Politico: Pentagon to provide aid to Tajikistan

25/03/2016 15:59
Asia-Plus
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DUSHANBE, March 25, 2016, Asia-Plus – The article “Pentagon Muscles Out State Dept. On Foreign Aid” by Bryan Bender that was posted on Politico’s website on March 23 notes that the State Department and the Pentagon are feuding over who should control decisions on supplying military aid to foreign nations.

According to the article, the Pentagon is steering a growing pot of money, equipment and training to help countries fight terrorism, stem the drug trade and deter a rising China and resurgent Russia.  Congress is reportedly poised to further expand the military's ability to ship arms overseas — causing the State Department and its supporters on Capitol Hill to warn that some of the aid may contradict broader U.S. interests, such as promoting human rights.

The article says that countries the Pentagon wants to assist include Tajikistan, “where the department says torture and “repression of political activism” run rampant.”  In some recent cases, officials say, the State Department has reportedly learned of the aid only after the fact.

“It is militarizing foreign policy,” one administration official was quoted as saying.  The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, asserted that military officers eager to get results on the battlefield have become the face of the U.S. government in too many countries.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his deputy, Tony Blinken, have reportedly raised similar concerns in recent discussions with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to several knowledgeable officials. The panel’s chairman, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, has raised them as well.

“Both the State and Defense departments play important roles in the delivery of security assistance, but the process should reflect the reality that these are fundamentally foreign policy decisions about advancing U.S interests,” Corker told Politico in a statement.  

Supporters of the Pentagon's growing prominence in security assistance counter that the State Department's process for approving and implementing the aid programs is too slow and cumbersome.  They also say it’s out of sync with the urgent demand to strengthen the capacity of military partners, particularly in the Middle East.

Last year, the State Department reportedly vetoed a Pentagon plan to train snipers from Belarus, “which has no free elections and where political dissidents continue to disappear with no government explanation.”

The Pentagon's budget for overseas military aid, however, has more than tripled from 2008 to 2015, compared with just 23 percent growth for the State Department, according to internal administration data provided to Politico.

Last year, more than $11 billion worth of Pentagon programs went to arm and train security forces from Latin America to the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. The programs included training foreign military forces, providing a host of weapons and technologies to carry out counterterrorism operations and border security and beef up naval forces.

We will recall that EurasiaNet.org reported last month that budget documents released by the White House show that the United States plans to give Central Asia an additional $50 million in military aid under a new program, with the bulk of the aid focused on Tajikistan.

The money would be part of the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF), a Pentagon program launched in 2014 aimed at training militaries around the globe to fight terrorism. In the past, all of the funding in the program has gone to countries in the Middle East and Africa, but starting this year Central Asia would receive $20 million from the fund, and next year, $30 million.

The Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund has been politically sensitive, with some in Congress expressing skepticism that the Pentagon needs yet another "slush fund" for training militaries abroad.

This $50 million for the region is just the White House proposal and it still must be approved by Congress. Nevertheless, it does indicate that Central Asia, in particular Tajikistan, is again some sort of priority at the Pentagon.

The budget documents don't indicate how precisely the money will be spent, what security structures will get it, or what portion of it will be dedicated to Tajikistan and what to other countries in the region, according to EurasiaNet.org.

EurasiaNet.org says the survey by the Washington advocacy organization Security Assistance Monitor compared the amount of military and police aid the U.S. gave to every country in 2014 to the countries' respective defense budgets ad it found that among the ten countries where U.S. aid made up the largest proportion of the defense budget, three were former Soviet republics: Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Georgia was the fourth-most dependent country, with $158 million in U.S. security assistance compared to a defense budget of $387 million.

Kyrgyzstan was sixth on the list, but this is somewhat misleading: in 2014, Kyrgyzstan got $90 million in U.S. aid, but nearly all of that ($81 million) was payment for the Manas air base, which the U.S. was forced to leave that year.

Tajikistan was seventh, its budget of $104 million supplemented by $29 million in U.S. aid. (Tajikistan will surely climb up the list soon, as it's slated to get $50 million over the next two years in additional anti-terrorism funding from the Pentagon.)

It also should be noted that the methodology doesn't take into account Russia's aid to its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is disbursed via hard-to-track “discounts” on military equipment and other means. And so it's not clear from these numbers whether Tajikistan is more dependent on the U.S. or on Russia.

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