War is Over. Air Bases to Stay
By Alexander Kim, TCA Correspondent
BISHKEK (TCA). Recent political conflicts in Kyrgyzstan have taken public attention away from events that are likely to change the situation in the entire Central Asian region.
A temporary air base has been installed in Bishkek to accommodate U.S. and western troops involved in the U.S.-led anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. All levels of the U.S. government, including the Senate, have already announced that the United States has long-term interests in the Central Asian region and American military presence will be here for a long time.
The events following September 11th have once again demonstrated Americans' tough pragmatism and their ability to take advantage of any unforeseen situation.
It is no secret that over the past 10 years, the United States has consistently tried to strengthen its presence in the post-Soviet Central Asian republics. Already, it has achieved a lot. The growing American influence in Kyrgyzstan is proven by the fact that U.S. dollars are used here alongside the national currency, the som, with most commercial deals made in dollars.
The United States has greatly influenced not only Kyrgyzstan's economy but also the law enforcement agencies and the army. Since 1995, Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry has sent hundreds of servicemen to the United States for military training. There is perhaps not one colonel or general in the Kyrgyz army who has not been abroad via the NATO Partnership for Peace program.
Over the past decade, U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, teachers, and business people have also been spreading the American influence in Kyrgyzstan.
However, nobody could have imagined that, within a fairly short time frame, the United States would install in Kyrgyzstan a military base to deploy roughly 3,000 soldiers and 40-50 war planes. Americans have done it openly in front of Russia, although with its permission.
We have witnessed one more round of international diplomacy in which the United States has won a decisive victory. Of course, the United States has also seen failures (take, for example, its operations in Somalia and Kosovo), but no doubt Washington has won the battle for Central Asia.
Russia's belated efforts to regain its lost positions have not seen much success. Indeed, what can Russia offer Kyrgyzstan? Nothing but empty declarations and agreements. There is no sense in blaming Russia, however, as it has not yet overcome its own economic crisis and has huge foreign debt.
Unlike Russia, the United States can annul or prolong part of Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt, grant new loans, and make new investments. To quell any uncomfortable feelings in Kyrgyzstan (like a woman favoring a rich man), Americans have done it under the slogan of combating international terrorism.
It is true that Kyrgyzstan has supported the United States and its allies in their efforts to punish Usama ben Laden and the Taliban. Therefore, when Americans asked Kyrgyzstan to allow the installation of their military base in Bishkek, the answer could only be "yes." Besides, the United States lured Kyrgyzstan with very tempting promises. Rejecting the American proposal would mean losing a good deal of money. In addition, Kyrgyzstan was not the only Central Asian state to allow the American military in country. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan had already agreed to rent their military airfields to Americans.
Why does Washington need to have an air base in Kyrgyzstan, a country located far from Afghanistan and other would-be targets of the United States? Judging from everything, the United States is very interested in this particular base and is doing its best to get operations up and running as soon as possible.
Today, the geo-political space of Central Asia has a new strong player, China. This nuclear power is trying to exert maximum influence in the region.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the world had only one super power - the United States. It wishes to control every region of the world. China poses a serious potential threat to the United States, since these two nations have diametrically opposite ideologies. So far, the Chinese government has been attentively watching after neighboring countries from behind the Great Chinese Wall, but making no serious steps. Meanwhile, this country is consistently strengthening its military potential. Some day China will emerge as a new super power.
To build an air bridge with Afghanistan, whether for military or humanitarian goals, it is more than enough for the United States to have aerodromes in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. According to the latest reports, Uzbekistan has agreed to rent Americans an air base in Khanabad for 25 years. This air base can accommodate nearly 3,000 servicemen and 50-60 warplanes. The United States will pay Uzbekistan US$ 270-300 million a year for rent and US$ 500 million to repair the base.
Americans will probably make a similar proposal to Kyrgyzstan. The question is for how many years and for what amount will the United States rent 37 hectares of Kyrgyz land near Bishkek's Manas airport?
Returning to American military-strategic interests in the region, Kazakhstan has also agreed to deploy U.S. military on its territory. What is the point of having these two military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan?
The United States can use these bases in case its relations with China worsen. If this were to occur, it is quite possible that in the near future the United States will build other military bases all over Kyrgyzstan.
It is obvious that the United States has used the September 11th tragedy not only to punish terrorists but also to strength its influence in Central Asia.
The growing U.S. military presence in the post-Soviet Central Asian republics is escalating Russia's fears of being cut off from huge oil and gas reserves in Central Asia.
The last "independent" Central Asian republic, Turkmenistan, will not stand on the sidelines for long. It will be very hard for President Niyazov to resist the temptation of getting his piece of the American pie.
As soon as Turkmenistan receives an American proposal to rent a couple of Turkmen air bases for a large amount of money (it will surely come), President Niyazov will allow the Americans to persuade him. In light of this possible situation, Moscow is trying to find common ground with Niyazov, but it will not be successful. Turkmenistan has been moving away from Russia in past years, so what is the point of resuming the friendship that promises nothing?
The United States has beat Russia and China in the first round of the struggle for Central Asia. As for Kyrgyzstan, the United States seems to be building a stand-by air base. In order not to look the sole "usurper," the United States have invited its allies to share the base. According to Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry, 11 member countries of the anti-terrorist coalition - Canada, France, Denmark, Italy, Australia, Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, Spain, Poland, and Turkey - have asked the Kyrgyz government to let their militaries come to Kyrgyzstan. Of course, their participation will be somewhat auxiliary, and the United States will play the leading role.
As foreign military presence grows in Kyrgyzstan, the allies will probably need more bases for air and ground forces. The situation is unfolding.