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Georgia’s Dangerous Quest for American Weapons

Since Mikheil Saakashvili took power in Georgia, the small post-Soviet republic has become one of the U.S.’s most devoted allies. It has been the highest per capita troop contributor in both Iraq and Afghanistan — even while two of its erstwhile territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, host hostile Russian forces.

Saakashvili was frightened of the Russian...

And Georgia hasn’t been particularly shy about suggesting that it sees its contributions to U.S. military missions as part of a quid pro quo. “As soldiers here, we help the American soldiers,” one Georgian corporal in Iraq told the New York Times in 2007. “Then America as a country will help our country.” In Afghanistan, it’s volunteered to serve in the dangerous Helmand province, where seven of its soldiers have been killed so far.

The help Georgia wants in return is protection against its nemesis, Russia, and to help Georgia regain control over Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Thus far, though, aside from rhetoric, the U.S. hasn’t given much actual help. George W. Bush visited Tbilisi in 2005 and called Georgia “a beacon for democracy.” Last month, a U.S. Marine Corps general effusively praised Georgians’ service in Afghanistan, noting: “Georgians like to fight.”

But talk is cheap, and there has never been much action to back up those words. Tellingly, when war broke out in 2008 over South Ossetia, the U.S. — after giving Saakashvili the impression that Washington would have his back in the case of conflict with Russia — stood by, except for one poignant move: U.S. military planes flew the Georgian soldiers serving in Iraq back home. But, by the time those troops got home, the war had already been lost.

Georgia’s primary security goal for most of Saakashvili’s rule has been to join NATO, and the U.S. did back that, but to no avail — the war with Russia took serious consideration of NATO membership off the table. After all, had Georgia been a member at the conflict’s onset, it would have forced the U.S. and the rest of NATO to declare war against Russia. Now Georgia has a new target in its sights: American weapons. Last year, it began a serious push to get the U.S. to provide it with “defensive weapons,” in particular air defense and anti-tank systems.

Providing Georgia with weapons would perpetuate a “Berlin Wall mentality”

“[L]eaving Georgia defenseless doesn’t help the situation,” Saakashvili told Newsweek. “Georgia cannot attack Russia, while a defenseless Georgia is a big temptation for Russia to change our government through military means. … As part of ongoing security cooperation, we hope that the U.S. will help us with defense-weapons capabilities.”

Lately, he’s upped the rhetorical stakes by claiming that only the U.S. could sell Georgia the weapons it needs to protect itself: “What Georgia really needs is something that it cannot get from anywhere else and that’s anti-air and anti-tank [weapons] and that’s completely obvious. … That’s where should be the next stage of the cooperation.”

The U.S. has never been a particularly large supplier of weapons to Georgia, which inherited Soviet equipment upon independence and then came to rely on other former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries for reinforcements. While the Pentagon has set up a number of military training programs with Georgia, those programs focus on preparing the Georgians for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the issue of American weapons has now come to define the state of the U.S.-Georgia relationship, with Georgia and its allies in Washington arguing that if the U.S. doesn’t give Georgia weapons, it’s kowtowing to Russia for the sake of a wishful-thinking “reset.” U.S. Senator John McCain is the leading advocate for weapons provisions; in March he told a Congressional hearing, “It is hard for me to understand, since the Russians still occupy territory that is clearly Georgian territory and continue to threaten Georgia, and yet we’re not even giving them weapons with which to defend themselves. It is not comprehensible.”

Georgia spent about $1.5 million on four top D.C. lobbying firms last year alone, far outpacing comparable countries. Those lobbying efforts include an aggressive press campaign arguing that the State Department is enforcing a “de facto embargo” by quietly blocking Georgia’s attempted arms purchases, although there is no evidence of such an embargo.

One key, but answered, question is whether Georgia expects to buy the weapons or for the U.S. to give them as aid. When asked, Georgian officials duck the question, saying that discussions aren’t that far along. But it’s one thing to allow Georgia to buy weapons, and quite another to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund them. But the numbers suggest that Georgia could never afford American hardware on its own.

Georgia is poor and Americans weapons are expensive. Tbilisi’s estimated defense budget for 2011 is about $370 million, of which one-third — $123 million — is available for procurement. The United Arab Emirates, to take one point of comparison, has just spent $7 billion on U.S. air-defense equipment. A single Patriot anti-aircraft missile costs nearly $6 million, meaning that 20 missiles — to say nothing of the launchers, radars or other essential components — would be all Georgia could afford with an entire year’s budget..

If Georgia actually wants to use its own money for weapons, then, it would do better to buy weapons from a cheaper source. Russia has intimidated many of Georgia’s former arms suppliers, especially in Eastern Europe and Israel, into ending cooperation with Georgia. But other arms manufacturers, such as China, India, Brazil, or Turkey, could surely step in.

Even if Georgia were armed to the teeth, however, it’s not clear how much good it would do them. Russia’s military is so much stronger than Georgia’s that additional weapons would be a moot point. Or worse: Though Georgia repeatedly emphasizes that it is only seeking “defensive” weapons, any defensive weapon makes aggression easier by improving defense against a counterattack. Georgia touts the threat of a Russian attack, but it was in fact Georgia which fired the first shots that precipitated the 2008 war with Russia, in an apparent belief that Russia would stand idly by.

In a paper published earlier this year, two scholars of the region, Cory Welt and Samuel Charap, argue that providing Georgia with weapons would perpetuate a “Berlin Wall mentality” of eternal conflict, and block the path that Georgia really needs to take with regard to its lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That, Welt and Charap write, is the slow, painstaking process of “conflict transformation that reduces tensions, brings people together across the conflict lines, creates trust, builds trade links, and normalizes contacts among authorities.”
But subtlety is not Saakashvili’s strong suit. While American weapons may not make any difference on the ground, they would be a tangible sign of hard support from the West, which Saakashvili clearly craves. Over the last few years, Georgia has perhaps done more, for less reward, than any other ally of the United States. That’s not an argument for shipping Georgia free missile systems, of course. It just makes the situation all the more tragic.

Georgia’s Dangerous Quest for American Weapons

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An Empire Of US Military Bases?

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The United States boats hundreds of military bases around the world, perhaps even thousands. But, no one knows for sure because even the Pentagon does not bother to keep track.

Historian and journalist Nick Turse explained, “What I’m relatively sure of is that there are no less than 1,077 US bases or sites in foreign countries….and likely there are many more than that, we just can’t be sure.”

What is known is that the US Defense budget is now about the equal to military spending in all other countries combined, and since 9/11, military and security expenditures have soared 119 percent.

Some of these bases are on tiny islands, and some, like Guantanamo Bay, serve dual purposes.

A great deal of money goes towards maintaining those bases, but once again, taxpayers and the military do not know exactly how much is allocated towards construction and maintenance at each.

Experts argue the reason for sustaining all these military installations abroad is to “maintain a far flung global empire,” and they point out that in places like Saudi Arabia and Okinawa, US military presence has been denounced by locals.

“Cleary there’s no need from the point of view of self defense for the US to have military installations all over the world. It’s really part of maintaining a far flung global empire, and at the heart of the empire and corporate and banking interests and elites that the US military is defending. Each place that the United States has a military base, the US has political power, economic power, and it’s a matter of coercion,” said Brian Becker of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.

A local Kyrgyz man told RT, “We are living here and raising our children. Why do we need this US Air base?”

In Okinawa, locals are forced to give up ten to twenty percent of the island to the US military for a base that they associate with noise, crime, and pollution. Some say the US plays under a double standard when it comes to this.

Becker argued, “The United States would never tolerate China having military bases in Canada, in Mexico, in Haiti, in the DR, in other words in countries that ring the United States. It’s not a question of law, it’s a question of might makes right. In other words, the United States is the 700 pound gorilla. It sits wherever it chooses to sit.”

While the US chooses to “sit wherever,” those most affected by these bases, both at home and abroad, don’t necessarily have a place at the table.

Jacob Hornberger, the president of The Future of Freedom Foundation said the secrecy of empire leads to the massive number of bases, a number which is not disclosed.

“They call it a Department of Defense, but we all know that’s just a charade,” he said. “This is really just a department of empire and war.”

He explained the extensive military empire combined with foreign aid to dictators generates anger and hate towards the US, which in turn which generates terrorism and the validation the government uses to take away freedoms from Americans in the United States.

“It’s really created nothing but problems for us,” Hornberger added.

David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University explained the argument the Pentagon uses to justify its military presence across the globe is “self-defense”. Even when it comes to confirmed US allies like Japan, Italy and Germany, as well as various tiny islands through the Pacific and Indian oceans.

“Why does the United States have a military base in the middle of the Indian ocean? Why does the United States need one? Is it protecting the United States in anyway?” asked Vine. “Not to mention, why are we spending tens of millions of dollars on things like golf courses. The Pentagon has somewhere on the order of 230 golf courses around the world. Couldn’t we cut a few of those, close down a few of those, put the money back into Pell Grants or housing programs or homelessness diversion programs?”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai once admitted that with the US military bases established permanently in Afghanistan there’ll be economic prosperity and end to the violence in the country. At the same time, the US economy continues in dire straits yet little is being done to address it.

“We should take the money that we would spend to expend building US bases overseas and invest in real national security needs here at home. Not just the military, but going far beyond,” argued Vine.

An empire of US military bases