Bush Administration’s ‘security first’ approach toward the Caspian

The advent of the George W. Bush Administration did not change the main drivers of US regional and Caspian policy.[1] This was especially true in the energy policy field, since the crisis experienced by the US in 2000-2001 placed the issue high on the electoral and presidential agenda, providing fresh stimulus to the fulfillment of the Clinton Administration’s regional goals.

Hence it was not by chance that one of the first initiatives undertaken by the new Administration was the establishment of a National Energy Policy Development Group which, under the guidance of Vice President Dick Cheney, was charged with the task of developing a comprehensive long-term strategy to meet US energy requirements - embodied by the May 2001 National Energy Policy.[2]

Besides tackling the energy issue from the traditional domestic demand perspective, the so-called “Cheney Report” devoted special attention to the supply and external components of the energy equation, balancing domestic energy interests against international strategic concerns for the first time.[3] Above all, the international scope of the document was the result of the shelving of the “energy independence” rhetoric, which resulted in greater emphasis on the external component of energy security policies and the need to enhance the linkage between US international relationships and energy security - therefore making the latter a priority of US trade and foreign policy. The document maintained, “US national energy security depends on sufficient energy supplies to support US and global economic growth”.[4]

In the above scheme, the Caspian Sea was regarded as one of the key areas in which the Administration was called to engage in order to strengthen trade alliances, deepen dialogue with major oil producers and work for greater oil production with a view to ensuring diversification of supply. In particular, the Report recommended that the Presidency deepen commercial dialogue with Caspian states - and particularly with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan - in order to provide a strong, transparent and stable business climate for energy and related infrastructure projects. Moreover the Report recommended supporting the efforts of private investors and regional governments to develop the BTC oil pipeline and the Shah Deniz gas pipeline - the latter being seen as a way “to help Turkey and Georgia diversify their natural gas supplies and help Azerbaijan export its gas via a pipeline that will continue diversification of secure energy supply routes”.[5]

Besides being able to rely on the political and institutional channels set up by the previous Presidency, the Bush Administration’s Caspian energy policy took advantage of the steady rise in oil prices[6] which contributed to remove one of the main commercial hurdles to the implementation of pipeline projects along the Azerbaijani-Turkish route. Therefore, having helped pipeline projects receive financial support from the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Bush Administration presided over the construction of the BTC and BTE, inaugurated in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Notwithstanding the high degree of continuity between the Clinton and the Bush administrations’ approach toward the Caspian, the main difference between them lay in the balance of their major vectors i.e. the prioritization of energy and security considerations and policies. While energy policy took priority over security cooperation during the Clinton presidential mandates, the Bush Administration marked the reversal of these priorities.

Clearly, the 9/11 attack on the US represented the single element triggering such a change in policy priorities - a change whose nature was tactical rather than strategic, basically accounting for an acceleration of policies initiated in the course of the previous decade. Above all, 9/11 had a direct and deep impact on the domestic premises of US Caspian policy, greatly influencing the public opinion’s conception of the area. While before 9/11, it appeared difficult for the US Administration to pursue a more direct engagement toward an area perceived as remote and far from the national interest, after the terrorist attacks a broad consensus emerged on the need for a more proactive policy. Moreover, at a systemic and regional level, the anti-terrorist campaign launched after 9/11 generated an important convergence in transatlantic policies as well as a relevant yet short-lived ‘honeymoon’ between Washington and Moscow, which lent support to the US in the Central Asian Enduring Freedom campaign.[7] Both trends facilitated a proactive US policy toward the Caspian basin and, broadly speaking, toward the Caucasus and Central Asian regions.

While continuing to lend support to the multilateral regional and subregional security cooperation frameworks,[8] the Bush Administration’s Caspian policies were characterized by a greater emphasis on the bilateral level of relations with partners. In such a context, the main accomplishment which made it possible for the White House to pursue a more coherent Caspian policy was the possibility - granted to the Administration by Congress - to waive on an annual basis section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act, which prevented direct military assistance to Azerbaijan. The circumvention of this legislation, unsuccessfully but constantly pursued also by the previous Administration, was indeed facilitated by the aforementioned national consensus on the need for a proactive regional policy on the one hand, and the prompt support that Baku ensured for the Enduring Freedom operation on the other. Azerbaijani support - along with Kazakh and Turkmen support - proved to be critically important for the success of military operations in Afghanistan, as well as being fully in line with the guidelines for action outlined by the National Security Strategy released in September 2002.[9] As a key transit area for reaching the Afghan scenario, the littoral states’ granting of overflight, landing and refueling rights in support of operations in Afghanistan, along with the availability of their port and road networks for sea and land transportation of nonlethal equipment, made the Caspian a vital corridor for US and NATO regional power projection within the so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN).[10] In addition, the burden-sharing problem of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) participants, as well as the disagreement regarding the mission’s scope and threat perception, made the contribution of regional non-NATO partners all the more important to the US.[11]

Therefore, as of 2002 the United States launched bilateral military cooperation with Azerbaijan and intensified its existing ties with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, providing the littoral states with a considerable amount of military aid, mainly under the Foreign Military Financing, Counterterrorism Fellowship Program and the International Military Education and Training programs (see Table 10.3). Against this backdrop, US military assistance acquired a significant maritime dimension, designated to improve the partners’ ability to prevent and respond to terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other transnational threats in the Caspian, such as drug and human trafficking. These, in particular, were the basic aims of the Caspian Guard Initiative, launched in 2005 to coordinate activities in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with those of the

US Central Command and other US government agencies with a view to enhancing Caspian security.[12]

Table10.3 - Annual funds budgeted for US annual security assistance* to Caspian littoral states (FY2002-2008, in millions dollars)

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2002-2008

Azerbaijan

14.82

10.79

18.47

33.14

33.02

33.56

47.41

191.21

Kazakhstan

17.32

28.71

52.55

42.34

1 9.35

60.64

60.39

281.30

Turkmenistan

5.93

0.96

2.70

6.58

1.75

5.27

5.37

28.56

*Amounts refer to both Department of States and Department of Defense Source: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, Country Assessments

As a matter of fact, while bilateral cooperation with the two littoral states steadily improved during the Bush administrations, cooperation with Turkmenistan turned out to be more limited in scope and depth, mainly due to Ashgabat’s positive neutrality policy which restricted military exchanges with the US, and to isolationist policies that also had negative repercussions on energy cooperation - especially under Saparmurat Niyazov’s rule (1991-2006). Indeed, although the US was successful in overcoming the challenge of westward transportation of Caspian resources from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, this was not the case with Turkmenistan, whose involvement in the TCGP project did not materialize.[13]

Due to its strategic location in the heart of the Central Asian mass, and its positive attitude toward cooperation with the White House, Kazakhstan became one of the key partners in view of the US power projection toward Afghanistan. Along with their cooperation under the NATO aegis, Washington and Astana developed bilateral security cooperation with a significant naval component. Although the topic of Caspian Sea militarization falls outside the scope of this article, it is worth noting that after 2003 the US contributed to the build-up and modernization of the Kazakh Caspian fleet and naval infrastructure, as well as to the formulation of a national military naval doctrine.[14] A key component of US-Kazakh security cooperation was the attempt to provide Astana with ground, sea and air-force support capabilities to protect its Caspian offshore and coastal energy infrastructure.[15]

Protection of offshore energy infrastructures has also represented a special focus within US-Azerbaijani bilateral security cooperation in the Caspian basin. It is worth noting that besides responding to a counterterrorism logic, the maritime cooperation was simultaneously - though indirectly - functional to defuse the risk of interstate crisis linked to cross-claims on offshore deposits, in the absence of a collective agreement on border demarcation. This was particularly true in the case of Iran, whose claims on the Azerbaijani Alov field led to the July 2001 incident between an Iranian warship with air support and two BP prospecting vessels that were forced to cease operations.[16] The linkage between maritime cooperation and the Iranian threat emerged mainly through the August 2003 Gas and Oil Platform (GOPLAT) joint maritime exercise, involving the Araz-Alov-Sharg deposits area and strongly criticized by Teheran as an attempt by Washington to interfere in the Caspian legal status issue.[17]

The relevance of the Central Asian chessboard for US strategic thinking, as well as the primacy of the security consideration, also had a relevant impact on the conception of energy security and energy cooperation. Indeed, with more emphasis than in the 1990s, the development of the Caspian energy potential came to be regarded as a strategic asset for stabilizing and averting state-failure in the Central Asian region, as well as limiting Russian leverage on European allies once again and isolating Iran from potential new markets and business opportunities.

While the linkage between energy cooperation and Central Asian stabilization would become a key feature under Barack Obama’s Presidency (cf. infra), the trend toward securitization of energy policy had already emerged during the Bush Administration. Against the backdrop of renewed tensions between Washington and Moscow, this trend became particularly evident in the wake of the so-called gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine (2006 and 2009) and, broadly speaking, as a result of Moscow’s ostensible tendency to resort to ‘energy leverage’ in relations with both neighbors and buyers.[18] Accordingly, the will to bolster a European gas supplies diversification policy was the main driver behind the support the US ensured for the EU Southern Corridor concept, aimed at connecting the Caspian Sea with European gas markets - and in particular for the Nabucco pipeline, its most ambitious project in terms of both transport capacity and markets targeted. Besides the relevance of the Southern Corridor in defusing the risk connected to the EU’s over-dependence on Russian gas supplies, US support for the Nabucco project was fully in line with Washington's traditional regional energy policy goals. Indeed, the Southern Corridor ratio almost overlapped with the Clinton Administration’s East- West Corridor concept - in terms of potential suppliers, transit routes and regional development goals.[19] Moreover, thanks in part to US pressure,[20] the Southern Corridor project took over the principle of Iranian isolation from Caspian energy projects.

However, the switching role of the US - which moved from being the main promoter of Caspian infrastructure projects to being the supporter of EU plans - manifested a relevant regional transition, with Washington taking a backseat in the international competition for westward transportation of Caspian gas, leaving Brussels as the main external Euro-Atlantic anchor for regional producer and transit states.

  • [1] As per the primacy of security and energy, along with internal reform, for the US projection toward the area,see A.E. Jones, “Central Asia: Developments and the Administration’s Policy”, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia House International Relations Committee, Washington, DC, 29 October 2003. The same goals were put forward into the March 2006 US National Security Strategy.
  • [2] National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), National Energy Policy, US Government Printing Office, Washington, 2001.
  • [3] For a coeval analysis of the 2001 National Energy Policy, see E. Morse, A. Myers Jaffe, Strategic EnergyPolicy Update, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and Council on Foreign Relations, 2011.
  • [4] NEPDG, (2001), pp. 8-13.
  • [5] Ibid., pp. 8-13. The key role of the Caspian development in strengthening US energy security and the sharedprosperity of the global economy was embodied in the 2002 National Security Strategy. See The White House,The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, US Government Printing Office, Washington, 2002, pp. 19-20.
  • [6] The price of West Texas Intermediate oil - the U.S. benchmark - fell, in consequence of the Asian crisis, till$11.28 in December 1998. Instead, at the start of the BTC construction, in September 2002, the price wasabove $30 - while by the time first Azerbaijani oil reached Ceyhan, in May 2006, the price increased to $70.84.
  • [7] In the wake of 9/11 events, the emerging of high expectations raised by Washington-Moscow entente theconsequent possibility of building a “truly cooperative security regime across the former Soviet Union” are bestportrayed by the vision of even US traditionally hard-liners. See e.g. S. Blank, The Future of Transcaspian security, Policy Papers, US Army War College, 2002.
  • [8] The reference goes particularly to NATO and GUAM. While the US supported the re-launching of GUAMframework under the denomination of GUAM-Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, NATOregional focus deepened considerably in the wake of September 11 and as a result of the decisions taken atPrague and Istanbul summits in 2002 and 2004. At Prague Summit Allies agreed to deepen bilateral cooperation through the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP), a tailored mechanism designed to ensure that thevarious mechanisms in use correspond to partners’ priorities. Along with Georgia (2004), Armenia (2005) andMoldova (2006), Azerbaijan agreed the first IPAP with NATO in May 2005, while Kazakhstan in January 2006.Moreover, in Prague the North Atlantic Council launched the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T), aiming at improving bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism, through political consultation as wellas practical measures. Both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan participate in the PAP-T framework. The IstanbulSummit marked the further deepening of NATO’s focus on the wider Caspian area, as primarily testified by thedecision to create the post of Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asiaalong with two NATO Liaison Officers, based in Georgia and Uzbekistan.
  • [9] In particular, basing, refuelling and overflight rights proved to be critically important in order to create a webof small forward operation bases - the so called lily pads - ensuring US military strategy an higher degree offlexibility. See V. Korkmaz, “The New Power Calculations and ‘Structured’ Relations in the Fluctuating SecurityEnvironment of Eurasia”, in N. Atesoglu Guney (ed.), Contentious Issues of Security and the Future of Turkey,Ashgate, Albershot, 2007, pp. 99-119.
  • [10] The NDN is composed of three main land routes. Among these, the Southern Route connects GeorgianBlack Sea port of Poti to the Kazakh Caspian port of Aktau - and from here to Afghanistan - via Baku and asea route. Along the same route runs also an air corridor linking the US Incirlik base, in Anatolia, with CentralAsia. The remaining NDN land routes connect Baltic ports to Afghanistan through the Kazakh territory. As perthe relevance of NDN for US cooperation with Southern Caucasus and Central Asian partners, see A. Spruds,D. Potjomkina (eds.), Northern Distribution Network: Redefining Partnerships Within NATO and Beyond, Riga,Latvian Institute of International Affairs, 2013.
  • [11] A. Bagbaslioglu, “Beyond Afghanistan NATO’s partnership with Central Asia and South Caucasus: A tangledpartnership?”, Journal of Eurasian Studies, no. 5, 2014, p. 89.
  • [12] S. Quigley, European Command transforming to accommodate new challenges, American Forces PressService, 10 March 2006.
  • [13] Several were the factors which led to the failure of the TCGP project. Besides the fierce opposition of Moscow and Teheran, based upon the lack of a comprehensive agreement among littoral states, two were themain causes. Firstly, the completion of Blue Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Turkey (2003) seemedto limit the market prospects of Turkmen gas. Secondly, the realization of the pipeline was hindered by the lackof multilatreal agreemnt over status of the Caspian which would provide legal basis for construction of such apipeline .
  • [14] US-Kazakh naval security cooperation was part of a wider agreement reached in September 2003 andaimed simultaneously at combating terrorism, developing peacekeeping forces, bolstering air defense capabilities. The agreement was extended twice, in 2008 for a four-year period and in 2012 till 2017.
  • [15] R. McDermott, Kazakhstan’s Defense Policy: An Assessment of the Trends, Strategic Studies Institute, USArmy War College, Carlisle, 2009, pp. 14-15.
  • [16] Eurasia Insight, 30 July 2001.
  • [17] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Azerbaijan Report, 25 August 2003 .
  • [18] In the aftermath of 2006 Russo-Ukrainian gas crisis, speaking in Vilnius US Vice President Dich Cheney referred to Moscow’s “supply manipulation or attempts to monopolise transportation” as “tools of intimidation orblackmail”. See S. Wagstyl, “Cheney rebukes Putin on energy blackmail”, Financial Times, 4 May 2006.
  • [19] In expressing the reasons for the support of the Southern Corridor, in 2012 a Congressional Minority StaffReport from perfectly highlighted the overlap between European energy policy and traditional US Goals, empathizing that: “The next phase of the Southern Corridor would advance several US and NATO foreign policy objectives: it would further isolate Iran, assist in cultivating partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia and bolstertheir sovereign independence, and perhaps most importantly, curtail Russia’s energy leverage over EuropeanNATO allies”. Energy and Security from the Caspian to Europe, Minority Staff Report Prepared for the Use ofthe Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 12 December 2012, Washington, US GPO, p. 2.
  • [20] See, e.g., the declaration of then-US Special Envoy for Caspian Energy, Richard Morningstar, in Reuters, 16July 2009.
 
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