WASHINGTON DC. August 3, 2011: The US has never been a supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. What the Pentagon has done is set up a number of military training programs with this Caspian country, which focus on the country’s self-defense on the Caspian, border security, as well as preparing the Azeris for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. TURAN has learned from Washington DC-based sources, the idea of buying American weapons was always a red line of the US-Azeri relations. Recently Azerbaijan again began a serious push to get the US provide it with "defense weapons," in particular, air defense and anti-tank systems.
“Azeri lobbyists and their allies in the US capital received a new assignment from Baku – target getting American weapons for Azerbaijan”, the source said.
“Several years ago, this issue almost defined the US-Azeri relationship, but back then, Baku
stepped down after understanding that they couldn’t afford American weaponry on their own”, one of Azerbaijan’s former lobbyists told TURAN’s correspondent, adding, now, Azeri supporters in Washington are arguing that the oil-reach country doesn’t need the US to give them the weapons as aid, they can buy the weaponry.
Meanwhile, E. Wayne Merry, senior fellow for Europe and Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC, says that the US has a long-standing policy -- extending over the past three Administrations -- not to introduce lethal equipment into the regional conflicts in the Caucasus.
“For that reason, the US does not sell weaponry to either Azerbaijan, or Armenia. The US does work with both countries in a range of non-lethal aspects of military-to-military cooperation, either of a bilateral character or within the Partnership for Peace program of NATO”, Merry, who served in the State and Defense Departments for many years, told TURAN’s Washington DC correspondent.
“Military sales to foreign countries are governed by US law and must receive approval from the State and Defense Departments so that they will be consistent with US policies and interests. In the case of Azerbaijan, as equally with Armenia, the governing policy is not to contribute to an ongoing conflict through military sales, but to contribute to a diplomatic solution. What those countries do with other states is, of course, a matter for them to decide”, he added.
Jon Chicky is a military member of the faculty of the National War College in Washington, DC.
In an interview with TURAN’s correspondent, Mr. Chicky explains more details.
Question: Oil-rich Azerbaijan complains that the US doesn’t sell it weapons and military equipment, although there is high-level security cooperation between the two countries. In one of his latest statements president Aliyev mentioned that when it comes to Azerbaijan, the military cooperation is only formal, and US military weapons, such as helicopters, airplanes (F-16), Patriot etc. are out of Azerbaijan’s reach. What are the reasons here? Are there any restrictions in the US laws in terms of selling weapons to countries like Azerbaijan?
Answer: First, I would like to state that views presented in this interview are my own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US Government. There is essentially one reason why Azerbaijan has been unable to acquire weapon systems from the United States. It is Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act (Public Law 102-511). Section 907 was enacted in 1992 and restricts Azerbaijan from acquiring weapon systems from the United States. While this piece of legislation has been and remains controversial, it is the law and can only be repealed by the Congress. In 2002, Section 907 was amended to where the President of the United States can waive (both President Bush and Obama have used this waiver every year since 2002) the restrictions in the original legislation under the following conditions: "The President may waive section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act if he determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that to do so--(A) is necessary to support United States efforts to counter international terrorism; or (B) is necessary to support the operational readiness of United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter international terrorism; or (C) is important to Azerbaijan's border security; and (D) will not
undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia." Because of the United States’ interest in a peaceful resolution to the Mountainous Karabakh conflict, US officials keep this final criterion in mind regarding defense cooperation with Armenia as well, and apply an even-handed approach in their work with the two countries.
What are the criteria for Azerbaijan to be able to buy the US weapons? Can any country that has money buy weapons from the US?
There are a myriad of laws, regulations, and provisions that govern what weapons can be sold and/or provided. The Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs oversees the government-to-government and commercial company-to-government transactions. Beyond the legal/legislative aspects of which country can or cannot acquire US weapons technology, there are other factors of whether U.S. weapon systems are the right fit for a particular country. Issues such as purchase costs, compatibility with other (communication) systems, maintenance costs, etc. For example, if a country already possessing Soviet-era weapons were to acquire US small arms (e.g. automatic rifles) then this purchase would necessitate a large scale purchase of ammunition as US ammunition is of a different size than what is used in Soviet/Russian weapons. Ammunition is expensive and given training and operational needs, the ammunition required for these weapons can be large and thus costly.
When looking at the Caucasus situation, US diplomacy has always been against weaponisation. Does the US prioritize any of the South Caucasus countries in terms of military cooperation? Also, what do you think about the fact that Azerbaijan is buying military weapons that we've mentioned above from Russia and Iran?
Not surprisingly, much of US security assistance efforts worldwide are focused on assisting countries who have forces with the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. All three South Caucasus countries have contingents in Afghanistan. Given Georgia has the largest contingent in Afghanistan of the three South Caucasus states it receives the largest share of the regional defense-military assistance from the US.
This assistance is focused on defense institution building and coalition operations. As to Azerbaijan's purchase of military equipment from other countries, Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and it has to decide what defense systems it needs and from whom. That being said, Azerbaijan should be cognizant of its Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) limits when contemplating future equipment purchases as well as other international norms and practices.
Although the US doesn’t sell weapons to Azerbaijan, American soldiers have helped Azerbaijan in military modernization. What are the conditions to enlarge this cooperation?
Essentially, the conditions lie within the defense leadership of both countries. While the United States may not presently be in a position to provide major weapons/defense articles to Azerbaijan given existing US laws, there are other areas where our defense-military cooperation can exist. As has been reported, there have been several meetings over the past year seeking ways to expand the defense-military relationship. One aspect of US defense cooperation over the past years has been to assist Azerbaijan in achieving its NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) goals. Another aspect is to have Azerbaijan send military officers and defense ministry civilians to US military academic institutions. This is one area that Azerbaijan could use its own financial resources to acquire additional student positions in these institutions. A strong command of English is a major requirement for attendance in our military colleges and universities. The US and Azerbaijan are also cooperating in Azerbaijan’s efforts to increase its capacity to protect critical energy infrastructure (Turan).