Promises, Promises

When the United States makes a commitment, prudence dictates that such guarantees be implemented.

When the United States makes a commitment, prudence dictates that such guarantees be implemented. Realists understand the importance of a state keeping its word - for the trust that it engenders.

The United States is the world's leading purveyor of advanced military technology. U.S. military-technical assistance can tip the balance in any number of regional theaters of operation. When Washington proffers technology, arms and training, it is of vital importance that the parameters of such assistance be clearly delineated.

And, most of all, it is crucial that U.S. assistance be used to further America's own national interests.

Yet, when the United States displays a lackadaisical disinterest in how its help is utilized, it sends the wrong message - and it is Washington's own credibility that ends up being eroded.

For example, over the years, the United States has provided advanced military equipment to Turkey to further the security goals of the North Atlantic alliance, first against the threat posed by the USSR, and, in more recent times, to shore up the West's line of defense against threats emanating from the greater Middle East. Such equipment was never intended to be deployed on the island of Cyprus, where the Turkish military maintains some 40,000 troops to enforce the separation of the island. There is no pressing U.S. security interest that is served from having U.S.-provided equipment shipped to the island.

In response to queries, the State Department last month declared, "The presence of these U.S.-origin weapons in North Cyprus under command and control of the Turkish Army does not raise questions under the laws of the United States."

But the message received in Nicosia - and heard throughout the "greater Middle East"-was "don't bother us about this." In other words, we don't really care what happens with the weaponry we provide - our friends get a blank check.

So, in a part of the world where the United States is already viewed with some suspicion as an "honest broker" able and willing to enforce any final settlement that might require the U.S. to have to put pressure on friends to comply, Washington sends the signal that it operates by the principle of "one rule for friends, another for everyone else." It is not surprising that in the referendum on the Annan Plan for reunifying Cyprus, when so many of the key provisions depended on the willingness of outside actors, such as the United States, to guarantee withdrawals and implementation, that most Greek Cypriot voters chose experience over hope and cast "no" ballots.

And this brings me to recent developments in the Caucasus.  For several years, the United States has been providing training and equipment to the armed forces of Georgia with the express purpose of combating international terrorism. Repeatedly, the United States has made assurances that U.S. equipment was not going to be used to forcibly settle Georgia's domestic constitutional problems - the final status of its autonomous regions that seceded from the central government.

The United States has certain key interests in the Caucasus. We want to see states in control of their territory and the elimination of any brown zones that might serve as refuges for terrorists or criminals.  At the same time, we want peaceful resolution of any constitutional disputes - there is no pressing U.S. interest in any government using force to create unitary states. We certainly have no interest in any escalation of the conflicts, or to have civilians attacked or placed in harm's way. And most importantly, any conflict in the southern Caucasus could seriously impact U.S.-Russia relations in a most negative way, at a time when cooperation - in the war against terror and in the energy sphere - is critical for U.S. interests.

And in the midst of the current crisis in the Caucasus, an announcement was made that the United States will provide $4.1 million worth of state-of-the-art communication assets for the Georgian Special Forces by the end of the year. All of this lends to a perception that Saakashvili is acting with the support of the United States - that his efforts are co-terminus with U.S. policy

Writing this past Tuesday in The Moscow Times, Oriel College (Oxford) lecturer Mark Almond observed, "Like Iraq or Sudan, Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus are awash with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. A Caucasian tinderbox may be about to catch fire. If it does, Americans in the region could carry the can for Washington's failure to rein in Saakashvili's aggressive tendencies. ... when people across that unstable region hear Saakashvili threatening to sink tourist boats, an invisible logo flashes through people's minds: "Made in America."

(An aside here.  The irony for Cypriots of the current crisis in the Black Sea is inescapable. Thousands of European tourists visit northern Cyprus every year - and a number of foreigners (mainly British retirees) have even bought property - even though the north is considered to be "occupied" territory. They do so with no fear of being attacked or shot at - although some of the tourists who have bought properties where the original owners were dispossessed by force may have to face lawsuits in European courts. But here the battle is fought via the law, not with bullets)

It's first and foremost time to begin re-instituting the strings for U.S. aid, especially military assistance.  If it isn't used for the strategic purposes for which it was intended, then Washington needs to take action. U.S. aid should never be intended to be a blank check.