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This is the second in a series of reports on the House Armed Services Committee’s effort to augment the Pentagon’s 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. Panel Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) launched the Committee Defense Review on Sept. 14. (DR, 09/15/05)

September 28, 2005Testimony before the CDR’s Threat Panel on threats from Eurasia provided an expansive view that ranged from nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union to US alliances and bases in Central Asian republics.

Russia is a “coat of many colors,” according to Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Throughout the 1990s, he said that Russia experienced hardship and disorder, coupled with emergence of a free market society. President Vladimir Putin’s gradual consolidation of power “cannot hold Russia together by force, yet it seems determined to remake it into a unitary state,” said Aron.

Over the past few years, security destabilization in Russia’s periphery has increased—most notably in the drawn out, low-intensity conflict in Chechnya, where Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops. According to Aron, if Russia pulls its military out of Chechnya in a hurry, the vacuum created would fuel a resurgence of al Qaeda-linked warlords (such as Shamil Basayev, the Chechen mastermind of the Beslan school siege in 2004) and make the country into an Afghanistan-like haven for militant Islam.

Martha Brill Olcott, a senior associate with the Carnegie Institute, noted that Russia’s military reform is critical to the future of the region. “The major security challenge Russia faces is tied to the unresolved status of the Chechen Republic,” said Olcott, adding, “This is made worse by the slow pace or difficulty of achieving military reform in Russia.”

The danger emanating from the post-Soviet Union Russia, said Fiona Hill, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the “existence of former Soviet nuclear chemical and biological weapons sites.” A rogue group’s acquisition of or access to these weapons is a “very real threat,” said Hill.

She added that potential threats in this region include the sale of weapons and military equipment by former Soviet republics. For instance, Hill noted the sale of military air defense radar equipment by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the eve of the US attack and other one-time Soviet satellites that continue to sell conventional weapons across the globe, fueling civil conflicts with Warsaw Pact-era weapons.

Hill noted, too, that central Asia holds risks such as a military confrontation between long-time enemies Iran and Azerbaijan that would inevitably draw in NATO member Turkey on the side of Azerbaijan—in turn having immediate implications for the US. Hill said that there is widespread speculation in Iran that Azerbaijan will be used as a staging area for any strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

With its “long history of radicalism,” said Hill, “Central Asia has considerable potential for the emergence of new extremist groups.”