Tag: military bases

Small Modular Reactors and US Military Bases

Bear with me, because this post has a long backstory.

As many of you know, I’m a former policy debater. Indeed, so are a number of guest and permanent bloggers at the Duck of Minerva. And not a few other international-relations scholars. Well, this weekend is the National Debate Tournament (NDT), which is like the NCAA basketball tournament for fast-talking nerds, misfits, and future legal power players. In fact, the two aforelinked Ducks are former NDT champions.

Last year something odd happened. I was at a GDS debate reunion talking to some current college debaters. One of them stopped and said, more or less, “wait, are you Nexon of ‘Cooley and Nexon?'” As it turned out, a Foreign Affairs online article that Alex Cooley and I co-wrote provided key evidence for an affirmative case dealing with the US base in Bahrain. Interesting.

Now it turns out that a popular case this year is to deploy small nuclear reactors at US military installations (PDF). I’ve received emails asking about the merits of the case. I immediately roped in Alex Cooley — who is, after all, much more of a basing expert than I am — and talked to some scholars and practitioners I know associated with the nuclear-security community. The topic seemed compelling enough for a blog post.

In essence, this strikes me as a problematic proposal.

Continue reading


Podcast No. 7 – Interview with Alex Cooley

The seventh episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Alex Cooley about his books on hierarchy, basing, incomplete contracting, and his new book — Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia (Oxford University Press, 2012).


  • Front Matter
  • Who is Alex Cooley?
  • Logics of Hierarchy
  • Base Politics
  • Contracting States
  • Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia
  • End Matter

Note: the publication date of the podcasts remains in flux, but I am aiming to have them appear Friday-Sunday each week.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.


Retrenchment and the US Alliance System

Robert drove a great deal of traffic to the Duck with his provocative posts on retrenchment and US alliances. His efforts to “grade” allies by strategic importance has led to some interesting results and fascinating discussions. But I think he’s working with an overly narrow view of what alliances are good for. Here I agree with Steve Walt in general, although I have a somewhat different spin.

Robert’s analysis treats alliances as if they are basically cooperative security arrangements, produce little in the way of externalities, and amount to a net negative investment only offset by the relative “strategic importance” of an ally. Thus, Robert advances three major criteria: (1) direct security interest, (2) need, and (3) values/symbolism. This can be summed up as “where is it located? Can it defend itself? Does a US commitment help Washington in the war of ideas?”

One problem with these criteria should be obvious. As Robert is quite aware, “security interests” can get pretty fuzzy once we move beyond “contiguous territory.” It isn’t even clear that common borders make necessary allies; after all, who exactly will be invading the US via Mexico? Regardless, one of the problems with “selective engagement” strategies hinges on precisely this ambiguity: it is too easy to slip into either *nothing* being a vital national interest or *everything* being crucial to national security. The “values” criteria is, I submit, even more subject to abuse.

But even if we wave away problems with the three criteria, my suspicion is that Robert’s assumptions about alliances are wrong. Alliances — whether formal defense pacts, strategic partnerships, or whatever — are also control mechanisms by which states reduce the autonomy of their partners: sometimes states forge alliances precisely because they judge other states to be unreliable (for a classic treatment, see Snyder’s Alliance Politics). In some strategic partnerships, the capabilities of the ally are irrelevant: the relationship enables power projection by providing extra-territorial bases and access. Alliances often involve significant externalities, in terms of the signals they send to potential friends and enemies alike. These signals aren’t just about “values,” but the scope and nature of US commitments. In short, an assessment of US alliance commitments requires a more nuanced outlook than Robert provides, and his consequent analysis may be significantly flawed.

Mexico is a good example. It isn’t so much that the US forges a close relationship with Mexico to pool military resources, but because it is more costly for the US to impose formal hierarchy on the country. When it comes to US basing and access agreements, it is true that these can develop relatively quickly — as in Central Asia after 9/11 — or that lost opportunities can return as a result of shifts in power and threat. But it is also the case that long-term basing arrangements tend to enjoy a degree of stability that often proves elusive in newer US-host relationships. Which amounts to a rather elliptical way of saying that it isn’t always efficacious to abandon strategic partnerships to save some short-term cash.

Adopting a more nuanced view of the “importance” of various bilateral and multilateral partnerships doesn’t take away from the importance of the exercise. I agree that everyone needs to spend more time thinking, and writing, about US strategic interests and which international relationships are most important in light of those interests.

But, at the end of the day, we need to be clearer about what we mean when we talk about “strategic overextension,” “relative decline,” and other key terms in the debate over “retrenchment.” The connection between bloated military budgets and strategic partnerships is not necessarily a direct one. US relative decline may force Washington to adopt clearer strategic priorities — such as pivoting toward East Asia — particularly when it comes to providing robust security guarantees. However, a lot of the recent “damage” done to the blood and treasure of the United States stems from wars of choice — and one in particular — that had very little to do with the central connective tissue of its alliances and partnerships. 

The irony of focusing on the number of these relationships — rather than how much the US commits to them or broader aspects of the US defense budget — is that Washington’s alliance architecture is probably its best hedge against the rise of potential competitors. It both allows for the pooling of resources and it also reduces the likelihood of rising powers being able to wedge apart possible balancing coalitions. So, yes, the US needs to be smarter about how it allocates resources and less willing to resort to expensive military ventures of dubious geo-strategic value, but nothing about “retrenchment” requires slashing and burning its strategic relationships with other states. At least not in the foreseeable future.


Criminalizing Medical Aid

The crackdown in Bahrain hasn’t received as much attention as those elsewhere in the Arab world. In part, that’s because what’s happening in Syria and Libya are more spectacular. In part that’s because Bahrain doesn’t have many enemies among western regimes. Still, the regime smashed down an iron fist, one that hit the Shia community particularly hard. Although the government has officially lifted marital law, it continues to stifle political expression.

The latest news out of the country concerns the trial of medical professionals for treason. Their crime? They provided medical treatment to those injured by government forces. At least the court is allowing possible evidence of torture into the trial.

Thirty-four medical staff attended court out of 47 – 23 doctors and 24 nurses – who were charged with anti-state activities last month. It was not immediately clear why some were missing.

The doctors and nurses face allegations ranging from possessing weapons to harming the public by spreading false news and seeking to overthrow the ruling system in the strategic Gulf kingdom, which is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet

But the trial was adjourned for a second time to 20 June after the chief judge at the special security tribunal accepted a request that the detainees should be medically examined to establish if they had been tortured. Lawyers for Bassim Dhaif, a consultant orthopedic surgeon, said he had been forced to stand for two weeks resulting in loss of sensation, swelling and discoloration of his feet and legs. Abdulla Al-Durazi, a trainee surgeon, had suffered a broken nose since the last court hearing and needed specialist medical care. Some had signed false confessions under threat and lawyers demanded they be re-investigated. When the accused attempted to describe the torture to the court the judge ordered them to be silent and had one doctor, Zahra Al-Sammak, a consultant anaesthetist, escorted from the court.

The detainees say their only “crime” was to treat injured protesters. Demonstrations led by Shia, who comprise 70 per cent of the population, started in February in protest at the discrimination they say they suffer at the hands of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers. But the protests were crushed by the state and a campaign of intimidation began against the doctors and nurses. Protesters wounded were afraid to seek treatment and ambulances were blocked from going out to retrieve the injured, they said.

On Sunday, the security court sentenced a 20-year-old woman to a year in prison for reciting poetry critical of Bahrain’s king.

Robert Fisk works up appropriate outrage:

These are the very same doctors and nurses I stood beside four months ago in the Sulaimaniya emergency room, some of them weeping as they tried to deal with gunshot wounds the like of which they had never seen before.

“How could they do this to these people?” one of them asked me. “We have never dealt with trauma wounds like these before.” Next to us lay a man with bullet wounds in the chest and thigh, coughing blood on to the floor.

The surgeons were frightened that they did not have the skills to save these victims of police violence. Now the police have accused the doctors and staff of killing the patients whom the police themselves shot.

How could these fine medical men and women have been trying to “topple” the monarchy?

The idea that these 48 defendants are guilty of such a vicious charge is not just preposterous. It is insane, a total perversion – no, the total opposite – of the truth. The police were firing at demonstrators from helicopters.

The idea that a woman and child died because they were rejected by doctors and refused medical treatment is a fantasy. The only problems medical staff encountered at the Sulaimaniya hospital – and again, I was a witness and, unlike the Bahraini security authorities, I do not tell lies – was from the cruel policemen who blocked patients from reaching the medical facility.

In truth, of course, the Khalifa family is not mad. Nor are the Sunni minority of Bahrain intrinsically bad or sectarian. The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man.

The transformation of Bahrain into a Saudi protectorate has received too little attention. For the Saudis, Bahrain was a “line in the sand” for, as they see it, the Sunni-Shia struggle. Indeed, the US naval presence is only part of the reason Washington remains relatively quiet. With US-Saudi relations already strained over American support for the Arab Spring elsewhere in the Middle East, Washington understands that pushing too hard on Bahrain could destroy the partnership entirely.


Bahrain’s Base Politics

Alex Cooley and I have just published an article at Foreign Affairs Online on Bahrain and the politics of the US overseas basing network. An excerpt:

U.S. policymakers have long struggled to reconcile their support for friendly authoritarian regimes with their preference for political liberalization abroad. The ongoing upheavals in the Middle East, like so many developments before them, shine a bright light on this inconsistency. In Egypt, the Obama administration struggled to calibrate its message on the protests that toppled longtime ally Hosni Mubarak; in Libya, it leads a multinational coalition intent on using airpower to help bring down Muammar al-Qaddafi; and in Bahrain, the United States stands mostly silent as Saudi troops put down popular protests against the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Washington’s balancing act reflects more than the enduring tensions between pragmatism and idealism in U.S. foreign policy. It highlights the specific strains faced by defense planners as they attempt to maintain the integrity of the United States’ worldwide network of military bases, many of which are hosted in authoritarian, politically unstable, and corrupt countries. Now, with the “Arab Spring” unfolding, even U.S. basing agreements with some of its closest allies are vulnerable.


“Not in Anyone’s Backyard”: Andrew Yeo on the “No Bases” Network

This issue of International Studies Quarterly includes an article by Andrew Yeo on the emergence of an advocacy network against foreign military bases. Aside from the minor fact that Yeo omits reference to an important recent contribution to the literature on basing politics, I found his process-tracing of the No Bases Network fascinating. Here’s the abstract:

“Providing an overview of the emergence, characteristics, trajectory, and potential limitations of the transnational anti-base network, this article focuses on two broad questions relevant to transnational politics. First, what processes and mechanisms enabled local and transnational activists to form the international No Bases network? Second, how did activists juxtapose existing local anti-base identity and frames to emerging transnational ones? Following existing transnational movement theories, I argue that the global anti-base network slowly emerged through processes of diffusion and scale shift in its early stages. The onset of the Iraq War, however, injected new life into the transnational anti-base movement, eventually leading to the inaugural International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Bases in 2007. Although loose transnational ties existed among anti-base activists prior to 2003, the U.S. war in Iraq presented anti-base activists the global frames necessary to accelerate the pace of diffusion, scale-shift, and brokerage, and hence, the consolidation of a transnational anti-base network. Paradoxically, however, even as No Bases leaders attempted to forge a new transnational identity, anti-base activists, as “rooted cosmopolitans,” continued to anchor their struggle in local initiatives.”

I liked this article because it’s a great substantive example of what I look for in my work: interesting ideas that could be converted to international norms and have attracted supporters but have not yet hit the mainstream human rights/human security/disarmament agenda. Yeo is interested in network emergence and identity; I’m more interested in how a network mobilized around a new idea like this manages to market itself to the mainstream NGOs who most have the ear of governments and the UN. This one’s the kind of “aha” case I like to find – something that makes intuitive sense but I hadn’t thought of or heard articulated before.

(Or does it make sense? In Empires of Trust Thomas Madden argues that the regional security provided by a hegemon’s military presence outweighs the negative externalities of military bases. Interesting counterfactual.)

Well, whether it is a good idea or not in “human security” terms, this is a network with an idea that one could imagine being promulgated as a global norm as easily as the idea of banning landmines, only you don’t hear mention of it at the global level: it’s an issue not yet “on the agenda” the way many other global problems are. And Yeo’s analysis of the Iraq war as a focusing event that triggered the consolidation of disparate domestic networks into a transnational movement suggests an obstacle this network need to overcome in order to attract support from large NGOs and achieve anything like real international norm change: the perception that this is really an anti-US movement instead of a movement to address a problem that’s inherently global.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Manas: the hands of fate? (Updated)

It remains unclear whether the Kyrgyz government really wants the US out of Manas or whether it wants to extract higher rents.

Rob Farley comments that the “United States has been paying considerable rent to use the airbase in question.”

Yes and no. It can be too easy to focus merely on the size of sidepayments. In fact, that might be part of the problem.

Remember that the US doesn’t officially pay rent for basing and access agreements. It just so happens that host countries get “unrelated” aid packages and foreign-policy perquisites. This isn’t simply a normative issue; the US has strong incentives to reduce the transparency of the price it pays for bases in order to preclude upward pressure on host rent seeking. Keeping the true “value” of transfers and concessions opaque both makes it more difficult for hosts to calculate the true “market price” of the strategic package it offers, as well as gives US officials greater ability to deflect direct demands for higher rents.

Prior to the Tulip Revolution, the US was getting Manas on the cheap. In addition to some development assistance that was probably in the US interest anyway, the US negotiated some pocket-change (in relative terms) contracts with Kyrgyz elites to supply goods and services to US forces. As Alex Cooley wrote in 2006 (PDF):

The Manas base also offered critical material support to the Kyrgyz president and his political clients. The base constituted the biggest U.S. economic investment in Kyrgyzstan. From its first year, it contributed about $40 million annually to the small Kyrgyz economy and employed about 500 Kyrgyz nationals in a variety of positions.

The lion’s share of base-related funds flowed not to national agencies, however, but to private Kyrgyz entities closely tied to the ruling regime. The Manas International Airport, a technically independent company partly owned by Aydar Akayev, the president’s son, collected $2 million annually in lease payments, plus additional landing fees of $7,000 per takeoff. The airport company also was awarded most of the base-related service contracts. These revenues flowed directly to Manas Airport and were neither accounted for nor taxed by the Kyrgyz government.

However, the most lucrative source of base-related payments were fuel contracts, secured by the airport- affiliated Manas International Services Ltd. and another legally independent fuel company, Aalam Services Ltd., owned by Adil Toiganbayev, Akayev’s son-in-law. A New York Times investigative story revealed that out of a total of $207 million spent by the U.S. Department of Defense on fuel contracts during the Akayev era, Manas International Services received $87 million and Aalam Services received $32 million in subcontracts. The amounts and structure of these payments were kept opaque and were not reported in the Kyrgyz media. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered that the Akayev clan had embezzled tens of millions of dollars of these base-related revenues through a network of offshore accounts.

Pentagon and State Department officials contend – and they are legally correct – that none of these payments or contracts clearly violated any U.S. laws or DOD tender procedures. But such claims do not change the fact that these payments played a highly
political role within the Kyrgyz political system. These base-related revenues supported the Akayev regime and its political clients, who regarded them as the unstated quid pro quo for granting basing rights to the United States and its coalition partners.

Commenting specifically on the adoption of the seemingly generous landing rights formula, former U.S. ambassador to Krygyzstan John O’Keefe suggested that the fees could have been avoided but were viewed by the U.S. side as an important economic inducement that would secure the Kyrgyz government’s commitment. Consequently, these private or selective incentives also served to “depoliticize” the base issue in Kyrgyz politics, as political parties, the Kyrgyz parliament, and the media neither publicized nor overtly criticized the terms of the basing agreement.

The problem came when the new government “opened” the terms of the US-Kyrgyz agreement and realized what was actually going on. They demanded an hundred-fold increase in rent. The ultimate agreement fell short of Kyrgyz expectations.

As I alluded to in my prior post, there are a couple of dynamics going on.

First, the Kremlin has never been particularly pleased with US influence in Central Asia (Russia has its own base in Kyrgyzstan). It looks like the Russian government decided to provide “exit options” to the Kyrgyz in the form of a significant offer of bilateral assistance. Even if that aid is unconditioned upon shutting down US operations at Manas, the Kremlin’s decision to play Monty Hall still significantly shifts the balance of leverage in US-Kyrgyz negotiations towards the Kyrgyz. Indeed, I write about this dynamic in a forthcoming review essay on the state of balance-of-power theory.

Second, the US approach toward Manas, consistent with the so-called “lily pad” vision of the 2001 QDR (PDF), focused on creating a “light footprint” base with minimal social impact on the country. The idea is that doing so makes anti-basing sentiment less likely. In fact, such a posture only increases suspicions about US policy objectives, fails to avoid incidents of the kind that reduce the legitimacy of the US presence, and inhibits the process whereby US bases produce substantial local public goods.

Thus, while current US rents really are quite substantial given the size of the Kyrgyz economy, they come in a variety of side payments that fail to concretely tie the base to the prosperity of significant domestic constituencies. Under those circumstances, the dynamics of the relationship become merely about the size of the aggregate rents paid by the United States compared to public concerns over US activities, i.e., the least desirable frame for US negotiators.

For more, see another piece by Alex Cooley: “U.S. Bases and Democratization in Central Asia,” Orbis. Vol. 52, No. 1 (Winter 2008), pp. 65-90 (PDF).

UPDATE: As I was arguing:

Bakiyev has been seeking more money from the United States for use of the air base, and the timing of his announcement seemed designed to highlights his nation’s economic needs. Russia agreed to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2 billion in loans and $150 million in financial aid, and also to write off $180 million in debt and build a $1.7 billion hydropower plant.

U.S. payments to Kyrgyzstan currently total $150 million a year, of which about $63 million is rent for the Manas base. “We hope to continue those discussions because Manas is vitally important to our operations in Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. Morrell added, however, that “we can continue without it, obviously.”

“There is obviously a long-term political dimension here that’s in play vis-à-vis Moscow,” a senior U.S. Central Command official said yesterday, with Kyrgyzstan “trying to play one bidder off the other. The United States is caught in the middle, seeing who is going to be the highest bidder. We don’t know yet whether this is simply a card being played in the negotiating process or they are going to ask us to leave.”

The Manas base is “pretty inexpensive from the U.S. point of view when you consider what it gives us in terms of access in the region,” the official said. “I don’t know what price the United States is willing to pay . . . but at the same time I don’t know whether we’re willing to be held hostage.”

Image Source: Defense Update


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.


Hell hath no fury

Rob Farley points our attention to the latest from Iceland:

Foreign diplomats hardly believed what they heard when the Icelandic president said that his country needs “new friends” and that Russia should be invited to take use of the old U.S. airbase of Keflavik.

In the lunch which took place in Reykjavik last Friday, Mr. Grimsson accused neighboring countries of failing to support the crisis-ridden Iceland, newspaper Dagbladet reports with reference to Klassekampen.

An internal memo from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, obtained by the newspaper, describes the diplomats present in the event as “shocked” by the speech.

But Rob doesn’t quote the most salient part:

According to Dagbladet, the Russian ambassador present at the lunch was rather perplexed by the invitation, saying that “Russia does not really need the airport”.

Yes, I know I could work a Svalbard angle, but I don’t think any creative license is needed on this one.


Base bargaining in the shadow of the 2008 election

Social-choice theory (or, in this context, public-choice theory) suggests that leaders sign international agreements as a way of “locking in” their preferred policies. Once a state signs such an agreement, the logic goes, future leaders will face greater costs if they want to change their predecessors’ policies.

It doesn’t take a fancy degree to recognize that’s what the Bush Administration has been up to in a number of arenas. Iraq is one of the most important, which is why they can’t be pleased that Maliki has, apparently, demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.

The comments by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie underscore the U.S.-backed government’s hardening stance toward a deal with Washington that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to catch Washington off-guard by suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of U.S. forces under the deal being negotiated, which he called a memorandum of understanding.

Rubaie said Iraq was waiting “impatiently for the day when the last foreign soldier leaves Iraq”.

“We can’t have a memorandum of understanding with foreign forces unless it has dates and clear horizons determining the departure of foreign forces. We’re unambiguously talking about their departure,” Rubaie said in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Dr. iRack argues that:

This reflects Maliki’s newfound (over)confidence in the ISF as well as the growing Iraqi public sentiment against a long-term U.S.-Iraqi pact occurring outside the context of a time horizon for withdrawal.

Another possibility, of course, is that Maliki is (also) playing a signaling game of one kind or another.

1. Given how contentious the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiations have been, this seems like a pretty good way to increase the pressure on the Bush Administration. Both sides know that the Administration may be running out of time to get the kind of deal they’d like to see between the US and Iraq, as the odds right now favor an Obama victory in November. Maliki’s statement also has political ramifications in the United States, and he may very well know it.

2. Any agreement will likely stoke nationalist sentiment in Iraq, as even a favorable SOFA will involve concessions of Iraqi sovereignty to the United States. Iraqi officials might be hoping that strong rhetoric on their part, and floating a parallel agreement for US “troop withdrawals” (whatever that means in practice), will provide them with some political insulation if and when the SOFA is finalized.

3. The Iraqi government almost certainly doesn’t want a total withdrawal of US forces. They are increasingly overconfident in their own forces; the US presence now most strongly serves Sunni interests. But the Iraqis also probably recognize that (a) they can’t defend the territorial integrity of Iraq on their own and (b) the US presence reduces the revenue and resources they need to divert towards defense and security. It is possible (albeit unlikely–or not so unlikely), therefore, that this is a very public signal towards the Obama camp, and the American electorate, at a point when Iraq policy has dominated the election news cycle for the last week or so.

Meanwhile, the US just secured a deal with the Czechs for BMD deployment:

The United States and the Czech Republic signed a treaty on Tuesday allowing Washington to build part of a missile defense shield in the central European state despite opposition from its former Cold War master Russia.

The deal to create a radar station southwest of Prague was marred by a failure to seal a corresponding pact with Poland, where Washington wants to put 10 interceptor rockets that would be guided by the Czech site (the Russians, predictably enough, aren’t happy either).

The deal is wildly unpopular in the Czech Republic:

he shield still faces hurdles, including heavy opposition in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.4 million that the Soviets occupied for two decades after invading in 1968.

It also faces obstacles to ratification in the Czech parliament, where the government has just 100 seats in the 200-seat chamber. Some deputies say they will oppose it along with the Social-Democrat opposition in a vote that could come after a new U.S. administration takes over in January.

An opinion poll last month showed 68 percent of Czechs were against the shield, while only 24 percent supported it.

Negotiations with the Poles, meanwhile, have stalled over the amount the US is willing to pay in rent (the US doesn’t officially pay “rent” as part of its basing and access agreements, but that line doesn’t fool anyone).

The Bush administration is trying to arrange deals with the young democratic governments in the host nations before President Bush leaves office in January.

The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.

Talks with Poland had bogged down recently over Polish demands for billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid, in part to deter a possible strike from a peeved Russia.

Moscow has threatened to aim its own missiles at any eventual base in Poland or the Czech Republic.

Flying to Prague, Rice said she had laid out the U.S. position at a hastily called meeting in Washington with Poland’s foreign minister. She would not go into details, but Poland is trying to sweeten or shore up U.S. pledges for millions in additional U.S. military aid. Rice said she explained what the United States can do and that the matter now rests with others for further discussion.

The immediate question is whether the deal with the Czechs will put pressure on the Poles to accept whatever is on the table.

On a final note, the politics of US basing remains one of the least-developed research agendas in contemporary security studies. Alex Cooley and I have a piece in peer-review limbo on the subject, but readers should check out his excellent bookon US bases and democratization in host countries.


Expediency vs. Ideals or Intrinsic vs. Reputational Interests in Uzbekistan?

[Cross posted at “Discord and Elaboration“]

I think Patrick is on to something when he writes that the current dilemma facing the US in Uzbekistan isn’t strictly one of security-vs-morality. Of course, one could (and many have) frame the issue in this way. However I think there is another way to look at the issue. I see the problem as strategy-vs-strategy, or more specifically, intrinsic interests-vs-reputational interests. The Defense Department sees the K2 airbase (K2 is shorthand for Karshi-Khanabad) as an intrinsic interest, one that is vital operationally to fighting the GWOT (Greater War on Terror) and for maintaining the US ability to project power in the region. The State Department on the other hand sees the Andijan massacre and US actions regarding K2 as a reputational interest, one that is important not for its immediate strategic value but rather for the inferences others will draw about the US.

The current situation in Uzbekistan offers a wonderful example of the dilemma that statesmen face from time to time between intrinsic and reputational interests. It also illustrates the difficulties in implementing a grand strategy that includes a component as amorphous as spreading democracy. A little background (if you already read Patrick’s post you can skip this):

Back on May 13th an estimated 200 Uzbek protestors were gunned down by government troops as a result of a massive protest in Andijan’s main square (another 500 reportedly fled across the border into Kyrgstan). The Uzbek government has claimed that less than 200 protestors died and the bulk of those were Islamic militants. However, eyewitness accounts and NGO investigations have put the official account into question. Human Rights Watch issued a report about the incident in which they claim that the protests were in no way connected to Islamic militants or calls for an Islamic theocracy. The report said in part:

Interviews with numerous people present at the demonstrations consistently revealed that the protesters spoke about economic conditions in Andijan, government repression, and unfair trials–and not the creation of an Islamic state. People were shouting ‘Ozodliq!’ [‘Freedom’] and not ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is Great’].

At last week’s meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Russia and the United States collaborated to kill any joint demand by NATO for an international probe into the events in Andijan. Several sources told the Washington Post that the eventual wording of the joint communique regarding the meeting (which merely stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan” had been discussed) was the result of a fierce battle between “U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers”. There was some debate as to whether Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was openly opposing stated US and State Department policy towards the Andijan massacre (as Secretary Rice and President Bush have both openly denounced the action and called for an investigation) or simply being noncommittal because he was not involved in recent high-level discussions regarding the issue.

In either case it is clear that the US faces a dilemma in Uzbekistan specifically and with the democratization strategy in
general. The Washington Post has a nice quote that sums up the problem:

It’s like the dilemma we have in the democracy agenda in many places. We have to both press the democracy agenda and still, for example, cooperate when we need to on the war on terror,” another senior U.S. official said.

Patrick is right when he notes that the debate within the Administration is not between ‘narrow defenders of the national interest’ and ‘idealistic proponents of a normative consensus’. Both are in fact making value-judgements regarding security policy. The way I see it is that each side is, for whatever reason, placing a greater emphasis on one of two interests—either instrinsic or reputational—both of which are critical to US grand strategy.

What is the exact difference between these two types of interests? First espoused by Glenn Snyder and Paul Deising in Conflict Among Nations (and echoed by Robert Jervis), intrinsic interests are defined as those that are valued for their inherent and immediate material/military quality (e.g. a strategically located airbase, energy resources, high ground, etc.). Reputational interests differ from intrinsic interests in that they are valued not for their immediate value but for how they affect an actor’s later bargaining position and the image that other actors will have of a state (e.g. a resolved, powerful actor that cannot be threatened).

An example of a reputational interest is the US concern over Taiwan. Most observers agree that the US gains little strategic (i.e. military) advantage by maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Straight. Some have noted that we might value our informal alliance with a relatively (if not juridically) independent Taiwan because it allows us to develop naval choke points against the Chinese, but this is not a view that is widely held. Maintaining Taiwan’s present status is viewed as a reputational interest because of what inferences we believe others draw from our behavior on this issue. The US believes that other actors (including the Chinese, but also other potential adversaries and current allies) use Taiwan as an index or metric from which to deduce information about the US–our resolve, commitment to allies, credibility, etc. If we were to abandon or sell-out Taiwan in the face of Chinese threats the belief is that others would draw the inference that the US lacks resolve in the face of threats and that we are not reliable allies.

So how does this apply to the current case of Uzbekistan? In my estimation the Defense Department views the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan as a critical logistical hub in the region for both NATO and US operations. In this sense, DOD views the situation as one were the immediate strategic (i.e. military) value of K2 is of utmost importance. In contrast, a group of US Senators (including John McCain who wrote an opinion piece in the FT yesterday on this very topic), the State Department, and probably a number of other foreign policy officials within the administration view our response to the massacre in Andijan as pertaining to our reputational interests.

Reputation matters a great deal for our current grand strategy because of our stated commitment to democratization. Rhetorically and strategically, the administration’s grand strategy views the spread of democracy as a critical component (as I have argued here). The key word is “spread”. Actors in the second camp are concerned about the inferences current and potential allies (as well as those regimes we are trying to coerce into democratizing) will draw about our commitment to democracy depending upon our response to Andijan. Morality does not have to play a role in the State Department’s calls for an open, international investigation into the massacre. Rather, it is how the State Department conceptualizes the interests that are at stake that is most likely determining its position on this issue.

The inferences others draw about our commitment to democracy are of critical importance for a number of reasons. First, if the US is going to convince citizens in target countries that it is committed to democracy above all else. Ignoring the massacre in Andijan because of our intrinsic interest in K2 will certainly work against that goal. The conclusion citizens will (or may) draw is that the US is only committed to democracy in those countries where our strategic/military interests are minimal or that we deem immediate security threats (i.e. Iran and North Korea—cite post article from this morning). Second, despotic rulers who do not wish to democratize may draw the same inference. These rulers may decide that one way to maintain their rule without being pressured to democratize is to provide some vital strategic “good” (such as military basing or intelligence) to the US. Third, appearing to be uncommitted to the spread of democracy may disrupt support from existing allies (and potentially recruiting new ones), especially if those allies have legitimized their aid to the US to their citizens in terms of democratization. If US actions seem to signal that they are only rhetorically committed to democratization allies may have to cut off support.

This certainly isn’t the first intrinsic/reputational dilemma a state has found itself in. In fact, one could argue the US is perpetually facing such choices. My guess is that this one will be resolved more by the actions being taken by the Uzbek government than by the US. In response to recent criticism by Secretary Rice about the incident the Uzbekistan government has limited US access to K2. The US has already began re-routing air traffic to Bagram airbase in Kabul (post article). Additionally, the US today issued a statement denying that the Pentagon was trying to obstruct an investigation in order to maintain access to K2 and noting that $11 million of US assistance was being witheld from Uzbekistan. My guess is that the longer the Uzbekistan government refuses to allow an investigation as well as restricts access to K2 the US will simply adjust its logistic needs and thereby sink costs into some of these other (more sub-optimal at the moment) bases. But don’t quote me on that…

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Security vs. morality?

The Washington Post reports today on the recent NATO-Russia joint communique, which among other points stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including the recent tragic events in Uzbekistan, was also discussed.” According to the Post, this rather bland language papered over an intra-agency dispute within the US government about how best to handle the situation stemming from the 13 May crackdown against a failed uprising in the city of Andijon. The crackdown, which Human Rights Watch has labeled a “massacre,” involved the deployment of armed troops to respond to an antigovernment protest; witnesses reported numerous human rights violations, including a systematic effort to kill wounded survivors of the initial clash.

The intra-agency dispute here is a rather traditional tug-of-war between the State and Defense Departments, with the State Department pressing for an international investigation into the events in Andijon while the Defense Department, worried about preserving US access to Uzbek air bases, is less willing to antagonize the Uzbek government and thus endanger current US military strategy and tactics in the region. Given this split, and the reluctance of Russia to assent to any kind of international inquiry about human rights violations on its borders, the NATO-Russia communique couldn’t very well take a stronger stance.

It would be tempting to regard this disagreement as a case of national security versus global morality, with the Defense Department playing the role of the narrow defender of the national interest and the State Department playing the role of the expansive, idealistic proponent of a normative consensus. But this would be a mistake, I think. Especially given that the Defense Department’s position is intimately tied up with the prosecution of the War on Terror — a project that is certainly some distance removed from a clear-cut defense of the territorial integrity and physical security of the United States.

What we have here instead is a disagreement about conceptions of security, and not a clash between a security orientation and a morality orientation. Defense’s position is that prosecuting the War on Terror justifies paying somewhat less attention to an event that seems very much like an egregious violation of human rights, while State seems to be arguing instead that security is achievable primarily by insisting on uniform standards of conduct for all US countries. The people at State are not starry-eyed idealists, and the people at Defense are not hard-nosed realists; both are acting with a complex mix of ideological and practical considerations at hand.

This ought not to be surprising, especially if we keep in mind Arnold Wolfers’ 1949 observation that

The “necessities” in international politics, and for that matter in all spheres of life, do not push decision and action beyond the realm of moral judgment; they rest on moral choice themselves. If a statesman decides that the dangers to the security of his country are so great as to make necessary a course of action that may lead to war, he has placed an exceedingly high value on an increment of national security.

Appealing to security considerations, as the Defense Department seems to have done in opposing a more thorough and invasive investigation of the Andijon situation, is just as much a value-laden stance as an appeal to human rights. Neither are an ultimate trump card in the debate, and neither should be able to silence their opposition definitively. Unfortunately, appeals to “national security” often have this effect, and lead us to ignore the real moral choices that they obscure.

The point here is that security is one value among others. We have to be careful not to allow that value to supersede all others by fiat, and not to forget that in acting so as to advance security concerns in this case we would be in effect condoning violent repression. I’m not sure whether we should or shouldn’t be pressing harder for an international investigation, but in either case we should be honest about what we are doing. We should take responsibility for the choice, and not hide behind protestations of “strategic necessity.”

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