Wednesday, 27 August 2003

MILITARY REFORM IN UZBEKISTAN: DEFINING THE PRIORITIES

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By Roger N. McDermott & Farkhad Tolipov (8/27/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: The evolving and dynamic security environment in Central Asia has compelled regional states to re-examine their military capacity in the light of these changes, while struggling with the problems stemming from the Soviet legacy. Military reform has essentially revolved around attempts to restructure, re-equip and train modern, mobile, well trained and combat capable armed forces that have the capability of rapid reaction to security challenges from terrorism to guerrilla warfare. Uzbekistan has thus far proven the most successful in putting in place the basic building blocs for military reform and has consequently emerged with the most capable armed forces in the region.
BACKGROUND: The evolving and dynamic security environment in Central Asia has compelled regional states to re-examine their military capacity in the light of these changes, while struggling with the problems stemming from the Soviet legacy. Military reform has essentially revolved around attempts to restructure, re-equip and train modern, mobile, well trained and combat capable armed forces that have the capability of rapid reaction to security challenges from terrorism to guerrilla warfare. Uzbekistan has thus far proven the most successful in putting in place the basic building blocs for military reform and has consequently emerged with the most capable armed forces in the region. Although based on the Soviet legacy forces on its territory, the Uzbek armed forces have sought to put their Soviet heritage behind them and actively pursue alternative, even western styles of force management. It is particularly noteworthy that ranging beyond the creation of its military districts, common in other Central Asian militaries, uniquely Uzbekistan has formed a Joint Chiefs of Staff; which offers a unified command for ground and air elements, but also integrates other military structures such as Interior and Border troops. In so doing it will enhance the rapid reaction of its forces to any crisis situation, avoiding the muddle to which other militaries in the region have proven susceptible. Other structural changes have included the downsizing of large tank and aviation units in favor of smaller units such as special operations and search and intelligence units. These innovations stem from a more adequate assessment of the possible operations theatre. Steps have also been taken to implement western styles of military management. For instance, the development and implementation of the sergeant level within the army, through U.S. and other foreign assistance programs, has introduced an important element into the military structure, which will facilitate professionalization. Uzbekistan now has four sergeant training centers of its own. A center for modeling and simulation for the armed forces has also been established, alongside other reforms, intended to train and teach a new generation of well-educated Uzbek officers, capable of showing individual initiative. Professionalizing its armed forces is also well underway. Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov, the only civilian defense minister within Central Asia, is a critical figure in these plans. The professional army is to be built on a contract basis, stipulating all conditions of service including salaries, future career perspectives, social protection, as well as all duties related to military service. Only those who have already accomplished military training can be admitted to contract service. According to unofficial data, one third of the Uzbek army already consists of professionals.

IMPLICATIONS: Clearly such military reforms bring teething problems. The ethnic composition of the Uzbek armed forces, for instance, has altered since its inception. After an initial hemorrhaging of Russian officers, mostly returning to Russia or Ukraine, during the early 1990s, today there are ethnic Russian officers serving alongside Uzbeks. However, not all officers speak Uzbek, whilst the soldiers now almost exclusively speak Uzbek, creating a language problem in the chain of command and control. The Uzbek Military Academy intends to resolve this through the use of more Uzbek language courses for its officers, hopefully eliminating the problem within two years. Uzbekistan will need more military assistance to further its military reform, especially in the following key areas. More training is needed, specifically targeted on improving the educational standard of officers, so that their knowledge base extends beyond military expertise to political and social matters. In addition, there is a need for more English language teaching, especially if there is to be greater interoperability in future with NATO forces. Further, the use of the Uzbek language needs be actively promoted within the armed forces. Uzbekistan will also require significant help in its defense industry, in order to facilitate the production of modern equipment and weapons systems, and improve its capacity for repair and maintenance of its present systems. An increase in joint military exercises would benefit the Uzbek armed forces. They actively participated in CENTRASBAT exercises in the 1990s, and have been the lead regional participant in NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercises. Increasing the frequency, scope and structure of such exercises would help underpin Uzbekistan’s military reform and give it a focal point for continuing on its path of westernizing its armed forces. As the armed forces become more professional and modern, the demand for more sophisticated equipment rises, especially for the promotion of border security and stemming the flow of WMD materials through the region, requiring modern detection equipment. Night-vision goggles; body armor, communications equipment and helicopters for better troop mobility are all essential components in re-equipping the Uzbek armed forces. Uzbekistan’s ongoing military reform will contribute greatly to improving the security of the country, and will have regional implications. Furthermore, closer integration with the west, through NATO PfP programs and further joint exercises will be as a consequence of Uzbekistan’s related priority for its armed forces: adopting western styles of management. Tashkent is gradually distancing its armed forces from their Soviet heritage, and genuinely reforming towards western methods and practices. Policy makers will have to ensure that the pace of reform does not exceed Uzbekistan’s potential to support and properly implement military reform in full.

CONCLUSION: Unilateral military exercises are currently underway in Uzbekistan’s south-western military district, intended to test the capability of the Uzbek armed forces to respond to a militant incursion, similar to the Batken incursions of 1999 and 2000. Such exercises have become regular instead of sporadic, and are being held on a specific and difficult terrain (mountains, desert, steppe, valley). Western instructions attend and assist in conducting different stages of these exercises, that among other seek to develop methods and means of communication of different troops and units and their management. In future, such exercises may see Norwegian, Polish, Italian and German participation, among others, revealing better levels of interoperability with western forces. Such targets are not realized quickly, but only through painstaking commitment to reform. Essentially, the west will have to match this appetite for reform with equal enthusiasm for assistance programs to enhance training, equipping and working with an important regional NATO partner state.

AUTHORS’ BIO: Roger N. McDermott is an honorary senior research associate, department of politics and international relations, university of Kent at Canterbury (UK). Farkhad Tolipov is an assistant professor in the department of international relations at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent and an affiliate of the Institute of Strategic and Regional studies under the President of Uzbekistan.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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