The Next Arms Race?

October 15, 2009

An arms race may be fermenting in Central Asia. The region’s ethnic diversity coupled with its fierce nationalism is providing fertile ground for competitive militarization. Weapon purchases are on the rise and standing armies are being bolstered. Take for example Kyrgyzstan. Last December the Kyrgyz government passed a singularly aggressive draft bill. According to First Lieutenant Ivan Mikhailov the measure is expected to bolster the current 12,500 troops with an additional 6,000 in the mobile reserve and 20,000 in the alternative service this year alone. The active call up began October 1st and is obligatory for all Kyrgyz men 18 and over.

The current forced conscription is clearly intended to increase Kyrgyzstan’s clout in Central Asia, a region where there is an unspoken—but unequivocal—struggle for dominance. While Uzbekistan controls much of the area, it lacks the electricity and water supply of its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Conflict may be imminent as it is said that whoever controls the water controls Central Asia. Admittedly, Central Asia’s participation in the CSTO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization do bespeak improved relations. But the area is still rift with separatism. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan has yet to ratify border delimitations with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—negotiations, which have been on the table for nearly a decade. The region’s border tensions are also being strained by Russia’s lingering attempts at hegemony in the poverty-ridden yet resource-rich area. Moscow is Central Asia’s main supplier of weapons—and not impartially. In 2008, Kyrgyzstan received Russian military assistance totaling 2.4 million dollars. Russia has also stationed both troops and a military base within the Kyrgyz Republic. Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors are weary of its being empowered by the former Soviet nexus.

-Samantha Brletich