In my research I explore U.S. embassy cables related to a crisis in the relations between the United States and Armenia over arms transfers to Iran. The cables were published by WikiLeaks in December 2008. The main the reason why I chose this topic is because I am interested in any development concerning Armenia, my homeland. This leak is also interesting from the viewpoint of the both the sad outcome of the arms transfer and the language of threats the United States makes to force other countries to play by its rules.
Wiki Leaks Research Project
According to the United States Government, some weapons recovered from two Shia militant attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2007 had been transferred from Armenia to Iran. A United States soldier was killed and six others were injured in that attack. The United States Government had concluded that those weapons were connected with Armenia’s facilitation of Iran's purchase of rockets and machine guns in 2003.
The leaked cable includes a letter from John Negroponte, United States Deputy Secretary to Serzh Sargsyan and President of the Republic of Armenia. In the letter Negroponte expresses the concern of the United States Government over the alleged arms transfer and the possibility of imposing sanctions against Armenia if the latter fails to ensure prevention of future arms transfers to Iran. Interestingly, the United States Government had attached a long list of measures intended for preventing arms transfers to Iran.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is reported to have denied any involvement in the arms transfer to its southern neighbor. After the Wiki Leaks published the cables, Serzh Sargsyan announced that Armenia had never sold arms to Iran. In an interview to Russian Echo Moskvy Radio station, Sargsyan said that Armenia would not do it since there was an Armenian military detachment serving in Iraq.
However, aided by its highly acclaimed intelligence, The United States had managed to track all the dealings of Armenia in the saga such that it had almost all the relevant documentation. They had managed to successfully identify where the RPG rockets were manufactured (Bulgaria) by Vazovski Mashinostroitelni Zavodi. Arsenal, also a Bulgarian arms factory, had manufactured the machine guns. The American intelligence had also concluded that the arms were taken to Iran soon after being transported to Armenia. This was facilitated by two arms companies from the two countries and it was also revealed that Zao Veber, the Armenian company in the deal, is owned by the Armenian government. Additionally, evidence showed that the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government had paid for the arms. However, the payment was never trailed (Spiegel).
Serzh Sargsyan, it was claimed, played a major role in facilitating the purchase of the weapons. Bulgaria had expressed its reluctance in selling the arms but he assured them that the weapons won’t find a way out of Armenia in a self written letter. These softened the Bulgarians’ stance and hence were coerced in to the deal (Spiegel).
The then U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, complained to the Armenian government about its action. She claimed that Iran, and its government, was promoting terrorist activities in The Middle East. Therefore, The United States threatened Armenia with sanctions if they engaged in such a deal with Iran again (Spiegel).
Despite all these warnings, Serzh Sargsyan still remained adamant, maintaining innocence all along. Hence, The United States presented him with all the compelling evidence they had gathered. This time round, he had been cornered and he duly accepted responsibility for the whole saga. The United States then demanded that Armenia legislate some tougher export controls to prevent such deals from being done again (Spiegel).
A meeting between Serzh Sargsyan and The US diplomats happened in early 2009. The Armenian government, clearly rattled by the whole saga, and fearing further diplomatic breakdown, was willing to address the fears raised by the Americans. On their part, The American administration wanted an amicable solution found. It promised to not impose, and waive, sanctions to Armenia if it was assured that they (Armenians) will continue to cooperate (Sanamyan, 2010).
The Armenian president, Mr. Sargsyan, distanced himself, and his country, in any future arms dealings with Iran. He accepted to work on the requests and demands of The United States. The acceptance of responsibility in the sale, the willingness to cooperate and the promise to never engage in shady arms deal with Iran all seemed to have pleased America. They again started to warm up on Armenia, and Sargsyan (Sanamyan, 2010).
Sargsyan, in his effort to improve the countries’ relation even further, pointed out the undeniable long standing cooperation between Armenia and The United States of America since the former’s inception in 1991. This cooperation touched on matters such as security and non proliferation. Indeed, the then US president, George Bush, wrote a letter to thank Armenia, and its president, for their role in helping US troops in the fight against terrorism in Iraq. For three years, Armenian servicemen had been deployed in Iraq near the border with Iran as part of the US led coalition (Sanamyan, 2010).
After such positive exchanges between the two governments, the seemingly irreparable relation was on the mend. The two governments were back to working together. As a result, the United States never introduced any sanctions it had threatened confirming the amicability of the resolution of the whole saga (Sanamyan, 2010).
So far, we’ve looked in detail at the whole storm. But what are the implications of this saga on the ensuing relations between the two countries? Will the United States start to treat Armenia with suspicion? To find a clue, I will delve in to the relations between the two countries before, during and after the conflict calmed down. Armenia and The US became trade partners back in 1992, a year after Armenia’s inception. Since then, an estimated 70 US firms are in operation in Armenia, especially the computer-related ones such as Dell, IBM and operating systems giant Microsoft. Other US investments in Armenia are in the hotel business, home based products manufacturing like carpets and furniture and construction. Additionally, some US firms have their subsidiaries in Armenia. These include IT firms like Viasphere Technopark and Coca Cola. Other investments are in the beauty industry, textiles and mining (US Department of state).
The United States claimed to have played a major role in the transition of Armenia from non-democracy to democracy. On top of this, it has granted Armenia humanitarian assistance in excess of $2 billion. The US diplomats and their Armenian counterparts meet on a yearly basis to review the two countries development progress. The US has also supported peaceful co existence between Armenia and its surrounding countries and also put measures to boost its economy such that its growth potential is realized. Armenia’s health sector has also benefitted greatly from this assistance. The US government agencies like USAID, the MCC have been on the forefront of this humanitarian and economic assistance. Another key sector of the Armenian economy, agriculture, has benefitted greatly from this bilateral relation. Specifically, The US has helped improve the rural infrastructure, irrigation programmes, technical support to farmers and commercialization of the agricultural sector (US Department of State).
The democratic development of Armenia has also been on the agenda of The United States. It has put up programs to help the Armenian government be more accountable and also more democratic. The programs include legal based practices such as educating the public, prosecutors and lawyers on legal matters, enhancing the Judiciary, promoting human rights practices. It has also helped in the fight against corruption. The people of Armenia have also been educated to demand for government accountability. They have been urged in taking a leading role by participating fully in the political and democratic process. The US States has also fought government interference in the media industry. Additionally, it has promoted measures to make the Police force and the judicial system more transparent (US Department of State).
Analyzing the accounts above of the relations between the two countries, it appears that the row brought about by WikiLeaks was not, and has not been, treated as such a big deal. Indeed the failure of The US to press on with the sanctions it had threatened supports this stance. This brings us to another dilemma. What are the consequences of these WikiLeaks reports to the affected nations? Do people find such revelations that serious? Should such extremely secret information be revealed to the public? I’ll try to look these questions, with the case of Armenia’s sale of weapons to Iran my reference point.
It is universally accepted that governments, and even people, keep some secrets for the good of the country. This is especially true when it comes to military operations and other security-related information (Sifry). Failure to do so can expose the country to its enemies or cause unnecessary tension. This is exactly what happened in the Armenian case. Though it proved inconsequential in the end, it was feared that there may be a total breakdown of communication between the two countries. In the stern letter released, economic sanctions were to be imposed to Armenia which would have had serious implications on its citizens. It would have been better if the matter had been left, and dealt with, secretly without causing a public outcry.
With the advent of the internet, and especially WikiLeaks, information, however graphic and/or secret, now flows freely in to the public domain. This is because in any institution there’s always someone willing to share the information in total disregard of its far reaching implications (Sifry). Such cases also bring mistrust among the employees of the affected institution. In this case, it’s claimed that a former soldier was responsible for the leak. The public was not overly concerned about the outcome of the whole saga. Rather, many wondered how such letters would be released to the public. Indeed, the initial reaction of the two governments was to deny the cables. Trust issues were raised at the time and even there were death threats. This leak, I suppose, may have played a major role in the end of the conflict since The US could not claim a high moral ground when it had in its midst citizens giving out vital information.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has received a lot of criticism, especially from The US. Their Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, claimed that through his website, he was in effect sabotaging international relations (Sifry). This cannot be further from the truth when you take the Armenian-US relations in to account after the leak. She would have preferred that it was kept a secret rather than involving the public at large. The leaks have raised serious concerns in international relations, not just US-Armenia.
Although WikiLeaks has received a lot of criticism from authorities and governments, and sections of the public, some people have come to embrace it as a vital tool in getting news that they would never have known. Apart from the Armenia-US saga, the website has published such information implicating Pakistan’s close working with Taliban, Saudi Arabia’s plea to America to bomb Iran, North Korea backing military authoritarian rule in Myanmar.