Monday, December 22, 2008

The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes

The Times reported on December 13 that, in the next two months, NATO will begin transporting supplies to Afghanistan through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Alliance officials, unsurprisingly spearheaded by the US, have also allegedly been planning a supply route through the Caucasus, across the Caspian Sea and through Turkmenistan onto Afghanistan. The new routes will reduce NATO’s reliance on routes through Pakistan, which have come under heavy attack from Taliban militants in recent weeks.

This shift is more significant than its limited media coverage would suggest, for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it signals that NATO is now back to business with Russia after the Georgian war. The EU and the OSCE have returned to normal dealings with the Kremlin in recent weeks, quietly dropping objections to its continued military presence in Georgia. The deteriorating security situation along the Pakistani supply routes, and President-elect Obama’s determination to launch a ‘surge’ of up to 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, have compelled NATO to follow suit and go back to the negotiating table with Russia. For Moscow, allowing supplies to be routed through its territory is a small price to pay to put the Alliance in its debt, especially since it is ultimately in the Kremlin’s interest to have a stable Afghanistan. An agreement was initially struck at the Bucharest summit in April, but has not yet been implemented due to negotiations with the Central Asian states.

Secondly, the possibility of the so-called ‘Central Corridor’ is a signal that NATO still requires the co-operation of Caucasian states to support its operations, despite its rapprochement with Moscow. It also marks a major development in that co-operation, which has previously been limited to airlifting supplies. Road and rail transit provides a much more durable and continuous link. Rail transit would link both Georgia and Azerbaijan to the alliance to a degree previously unknown. For Tbilisi, this would be a convenient informal security guarantee against further Russian attacks: Moscow would not be willing to bomb infrastructure routes and bases in a country through which NATO equipment was passing. Alongside a proposed bilateral security pact with Washington, news of which leaked this week, the NATO transit agreement would shore up Georgia’s security and rebuild Western support, which had faded after the war with Russia.
The Caucasus Update, Issue 12, December 22, 2008
Caucasus Review of International Affairs

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