By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., April 17, 2013 – The director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States met here April 12 to discuss the DTRA's Cooperative Threat Reduction work with Azerbaijan, as well as other collaborative efforts.
Sponsored in 1991 by then-Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Sam Nunn of Georgia, the CTR program has become a critical part of the U.S. approach to reducing the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“Our relationship with Azerbaijan on these projects is very good, [and] we have a long record of success,” DTRA Director Kenneth A. Myers told American Forces Press Service. Myers also directs the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, collocated with DTRA here.
Such meetings are an “opportunity for DTRA to share with our partners, with our colleagues, the depth and breadth of what we do here,” Myers said.
“[Azerbaijan] has some very difficult and unique security challenges and some of the things we do here could be of help and additional opportunities for partnership,” he added.
“Azerbaijan is a strong supporter of the nonproliferation issue. My government’s commitment to nonproliferation is absolute and unshakeable,” Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, said here April 12. “What we need to do is work with the Americans, but of course with the international community as well, to make sure that no weapons of mass destruction find their way, simply put, to where they shouldn’t be.”
A key factor in nonproliferation, Suleymanov said, is to make sure that no dangerous materials “become available to destructive forces, be it some states or be it nonstate actors.”
U.S. defense cooperation with Azerbaijan also includes support to Azerbaijan’s efforts to reform its defense institutions, furthering NATO interoperability and contributions to international missions, and promoting shared objectives in counterproliferation, counterterrorism and maritime security.
U.S. support to developing Azerbaijan’s defense and security institutions includes training and advising in civil-military relations, professional military education, and emergency management, according to a DOD fact sheet.
The United States helps to develop NATO interoperable units in Azerbaijan, including its Peacekeeping Battalion, which has deployed forces in support of international operations in Kosovo and Iraq, and now fields 94 troops in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force.
Azerbaijan also provides ground, air and Caspian Sea transit access to sustain international efforts in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan is one part of a complex network of supply lines that play an important role in diversifying those lines.
In the U.S. security relationship with Azerbaijan, a stand-out project is an interagency effort to increase Azerbaijan’s capability to address transnational threats like smuggling and terrorism, and protect its maritime interests and energy infrastructure in the Caspian Sea.
“We have worked very closely with regional partners and with the United States on the nonproliferation issue along our maritime and land borders,” Suleymanov said, highlighting detection equipment in Azerbaijani airports and at border crossings, funding to support Azerbaijan’s naval and coast guard capabilities, and cooperation on energy infrastructure protection.
In 2004, DTRA’s CTR program expanded outside the former Soviet Union when Albania requested assistance to destroy its chemical weapons and later -- first as the Biological Threat Reduction Program, and now as the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program -- began working with additional partner countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East to reduce the threat posed by especially dangerous pathogens, related materials and expertise, and other emerging infectious disease risks.
The CBEP program seeks to prevent these agents from reaching terrorists, states or nonstate actors who may use such bioweapons against the United States and its allies.
In Europe and Asia, DTRA is partnering with Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to advance shared bio-threat reduction goals.
Through its partnership with the government of Azerbaijan, CBEP has helped upgrade a network of regional diagnostic laboratories throughout the country, provided a national electronic disease reporting system and conducted technical training in clinical, epidemiological, laboratory and veterinary practices.
The program also has improved biological safety and security measures, and partnered with local scientists on research projects aimed at better understanding endemic diseases.
As a joint effort, CBEP provides design, equipment, technical management and oversight support for Azerbaijan-funded construction of a Central Reference Laboratory to international biosafety standards. Such labs are clinical, diagnostic, teaching and research or production facilities that work with dangerous strains of viruses or bacteria.
“We’re very proud with this success story and the fact that today in Baku, the Azerbaijani government has basically assumed leadership for [the laboratory],” Suleymanov said. “That speaks not only of successful cooperation as a biological [facility], but also the strong element of capacity building for the Azerbaijani side, which is what we want.”
“Azerbaijan is no longer just a consumer of security,” he added, “it’s now a provider of security and an equal partner in that.”
“Azerbaijan is a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council,” the ambassador said, “so those kinds of global issues we face on a daily basis and we deal with them along with the United States and other partners, trying to minimize potential damage by biological weapons.”
Myers called ongoing work on the central reference lab the result of a unique relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan.
“It’s a real model for the future,” the DTRA director said. “We’re there to provide some technical expertise and they’re providing the funding for the construction. It’s a true partnership … and an opportunity to take an important step forward on biological issues and pathogens.”