US Military Aid Far Outpaces Democracy Assistance

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

US Military Aid Far Outpaces Democracy Assistance

by
Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON -
Desperate to secure supply routes to Afghanistan, the United States has
been spending at least six times more on military aid for the mostly
authoritarian states of Central Asia than on efforts to promote
political liberalization and human rights in the region, according to a
new report released here by the Open Society Foundations (OSF).

The 45-page report found that the full extent of military aid
controlled by the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and channeled through a bewildering variety of programs is uncertain,
but that it is at least three times greater than the State Department's
military aid programs which are subject to human rights and other
conditions.

"Nobody really knows how much military aid the U.S.
government is giving the Central Asian states," according to Lora
Lumpe, the author of the report, 'U.S. Military Aid to Central Asia
1999-2009: Security Priorities Trump Human Rights and Diplomacy
'.

"CENTCOM'S
Directorate for Policy and Plans is likely to have the fullest
picture of U.S. military assistance to the region, but those plans are
classified," she noted, adding that Congressional efforts to obtain
comprehensive and timely reporting on Pentagon spending in the region
have been largely unavailing.

The report, which comes six months
after the violent overthrow of the corrupt U.S.-backed government of
former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is likely to spur new
questions about whether the strategic benefits the military gains in
securing access to bases in Central Asia outweigh the political and
other costs in the long term.

In 2007, the Pentagon provided
some 30 million dollars in a variety of aid programs to the Bakiyev
regime – mainly as compensation for access to the Manas Air Base,
according to the report. That was roughly six times what it spent on
democracy and civil society programs.

The Pentagon also
reportedly awarded exclusive fueling contracts - now under
investigation both in Bishkek and in Congress - for U.S. operations at
the base to companies in which Bakiyev's cronies and son had
substantial interests, contributing to the perception in Kyrgyzstan
that Washington was backing a corrupt and increasingly authoritarian
regime.

"Now that Bakiyev has collapsed, there are a lot of
really angry voices in the new government," said Alexander Cooley, a
Central Asia expert at Barnard College in New York. "The Pentagon's
'walking-around money' &may not actually guarantee access (to the
bases) over the long term."

The "oversized impact" of the
Pentagon - as opposed to the State Department - on U.S. foreign policy
has become a major concern of human rights and other critics who claim
that Washington's relations with much of the developing world have
become increasingly "militarized" since the end of the Cold War.

Six
months ago, for example, three Washington-based groups focused on
human rights and Latin America policy published a report that found
that nearly half of all U.S. aid was being channeled to the region
through the Pentagon and that the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) had
largely displaced the State Department as the de facto "lead actor and
voice" for U.S. policy there.

And, although U.S. development aid
to Africa still dwarfs military assistance, similar fears have been
voiced about the Pentagon's three-year-old African Command (AFRICOM),
which is providing counter-terrorist and counter-narcotics assistance
to dozens of countries, primarily in the Sahelian region and in East
and West Africa.

Washington has provided military and police aid
at various times to the Central Asian states - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan - virtually since their
creation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the
early 1990s, military and police assistance focused mainly on
preventing the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons,
counter-narcotics trafficking, and border control.

By the end
of the decade, aid had expanded in most of the five countries, as
CENTCOM – whose writ runs from Egypt to China's southwestern border –
sent Special Operations Forces (SOF) to train local troops in
counterinsurgency in increasingly restive Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,
and Uzbek and Kazakh militaries were taking part in NATO exercises.

Most
of the aid during this period came through traditional military and
security programs overseen by the State Department. Such programs
are subject to Congressionally imposed restrictions that ban, for
example, any assistance to militaries that commit gross abuses of human
rights or that overthrow democratically elected leaders.

The
Pentagon and the combatant commands like CENTCOM, however, came to see
State Department programs as unreliable, driven more by politics than
by what they regarded as the strategic needs of the U.S. military,
according to the report.

In a trend that accelerated sharply
after 9/11, the Pentagon developed a parallel system of "security
cooperation" programs to provide various forms of assistance that
would not be subject to Congressionally imposed conditions.

"In
the years following the 9/11 attacks, the DOD [Department of Defense]
has sought, and Congress has granted, more than a dozen new legal
authorities, increasing the ways that CENTCOM (and the other regional
military commands) can spend funds from the Pentagon's general coffers
to provide direct assistance to foreign militaries," according to the
report.

As a result, the Pentagon provided at least 103 million
dollars in military-related aid to Central Asian countries in 2007 –
the last year for which the Pentagon provided relatively comprehensive
figures, Lumpe said.

That was nearly three times as much as was
provided under the traditional military aid programs under the State
Department's control. Total U.S. military aid, including the State
Department's programs, came to nearly half of all assistance provided
by Washington to Central Asia in 2007, the report concluded.

Since
9/11, most U.S. military assistance has been geared to securing rights
of access to military bases used to ferry U.S. troops and material
into Afghanistan. That function has become significantly more important
over the past two years as the Pakistani Taliban has attacked convoys
transporting supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan.

Since the
creation of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) in 2008, a
land-based supply route for U.S. and allied forces that runs from
Europe through Central Asia to Afghanistan, Washington has increased
aid to the region's governments and militaries and, perhaps more
importantly, awarded local companies – most often with close ties to
local regimes – lucrative construction and supply contracts, including
in Afghanistan itself.

The Uzbek military and security forces –
some of them trained by the Pentagon - massacred hundreds of protesters
in 2005, Washington cut off new assistance, and Uzbekistan is the one
country in the region where Washington has spent more on democratization programs than on military assistance.

After
the aid cut-off, however, the government of President Islam Karimov
bought more than 12 million dollars in military equipment and training
from aid credits that had already been approved. With Washington's
approval, Tashkent subsequently bought more than 50 million dollars of
weapons and training directly from U.S. companies, according to the
report.

Despite the lack of improvements in human rights
conditions, the restrictions on military aid "are beginning to be
relaxed", according to the report.

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