Central Asia, Caucasus: Washington Seeks Cut in Foreign Assistance Budget

By Joshua Kucera

The United States intends to cut funding for assistance programs in most countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, under the new budget proposed by the Obama administration on February 14.

Aid for Azerbaijan would see a significant decrease, while aid for Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan would decrease only slightly from the budget proposed last year. Only Kazakhstan would see a significant increase in aid. Overall, the general aid budget for the eight countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia would decrease by about 4 percent, from $241 million to $232 million, while the overall State Department budget would increase by about 1 percent.

The administration's proposal needs to be approved by Congress, which can make changes to the appropriations. But the request gives a hint as to the strategic priorities of the White House. The newly released budget is for fiscal year 2012, which starts in October 2011.

Military aid to the region also would be cut under the proposal, by about 8 percent, from $36.7 million in last year's request to $34 million this year. More than half that aid, $18 million, is earmarked for Georgia. All the states in the region would see their military aid stay the same or decrease slightly, with the exception of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan's increase would be modest: it would get $100,000 in Foreign Military Financing aid, which allows countries to buy weapons and equipment. Nevertheless, that would be the first time Uzbekistan got FMF money since 2005, when aid was cut in the wake of the Andijan massacre.

Georgia also would get the largest share of civilian aid, $66.7 million, as compared to $68.6 million in last year's budget. The language in budget justification documents said that Georgia is being supported for its economic and political reforms.

“US assistance in Eurasia focuses on encouraging the emergence of democratic countries with market-based economies, and the FY 2012 request prioritizes funding to support the most reform-oriented countries in the region as they continue to move toward European integration. With Georgia’s major infrastructure and immediate recovery needs in the wake of the August 2008 conflict with Russia met, FY 2012 funding for Georgia will focus on sustaining the longer-term efforts to build solid democratic institutions and provide the tools for broad-based economic growth,” a State Department budget justification document explained.

Assistance to Georgia is intended to “help strengthen the separation of powers, develop a more vibrant civil society and political plurality, bolster independent media and public access to information, enable economic recovery, increase energy security, and continue to improve social sector reforms,” the State Department said.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would get the largest aid packages in Central Asia, at $40.8 million and $38.8 million, respectively. The State Department said that Kyrgyzstan was being prioritized to support the country’s efforts to establish a parliamentary democracy. “The FY 2012 request prioritizes assistance for the Kyrgyz Republic to support the new Government’s efforts to reform core institutions, law enforcement, and increase economic opportunities,” the State Department wrote in its budget justification documents. The amount of proposed aid for FY2012 is only a shade higher than last year's request, of $40.3 million, when the former government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev still was in power.

Tajikistan's aid package would “emphasize increasing the stability of Tajikistan, particularly given its potential impact on US efforts in Afghanistan,” the State Department wrote. “Programs will help strengthen the country’s border security and counter-narcotics efforts, strengthen local governance, combat extremism, and improve education and health.”
Editor's note:  Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues. He is the author of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.