Saturday, October 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet States Involved in ‘Dangerous’ Arms Build Up, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 2 – Despite the absence of real foreign threats, all the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States are rapidly increasing their military spending, not only diverting funds from other uses but creating a series of regional arms races that represent “an extremely dangerous trend” for the region, according to a Russian commentator.
Yuri Sigov, Washington bureau chief for “Delovoye lyudi,”, says that “the latest events in Kyrgyzstan, the signing of a [basing] agreement between Moscow and Yerevan, the purchase by Azerbaijan of anti-aircraft complexes and the strengthening of the Russian military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia” are only the most visible aspects of this process.
And while military build ups in and of themselves do not necessarily create wars, such preparations for conflict by one country inevitably provoke others into doing the same. That means that the continuation of peaceful relations is put at risk and any cooperation among these countries less likely (
Moreover and perhaps even more important in many of these countries, the growth of the military not only is used by the powers that be to maintain tight control over their populations but ensures that senior officers have a major voice in the direction these countries take in the future, thus limiting the prospects for democratization.
Sigov notes that “not one” of the violent conflicts which broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed has been resolved by peaceful means, and that reality, plus the impact of the spillover of violence from Afghanistan, provides all the justification most of these countries feel they need for expanding their defense capabilities even at the sacrifice of social needs.
But what this means, Sigov continues, is that in the 20 years since the collapse of the USSR, “not one of its former republics has been living a peaceful life and all of them to one degree or another continue to arm themselves at an increasing rate,” often acquiring arms from Russia, NATO, Turkey, China and the United States.
Military spending in the 11 CIS countries rose “approximately 5.5 percent” this year, Sigov says, a figure that does not include the much higher rate of growth in such spending in Georgia which left the Commonwealth after the August 2008 war and which now enjoys substantial military assistance from NATO and the United States.
“The most rapidly arming” countries now in this region are Armenia and Azerbaijan, the journalist says. That is “not surprising” given that “the possibility of a military confrontation between the two neighbors in the CIS is very great.”
At present, Sigov says, Azerbaijan has increased its military budget “up to 10 percent of GDP. And Armenia’s increase while less is also large given that on the Armenian side, one must add the increased spending on the military units in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories.
The situation in Central Asia is even more alarming. On the one hand, none of the militaries there is in a position to counter any external aggression from the Taliban. But on the other, each is trying to build up its forces either to control the borders it shares with its neighbors or even more often to maintain a tight hold over its own population.
Uzbekistan currently spends “approximately 3.5 percent of its GDP on the armed forces,” while Kazakhstan spend about one percent. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan spend less but that is because they hope for assistance from the outside and especially on the defense capabilities of Russian or American bases.
Meanwhile, Turkmenistan, which proclaims its neutrality, “nonetheless spends large amounts in the support of its armed forces,” but this almost certainly has more to do with maintaining the powers that be in Ashgabat against any domestic challenge than responding to any foreign threat.
Ukraine has been increasing its military spending as well, apparently out of concerns about the Transdniestria situation and its territorial disputes with Romania as well as to present itself as an independent actor or potential partner, east and west. And Moldova too has boosted defense spending, Sigov says.
As for Belarus, the Russian commentator continues, evaluating the military budget is hard because it is “difficult and with regard to certain things impossible” to separate out “the ‘purely’ Belarusian military budget” from the expenditures of the Union State with Russia. But even given that, it is clear that Minsk now spends nearly 1.5 percent of GDP on defense.

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