a sophisticated radar system, personnel training, and ship repair, and that the United States intends to spend the same amount on strengthening the Azerbaijani navy.[1,9,11,12] Over the next six years, the U.S. Government plans to invest US$135 million to strengthen the naval forces of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan within the framework of the CGI.[1,4,9,11,12] Other complementary U.S. maritime border defense assistance programs include the US$20-million program launched in July 2004 and implemented by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to train the Azerbaijani maritime border guards, as well as exercises organized by the U.S. Navy SEALS to train Azerbaijan’s elite 41st Special Naval Warfare Unit in June 2004.[4,10] The focus of these programs is to train the Azerbaijani maritime border guards and naval forces to intercept terrorists, weapons, and narcotics on the Caspian Sea. Ambassador Harnish emphasized that the CGI is not directed against any country in the region.[1,11,12]
In Iran, the news about the construction of the two radar stations in Azerbaijan initially elicited a negative reaction. On September 25, 2005, the Iranian English-language newspaper Iran News featured an editorial stating that by allowing the United States to increase its military presence in the region under the guise of border defense cooperation, the Azerbaijani leadership was jeopardizing the country’s long-term national security interests. The author of the editorial argued that the growing U.S. military presence will ultimately curtail the influence of such regional powers as Russia, Iran, and China, which would inevitably lead to increased competition over the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea.
The official reaction of the Iranian government, however, was milder. On October 7, 2005, at the 18th meeting of government officials from the Caspian Sea littoral states held in Baku, Azerbaijan, Mohsen Baharvend, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s legal department, told the press that “Iran has no problem with countries that are cooperating to fight terrorism and drug trafficking. These are issues which all five Caspian nations are interested in resolving.”[14,15,16]
Considering that Russia operates an early-warning radar installation in Azerbaijan, Moscow has shown some concern about the construction of two U.S.-funded radar stations in Azerbaijan. On September 26, 2005, an unnamed top Russian military official told the Interfax news agency that, while the construction of any radar station in close proximity to Russian borders is undesirable, the radar station built in Azerbaijan “will not affect the combat readiness of the Russian Defense Ministry’s units and subunits deployed in the North Caucasus.” The Russian official added that the main concern for the Russian side would be possible electromagnetic interference between the frequencies of Russian radar stations and the Khizi radar station in Azerbaijan.
In a strategic move, the Russian delegation at the aforementioned meeting in Baku of the working group on the status of the Caspian Sea, which was held on October 6-7, 2005, called for the establishment of a new joint naval operations group—CasFor—that would include the naval forces of all five Caspian Sea littoral states. Closely mirroring the objectives of the CGI, the purpose of CasFor would be to protect the Caspian Sea from terrorism and to fight against trafficking in WMD, arms, and narcotics. The important condition embedded in the CasFor proposal is that it rules out the participation of non-regional powers, such as the United States. Clearly intended to serve as a potential counterweight to the CGI, CasFor would allow Russia to dominate this arrangement, since its naval forces would dwarf the combined naval forces of the remaining Caspian Sea littoral states.