Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
2/6/2009
10:04 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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U.S.-Russia-Afghanistan: World's Trickiest Supply Chain?

Global supply chains are always complex beasts involving customs requirements, import/export licenses, security procedures, and much more. But when a crucial global logistics partner on the far side of the world drops the United States and signs with an archrival, who steps up and offers to fill the strategic gap for the U.S.? Why, none other than archrival Russia.

Global supply chains are always complex beasts involving customs requirements, import/export licenses, security procedures, and much more. But when a crucial global logistics partner on the far side of the world drops the United States and signs with an archrival, who steps up and offers to fill the strategic gap for the U.S.? Why, none other than archrival Russia.File this one under "Never say never" in global supply-chain planning, because it connects two global entities who in the past few years have focused much more energy on areas of disagreement than on points of consensus. Nevertheless, it appears that the United States and Russia have reached an agreement under which Russia will help transport nonmilitary cargo to Afghanistan.

The opportunity for such an unlikely global supply-chain pairing came about when Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic described by CNN as "Central Asia's second-poorest country," decided not to renew a lease for a U.S. military base that serves as a vital link for transporting troops and supplies into nearby Afghanistan.

CNN said General David Petraeus has stated that under the terms of the lease, the U.S. pays Kyrgyzstan $63 million per year, and employs more than 320 Kyrgyz citizens at the base. However, a recent report in a Russian newspaper said Russia had offered the Kyrgyz government a significant multiyear financial-aid package that called for the closing of the U.S. base, and that Kyrgyzstan had decided to terminate the lease as part of its plan to accept the Russian financial package, CNN said.

While the U.S. says it is continuing to discuss the situation with the Kyrgyz government, Russia has stepped forward and offered to provide the critical logistical link that the base's closing would create. A second CNN report said that after the U.S. had asked permission from Russia to transport cargo through Russian territory, Russia instead proposed that it is willing to provide logistical support for getting the nonmilitary cargo to NATO troops serving in Afghanistan.

Clearly, Russia is playing both sides -- offering to solve a U.S. logistics problem that Russia effectively created. But all's fair in global commerce and war.

So next time you're tearing your hair out as you try to untangle a seemingly impossible global supply-chain mess, use this unexpected development to trigger some creative thinking. And never say never.

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