit abuse. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be skeptical that those safeguards won’t be sufficient, or that officials have an unrealistic optimism about how well their plans will work. But Cooley doesn’t do that — rather, he comes off like he never bothered to read a damned thing about it.

In a way, that doesn’t surprise me terribly; after all, the book he is promoting is, basically, about how small powers try to maintain their autonomy and individual foreign policy preferences when larger powers are competing for influence and control. “The rulers of the Central Asian states have all become experts at brokering the interests and needs of external actors and channeling these actors’ resources to their own pockets and patronage networks.”

Congratulations, Professor Cooley, you’ve discovered sovereignty!

Honestly. It’s like watching a child discover the world, only without the wonder of child-like innocence. Blech. Maybe I’ll read Martha Brill LOLcott’s book about how Uzbekistan is basically one big jihad tornado so I can at least feel a little more… oh hell, I give up.

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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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