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U.S. Military Engagement with Transcaucasia and Central Asia

Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank. | June 2000

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Conclusions and Recommendations

Undoubtedly the United States must be engaged with the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. To the extent that states like Ukraine are vital to European security or the Transcaspian states are vital to unimpeded energy access; we need to be there to maintain a regional security balance. But we have no way to gauge the effectiveness of our military engagement. Thus, for engagement to represent a truly strategic program in fact, and not just in rhetoric, we need effective standards to measure progress so we can chart the improvement of the local armed forces? capabilities and those forces? democratization.

Above the level of the major commands whose task it is to devise and implement those standards, we need a more comprehensive review of what our strategy is in areas like the Transcaspian. Are we making the same mistake we have made earlier in the Third World in identifying with men and regimes that are inherently unstable and whose pathologies are visible to unbiased observers? If we are doing so, the results will be like those of prior American defeats in the Third World. We need to review to what degree we are creating an implied commitment to defend these governments against both internal and external threats to their security and independence. Military engagement cannot become, as it has been, an uncontrolled version of mission creep by which training and provision of assistance becomes a policy that ties our hands and creates an atmosphere of moral commitment that may be unjustified in some crises. (Of course, it may well be justified in others.)

There is a great danger that in the Transcaspian, because of the importance of access to energy and of balancing the Russian presence, we are drifting into an unplanned but protracted military presence. Such a drift isthe opposite of strategy because it represents a policy of short-run opportunism and taking the easy way out rather than a critical examination of where our interests lie and how we can, in fact, support them. If engagement is a strategy, or part of our overall national security strategy as advertised in official statements, then it must be soundly conceived. For now it appears that many preexisting programs have been quickly extended, or improvised.

On balance it does not appear that either the government or the executive agencies to implement this strategy know exactly what it is supposed to achieve, whether it is achieving some unspecified goal, or what risks it entails. Ultimately, our current regional engagement represents programs that address only a relatively small but important part of the regional threats to security, but do so in an improvised fashion. However, inspired improvisation is not sufficient as a policy or as a strategy.