Tag: Kyrgyzstan

Yes, Steve, Kyrgyzstan is Important

Is it crazy to think that “the situation in Kyrgyzstan has a critical bearing on US national security?” Steve Walt thinks so:

The first sentence of the announcement informed me that “the situation in Kyrgyzstan has a critical bearing on American national security.” As my teen-aged daughter would say: “OMG!” Did you know that your safety and security depends on the political situation in…. Kyrgyztan?” Yes, I know that the air base at Manas is a critical transit point for logistics flowing into Afghanistan, but otherwise Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished country of about 5 million people without significant strategic resources, and I daresay few Americans could find it on a map (or have any reason to want to). It is only important if you think Afghanistan’s fate is important, and readers here know that I think we’ve greatly exaggerated the real stakes there. (And if we’re heading for the exits there, as President Obama has said, then Kyrgyzstan’s strategic value is a stock you ought to short.)

I’m not trying to make fun of the Hudson Institute here, but the idea that we have “critical” interests in Kyrgystan just illustrates the poverty of American strategic thinking these days. Even now, in the wake of the various setbacks and mis-steps of the past decade, the central pathology of American strategic discourse is the notion that the entire friggin’ world is a “vital” U.S. interest, and that we are therefore both required and entitled to interfere anywhere and anytime we want to. And Beltway briefings like this one just reinforce this mind-set, by constantly hammering home the idea that we are terribly vulnerable to events in a far-flung countries a world away. I’m not saying that events in Kyrgyzstan might not affect the safety and prosperity of American a tiny little bit, but the essence of strategy is setting priorities and distinguishing trivial stakes from the truly important. And somehow I just don’t think Kyrgyzstan’s fate merits words like “vital” or “critical.”

I don’t have a problem with Walt arguing that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, that massive strategic retrenchment is in America’s interests. Those are rather crucial issues issue over which reasonable people disagree. But the United States is, in fact, currently fighting a war in Afghanistan. As long as we are, the “essence of strategy” is precisely to identify assets that are vital to that effort — such as one of the very few major logistical routes into the theater of war — and then treat them as important.

Beyond that it is simply irrelevant if country of interest is impoverished, if the average American can’t find it on the map, or it doesn’t contain strategic resources other than its geographical position. Imperial Britain didn’t prioritize the disposition of South Africa because of its diamonds, Egypt because of its cotton, or Gibraltar because of its sunny Mediterranean coast. They mattered because of their location.

Image source: The Map as History

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The US keeps coming back for more…

US and Kyrgyz negotiators reach a deal on Manas:

Kyrgyzstan said on Tuesday it would temporarily allow the US to continue using a military air base on its territory that is critical to coalition forces fighting the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Kadyrbek Sarbayev, the Kyrgyz foreign minister, said Washington had agreed to more than triple the rent for use of the Manas base, a transit hub used for refuelling aircraft carrying troops to Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan gave the US six months to vacate Manas last February after accepting a promise of $2bn of financial assistance from Russia which objects to the presence of US troops in former Soviet central Asia.

Mr Sarbayev said a one-year agreement signed with the US would increase annual payments for use of Manas to $60m from $17m. The US would also provide $67m to improve the airport and contribute funds to combat drug trafficking and terrorism in Kyrgyzstan.

Did we get played?

You betcha.

I expect next year will deliver yet another “rinse and repeat.”

We can hope that the US intends to use the “breather” to develop alternative supply routes so as to enhance our leverage–or even exit from the arrangement ourselves–next time around.

Another bad aspect of the process: we let the negotiations become framed entirely in terms of the amount of “rent” the US is willing to pay for the base. While we do, in fact, pay rent (in one way or another) for basing and access rights, the US government likes to pretend otherwise. And for good reason: turning basing negotiations into very public exercises in price negotiations is both undermines the legitimacy of the base and likely will put upwards pressure on future negotiations across much of the basing network.

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Routes and Bases: Developments in Central Asia

I’ve been hearing rumors to the effect that US negotiators have cut a deal with the Kyrgyz government to allow continued use of Manas. But media sources remain silent, except to note that the Russians are sending additional warplanes to their own base in Kyrgyzstan.

Instead, they report on a new US-Tajik agreement to allow transit rights for non-military supplies to Afghanistan. This adds to existing deals with Uzbekistan and Russia.

But, interestingly enough, U.S. Assistant Secretary Of State Richard Boucher made it very clear that Washington does not consider Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian deals true alternatives to Manas.

Because the United States does “a lot of different things through the base on Manas,” Boucher said, “it is not just a matter of picking it up [in Kyrgyzstan] and putting it over there [in Tajikistan].”

He also said that the United States has six months to discuss Manas’s closure with the Kyrgyz authorities, after which Washington will decide what to do.

On Monday I presented Alex Cooley’s and my working paper on the structural dynamics of the US basing network at the Mortara Center for International Studies. My new–and extremely impressive–colleague, Matt Kroenig, suggested that we might be wrong about the advantages of “heavy footprint” bases over “light footprint” ones because the latter allow the US greater exit options: if the US loses on base it isn’t that big a deal, because it can always shift to another one in the region.

What I said in response bears repeating here: that’s great in theory, but in practice we’re vulnerable to the kinds of cascading effects we’ve seen in Central Asia. With K2 gone [for analysis before Karimov kiccked us out, see here], and Manas in jeopardy, the US has been unable to develop equivalent assets to substitute for those bases.

On the other hand, the rumors I hear suggest that any new deal on Manas won’t be particularly unfavorable to the US.

We’ll see how this continues to unfold.

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Alex Cooly on Manas

From an opinion-editorial in the International Herald Tribune:

The recent decision by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan to close the U.S. military base in the small Central Asian country should come as no surprise to Washington’s new foreign policy team. Since its establishment in the fall of 2001, the U.S. air base at Manas has been founded upon the granting of narrow economic incentives to the host country – and not on the Kyrgyz Republic’s commitment to the broader international campaign in Afghanistan.

What began as a relationship based on economics is about to end for financial reasons. Though the loss of Manas will deal a short-term blow to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, staying is not worth the new Kyrgyz asking price.

Read the rest.

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How do you say “Great Game” in Russian?

For some time now, NATO and Russia have engaged in on-again, off-again discussions about supplying Afghanistan via the Russian Federation. So consider this sequence of events:

1. An increasingly hard-currency strapped Kremlin offers Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in aid.
2. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announces that he’s expelling the US and NATO from Manas.
3. The Russians agree to give the US transit rights for non-military supplies headed for Afghanistan.

As the BBC reports:

Russia has long opposed the presence of American military forces in Central Asia, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow.

Russia says it has agreed to a request from the US to allow the transit of non-military Nato supplies across its soil, but says it is waiting for details of specific shipments before issuing permissions.

“As soon as that happens we will give the corresponding permission,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, quoted by Russian media.

For the US, the base closure comes at a critical moment, as the new administration of President Barack Obama plans a sharp increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan.

For Russia, on the other hand, its closure would be a significant diplomatic victory as it seeks to reassert its influence in all former Soviet republics and beyond, analysts say.

Now, a cynic might see an additional motive for the Russians. If Russia became a key supply route for Afghanistan, that would certainly give Moscow some leverage over the US and NATO on a variety of other issues. At the very least, they get to play “the good guys” as part of their bid to de-ice US-Russian relations.

The advantage may not last, however.

The US is negotiating with both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to acquire a replacement for Manas, and the BBC reports that a US-Uzbek deal may be very close.

Despite the K2 fiasco, in fact, a number of reports suggest increasingly low-level US-Uzbek cooperation prior to the last few days; one has to wonder if Islam Karimov might be concerned about the consequences of the Russians consolidating their position in Central Asia.

UPDATE: Patrick Barry got their first, and adds some stuff I didn’t address about how this all relates to Georgia and the potential Georgia-Azerbaijan transit route.

It seems I need to start reading Democracy Arsenal again.

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Manas no more?

Breaking reports, if true, vindicate a manuscript Alex Cooley and I wrote last year.* Whatever pleasure I get from saying “I told you so,” however, is outweighed by my concern about the complications to US operations posed by the potential loss of Manas.

The AP:

MOSCOW – News agencies are quoting Kyrgyzstan’s president as saying that his country is ending U.S. use of a key airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.

A decision to end the U.S. use of the Manas base could have potentially far-reaching consequences for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Interfax and RIA-Novosti quoted Kurmanbek Bakiyev as making the statement just minutes after Russia announced it was providing the poor Central Asian nation with billions of dollars in aid.

Bakiyev is being quoted as saying that the Kyrgyz government “has made the decision on ending the term for the American base on the territory of Kyrgystan and in the near future, this decision will be announced.”

Kyrgyz government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

UPDATE: more information continues to come in. US officials say this is just a move to increase rents.

*We’ve only sent it to one journal, which rejected it based on a range of positive to negative reviews. Because I’m a bitter and vindictive person, I am now going to point out that the decisive review rejected our contention that increased exit options for US basing partners and enhanced information about the deals the US cuts with other basing partners might (1) create upward pressure on rent demands and (2) even lead to the US losing some of its “light footprint” bases. This is exactly what has been happening, and may now have come to fruition, at Manas.

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