Thursday, 21 December 2017 16:40

America Needs Clear Strategy for China's Presence in Central Asia

 Read at The Hill

 By Mamuka Tsereteli

Since the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, the United States has been involved in protecting trade routes while advancing a policy of open trade and shared access to resources. Free access to global commodities like oil, grains and metals remains an important goal of the U.S. national interest, guaranteeing global economic and political stability.

On the surface, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, formerly known as One Road One Belt, is designed to promote unimpeded trade and infrastructure connectivity, a win-win project for China and all the partners involved. But many countries in Asia already see this project as a threat to their sovereignty, as China is pushing territorial claims against its neighbors, and in some cases affecting territorial disputes for its own benefit.

 

This development has triggered a renewed quadrilateral diplomatic effort from Japan, Australia, India and the United States, promoting a “free and open Indo Pacific” initiative. The four-party working level meeting took place in Manila on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian nations meeting in November. Among other things, it focused on the international law-based order in Asia, which guarantees security and freedom of navigation and overflight in the maritime commons, as well as enhancing connectivity.

 

While the United States is showing signs of interest in balancing China’s proactive strategy in Southeast Asia, so far the picture is different in the Eurasian heartland. The United States has no clear strategy towards China’s growing presence in Central Asian countries, expanding it to countries of the South Caucasus and Eastern Europe. China has already become the major trading partner for the Central Asian region, outpacing Russia in this role.

China is offering countries of the region significant financial resources, essential for the growth of their economies, as well as for the political viability of the existing governments. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan welcome growing infrastructure connectivity with China, which allows them to sell more of their resources to China. These countries are also enthusiastic to serve as transit for China’s exports to other states. China is clearly serving as a balancing factor for the region vis-à-vis Russia.

The question is, where is the United States in this picture? Should the United States be concerned if the infrastructure connectivity of Central Asia shifts the strategic dependency of the region from Russia to China? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has invested significant political and economic capital in supporting the development of Caspian resources, as well as the development of pipelines and other elements of infrastructure to allow access of those resources to global markets.

The pro-active U.S. policy in the late 90s and early 2000s helped countries to strengthen the economic basis for their statehood and political and economic sovereignty. The focus at that time was on the infrastructure that promoted East-West energy connectivity from the Caspian region to the Black Sea and Mediterranean, in partnership with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, the latter playing a pivotal role in the process due to geographic, economic, historic, cultural and linguistic reasons.

But proactive strategies and policies of the U.S. government in the Caspian region and Central Asia waned down during the last decade, and currently the United States has a very limited regional role. The United States can no longer offer the economic support that can match China’s investments in the region, and there is no clarity on how deep the United States will be interested in strategic engagement with the region going forward. Meanwhile, China is advancing its Belt and Road Initiative and has emerged as a main beneficiary of the previous U.S. investments in the region.

The United States needs a clear strategy towards China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia. The principles that apply to the Indo Pacific region should apply to the heartland of Eurasia as well. These are rules-based order, free access to transportation infrastructure, enhanced connectivity to benefit not one, but all the actors, preventing proliferation of nuclear materials and technology, and fighting terrorism. The Central Asian states and their partners in the South Caucasus are committed to these principles and are making significant investments of their own resources to advance them.

The United States now needs to clearly communicate to China that principles of openness and shared access to resources and infrastructure are a priority and will determine the U.S. position vis-à-vis the Belt and Road Initiative in the region. In a parallel effort, the United States should revamp its support to Trans-Caspian and Caspian-Black Sea infrastructure connectivity, which would lead to advancing trade between Asia and Eurasia and to opening access to markets for Central and South Asian states.

 

Mamuka Tsereteli, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Central Asia Caucasus Institute of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.

Svante Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy
Read 8208 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 January 2018 20:49

isdp

AFPC-Full-Logo

 

News

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

    Eurasia

  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

    az-formula-SRSP

    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   




    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018

     

     

     

    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018

     

     

     

    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online

     

    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online

     

     

     

    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:

    BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF AZERBAIJAN’S POST-CONFLICT TERRITORIES

     

  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

    ------------------

    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

    --------------------------------------------

    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.