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Crisis in Central Asia

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America's Role in Central Asia

All the Central Asian Republics are clearly variations of different types of non-democratic regimes; and like all non-democratic governments, they constantly violate the rights of their citizens. It is true that different regimes exercise varying degrees of control over their citizens, but what is often overlooked or simply not talked about is American support in maintaining such states. This is important and relevant to Americans since we should know what our tax money is used for. With that said, in 2007, $145 million in military aid -- over 40% of the total aid -- was sent to Central Asia that year, which is "six times the amount the U.S. Government spent to promote rule of law, democratic governance, and respect for fundamental human rights" (Lumpe 7). Although a law prohibits military aid to countries with human rights abuses, this only applies to the Department of State. The Department of Defense is slowly becoming the preferred method of transferring support as "Congress [granted] the DOD new authorities in other laws to use more and more of its vast Operations and Maintenance budget to carry out a variety of 'security cooperation' initiatives" (9). Thus, in spite of laws against supporting violators of fundamental human rights, "By the mid-to-late 1990s U.S. Special Operations Forces were training soldiers in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan" (8).

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United States military aid comes in many forms. For example, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) in 2010 amounted to over $10 million (Uzbekistan was not reported, but in 2002, FMF accounted for $36.2 million in Uzbekistan alone), which gives money to countries in order to purchase "weapons, military training or related services" (Lumpe 14-15). From President Bill Clinton onward, all five republics have qualified for receiving FMF. International Military Education and Training is a State Department program whose goal is to "promote democratization, emphasize rule of law and the protection of human rights" (16). Lumpe describes the goals as "schizophrenic -- at least in terms of stated rationales in countries with very poor records on human rights and political liberty." Let's examine one typical case example for the IMET. IMET aid to Kyrgyzstan increased from $872,000 in 2009 to $1,000,000 in 2010 (16). In that same year of 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that "Kyrgyzstan experienced its worst violence and upheaval since independence in 1991, with disastrous results for human rights" (HRW 2011). Could it be that training an authoritarian state's security services does not "promote democratization and the protection of human rights?"

Direct Commercial Arms sales to Central Asia surely attribute to the capacity of the state to oppress its own people. In 2008, "both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have had significant weapons imports of more than $50 million each in a given year" (Lumpe 22). That same year, Uzbekistan arrested 11 human rights activists and the following year crushed an anti-regime protest by force (HRW 2010). There is also substantial amount of aid that isn't counted in the budget, since "the DOD... does not consider many of the programs whereby it conveys skills, equipment, or resources to foreign militaries to be 'assistance'" (Lumpe 26). These "non-assistance" programs include training pilots, allocating "$75 million annually to combatant commanders for 'special interest programs' like force training," military education, increasing the effectiveness of armed forces and other security services, and building the capacities of the foreign military, such as "Kazakhstan [receiving] $20 million of equipment" along with necessary personnel to train them (29-31).

The official government justification for the training of authoritarian governments' military and security apparatuses is quite confusing. On the one hand, President Obama has stated:

" Increasing U.S. engagement with the often authoritarian governments in Central Asia does not mean abandoning our core values. In all interactions with the region, the U.S. will seek opportunities to constructively promote democratic institutions and respect for human rights, and the U.S. will take every opportunity to remind U.S. partners in the region of the sincere belief that democracy is the true path to lasting stability and prosperity" (36).

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However, in a completely contradictory Pentagon statement the same year, the United States' primary goal was stated as providing support for Afghanistan in the region, whereas its secondary goal was "[assisting] the sovereign countries of Central Asia in maintaining their own security in a way they find acceptable" (Lumpe 36).

It is quite difficult to make out what this means exactly, if one believes that the United States' primary goal in its international relations is democracy promotion abroad. Yet, if one holds the view that American geopolitical interests are more important than those of spreading democracy, it becomes quite obvious how the American government can justify training, equipping, and paying for authoritarian, oppressive services. The evidence is only on one side of the debate: the United States does not hold democracy above its own interests in the region. How could "improving the capacity and capabilities of Central Asian military and other armed forces" be beneficial to the promotion of democracy in the region, when "at the heart of these U.S. aid programs, and this equipment and many of the skills conveyed could be equally applied to internal repression" (39)?

The signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have made a pledge to protect human rights throughout the world. The role of the United States in the maintenance of the Central Asian Republics is in clear violation of its duty to protect human rights abuses. Geopolitical interests take precedent for American foreign policy makers over democracy. As millions live under horrendous tyranny, billions are spent ensuring that the dictators can sit comfortably in their offices -- all in the name of the combating terrorism in Afghanistan. If the American government ever wishes to take democracy promotion seriously, it will have to rethink arming and increasing the capabilities of authoritarian governments to oppress their people.

As American citizens, it is our duty to pressure the government to cease the military aid to repressive regimes. This can be done in a number of ways, but perhaps the simplest start would be for an extension of the current laws to include screening for military aid given by the Department of Defense and all other U.S. Departments. Secondly, aid should be discriminate and emphasize the creation of democratic, non-governmental organizations, while excluding aid to internal, oppressive security apparatuses. This would build political movements and empower local people to pressure their governments for regime change. These are not far-fetched suggestions for American foreign policy. If one wants to see democracy spread, it must be planted by the people themselves, not through imposed regime change, not by increasing authoritarian repressive capabilities. It is within our power as citizens to pressure the United States to end support for Central Asian tyrannies and to take democracy promotion abroad seriously.


Alexei Vassiliev, Central Asia: Political and Economic Challenges in the Post-Soviet Era., (London: Saqi Books, 2001), 136.

Amnesty International, "Amnesty International." Accessed December 18, 2011.

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Eric Freedman, and Richard Shafer, After the Czars and Commisars, (1st. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 12.

Freedom House, "Map of Press Freedom." Accessed December 18, 2011.

"Human Rights Watch Report 1993," Human Rights Watch (1993)

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I graduated from the University of Chicago with a MA in Social Sciences (concentration in Political Science) and a BA from Rutgers University in Political Science. I study social movements and the tactics that ordinary people use to make (more...)

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