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The Future of Transcaspian Security

Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank. | August 2002

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The new U.S. and NATO partnerships with Russia offer an enormous opportunity to shape and transform the security environment throughout the former Soviet Union. The Russian government now supports partnership and integration with NATO and the United States, and Russian military effectiveness is in our vital interest. So the time for an expanded program of engagement with the CIS governments, including Russia, and enhanced shaping of the regional security environment is at hand.

These programs can and should take place under both U.S. and NATO auspices. Their overall objective should be the general enhancement of security and stability in troubled zones like the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. They should contribute to the integration of Russia?s armed forces with those of the West, as well as the forces? transformation to a new and reformed model of an army that is more attuned to current strategic realities and more accountable, professional, and subject to democratic control. Similar goals can be postulated for the armies in other CIS countries. Both the United States individually and NATO collectively possess the resources and organizational structures to accomplish this transformation, and many of the governments in the CIS support the overall improvement in military capability and security that such programs would bring about.

Not only would these programs create a lasting basis for strategic engagement with critical states in the war on terrorism, they would also enhance those governments? stability against the threat of insurgency backed by foreign or domestic terrorism, restrain Russia?s neo-imperial tendencies, expand democratization of CIS defense establishments, and provide an opportunity for restoring consensus within NATO concerning roles and missions abroad as well as defining NATO?s future territorial reach.

To this end, this monograph makes the following recommendations. Based on the existing Russian cell at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa, Florida, CENTCOM and the Russian General Staff (GS) should establish a permanent liaison and cell that covers not just Afghanistan, but also Central Asia.

Once the new Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for the CIS begins, Russia should invite the Pentagon to send its representatives to be a permanent liaison to the new regional command structure and to the existing antiterrorism center. These links should be integrated within an overall coordination cell.

U.S. and Russian forces should take advantage of the experience of the CSTO and the Central Asian Battalion (CENTRASBAT) to conduct further combined exercises with Transcaspian militaries. These can and should also be conducted under the auspices of the Partnership for Peace (PfP), and Russia should be encouraged to join and take part as an equal member of PfP. These exercises can and should be supplemented by regular seminars and discussions on threat assessment, doctrine, and coordination.

A special joint training center could be established at Bishkek or Dushanbe (Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan). Finally, both Washington and NATO should encourage assigning liaison officers with Russia and Transcaspian militaries at various levels, not just at the CENTCOM/GS level, but down to regional units like Russia?s 20 1st division in Tajikistan and Russian border guards there and Russian liaison units with U.S. forces in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Finally, Washington and Moscow should maintain permanent cells and/or liaison with the new Common European Security and Defense Program (CESDP) organization coming into being in Brussels to ensure tripartite coordination among it, Russia, and the United States (as well as NATO).

These U.S. and allied activities will surely contribute to the long-term stabilization of the region which is in our own and our allies? interests whether or not Russia contributes to those programs. They certainly are also in the interests of local governments. Therefore, the new partnerships we have forged in the CIS, including Russia, offer dramatic opportunities for expanded ?defence diplomacy? (to use the British term) and security sector reform that can only have a mutually beneficial impact for all concerned parties.


Recent American and NATO agreements with Russia and deployments to Central Asia and the Transcaucasus create significant opportunities for building a truly cooperative security regime across the former Soviet Union. The idea that individual governments, NATO, and other Western security organizations effectively could play this role with or without Russia is not new. Four years ago I wrote that the many internal and international challenges to Transcaspian security ultimately pointed to NATO?s assumption of a critical regulatory role there. Russian analysts also entertained ideas on new cooperation with the European Union?s (EU) emerging defense organs in 2000.1

The proposal for NATO?s preeminence in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) came under immediate fire from those who felt that Russia should enjoy undisturbed and exclusive hegemony in the CIS and/or from analysts who believed that NATO had either outlived its mission or was, as Russian analysts charged, merely an instrument of U.S. military-political power organized to suppress Russian influence and strength. In other words, they argued that NATO was too effective a check on Russian influence for Moscow to tolerate enlargement. Since then the number of premature mourners at NATO?s funeral has also multiplied exponentially. Many of these same observers now argue either that expanding NATO?s presence in the Transcaspian might not benefit it because expansion unduly provokes Russia or that NATO after September 11, 2001, is essentially finished as an effective security provider. Still others claim that America cannot foster democracy in the CIS or elsewhere because it has not done so in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Therefore, these critics argue that Russia should receive a sphere of influence and leadership, if not exclusivity in modernizing those areas and states.2 Many analysts would also likely have argued that even after September 11, U.S.-Russian or Russo-NATO cooperation in Central Asia was only feasible in the long term. While the joint effort in Afghanistan was a necessary first step, Moscow?s fears of the West?s presence in the CIS would surely impede genuine cooperation with the West on vital security issues there.

This monograph aims to refute those criticisms. The new East-West partnership offers both the United States and NATO manifold opportunities to exercise a positive influence upon and along with Russia and governments in the CIS to enhance security. This is because the criticisms of NATO as an outdated anti-Russian or suddenly toothless institution wholly overlook or underestimate the positive changes that NATO has undergone since the end of the Cold War, and its great utility for transforming the security situation across Eurasia. Those changes offer the U.S. Government and its armed forces and NATO and its component forces an opportunity to extend the positive transformation they have undergone further afield to reduce the chances of another September 11 or an explosion of insurgency and terrorism in Eurasia or other areas adjacent to or vital to European and American security.

By acting in this fashion, the United States, its armed forces, its allies, and their armed forces can all contribute to the lasting integration of Russia into the West, an outcome that prevents it from trying to upset or revise the status quo in Eurasia and that acts as a moderating and democratizing force for reform within Russia?s national defense structure. Additionally, the United States and our allies can foster real progress in deepening the kinds of relationships and engagement with CIS militaries that will make them and their governments reliable partners with the United States and/or NATO in the war on terrorism and in potential future contingencies. Also, these transformative military-political activities and the achievement of the desired outcome of stability and integration of Eurasia with the West reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks of terrorism, insurgency, and violence in an area whose importance to the West as a whole, and not only because of energy, has risen steadily in the recent past. Given the opportunities at hand and the strategic benefits to be gained from exploiting them, it is utterly misguided to assert NATO?s uselessness and to refrain from employing available policy instruments to achieve these highly desirable objectives.


Karl Deutsch, one of the pioneers of the theory of regional integration and the originator of the concept of a security community, observed that there are four aspects to regional integration: ?maintaining peace, attaining greater multipurpose capabilities, accomplishing some specific task, and gaining a new self-image and role identity.?79 To the degree that NATO and other security organizations effectively systematize and expand their ?defence diplomacy? and mutual cooperation with Russia and the CIS, they will certainly facilitate accomplishment of all these goals for Russia and its neighbors and establish new capabilities and a new identity for Europe and its security agencies. These activities could also greatly revitalize Transatlantic cooperation while helping to stabilize and integrate the new states to the West. We should not pretend that this is a short-term process for merely a few years. Russia?s integration is already in its second decade and a very troubled affair, not least in its military aspects, and the other CIS regimes are clearly some distance behind Russia.

But if we view today?s crisis as both challenge and opportunity, it becomes clear that the war precipitated on September 11 presents vibrant new possibilities for governments and their armed forces to forge new and enduring structures of cooperation. This is only achievable on a multilateral scale, given the size of the challenge in the CIS. But multilateralism, using tested and proven institutions like NATO and the OSCE, as well as the EU?s nascent defensive capabilities, provides confidence as well as competence, while not excessively alarming the recipients of this pressure for integration.

Multilateral security engagement on military and other issues not only enhances mutual confidence, but hopefully stabilizes the former Soviet Union and galvanizes the Western security organizations to adopt new missions and forge a new strategic consensus. Few initiatives in world affairs offer so much scope for major positive transformation. Yet not many other situations also hold out the high risk that if we squander the present opportunity the result will be unending conflict across an enormous number of states and territories that may be beyond anybody?s ability to extinguish anytime soon. The challenge is therefore great, but so is the opportunity. Moreover, as the means of realizing Eurasia?s integration are now at hand, thanks to the new partnerships with Russia and CIS members, the time for action is also now.


1. Stephen Blank, ?Every Shark East of Suez: Great Power Interests, Policies, and Tactics in the Transcaspian Energy Wars,? Central Asian Survey, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 1999, pp. 149-184; Moscow, Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, in Russian, November 17, 2000, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Eurasia, (henceforth FBIS SOV), November 22, 2000.

2. Anatol Lieven, ?The Not So Great Game,? The National Interest, No. 49, Winter, 1999-2000, pp. 69-80; Anatol Lieven, ?Bobbing for Rotten Apples: Geopolitical Agendas in Ukraine and the Western CIS,? paper presented to the Project on Systemic Change and International Security in Russia and the New States of Eurasia, Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, 2000; Anatol Lieven, ?The End of NATO,? Prospect, December 2001; Richard Sokolsky and Tanya Charlick-Paley, NATO and Caspian Security: A Mission Too Far?, Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1999; Eugene Rumer, ?Fear and Loathing in the ?Stans?,? Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2001; Ira Straus, ?Wisdom or Temptation in Central Asia?? The Russia Journal, February 22-28, 2002.

72. Ibid.