Tuesday, 18 February 2020 00:00

A New Strategy for Central Asia

U.S. Central Asia policy has room to improve, but the Trump administration is steering things on the right track.

TheHill

February 018, 2020
S. Frederick Starr and Svante Cornell

This month, the Trump administration released its strategy for Central Asia. This marks the first time in more than two decades that the United States has come up with a serious approach to a region where vast economic, geopolitical, and civilizational stakes are at issue. It follows visits by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the first trip to the region by someone in that role in half a decade.

Long seen as a stagnant land of Soviet holdovers, Central Asia has been undergoing a dramatic transition led by its two most powerful countries, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Leaders in both countries have plunged into meaningful domestic reforms that are now focused on expanding citizen rights, governmental responsiveness, and the rule of law. They have also taken some important steps toward establishing their own structures for regional cooperation, a process that could result in a kind of Central Asian version of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Other world powers have certainly taken notice. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the behemoth Belt and Road Initiative in the capital of Kazakhstan seven years ago. Moscow, desperate not to be marginalized by Beijing, is coercing regional states to join its Eurasian Economic Union, and has also launched a fanciful vision of a “Greater Eurasia” in which all would be subordinated to Russia and China. Indian, Japanese, and South Korean leaders have all extensively toured the region. The European Union released its own strategy for Central Asia last year, focused on supporting regional cooperation rather than mere bilateral ties.

Neither George Bush nor Barack Obama bothered to think strategically about Central Asia, shifting their attention instead to Afghanistan and the war on terror. Afghanistan has been intimately linked with Central Asia for 3,000 years, but for the past two decades, the United States treated the two as separate worlds. Subordinated to concerns in Afghanistan, Russia, and China, Central Asia became an afterthought. However, in an era where great power competition is seen as the most serious challenge to national security, the United States should care about countries sandwiched between Russia, China, India, Iran, and Pakistan.

The new strategy emphasizes American support for the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states. It encourages the growth of regional cooperation among them, and acknowledges positive steps toward political and economic reform. It also supports the expansion of relations between Central Asian states and Afghanistan. It emphasizes the importance of partnership with regional states to achieve progress on sensitive topics such as human rights and religious freedom.

In releasing this strategy, the Trump administration makes clear that it views Central Asia as a world region where the United States has intrinsic national security and economic interests. This is an important departure from the past practice of allowing this region to slip between the cracks. We have long argued for exactly this approach to the region and have ample reason to applaud the strategy drafters. However, the task has not been completed, for several omissions must be attended to.

First, Washington has yet to grasp the key role of Central Asia as a bastion of Muslim societies with secular governments, laws, and education. The United States should acknowledge this role, and work to sustain and promote secular government in Central Asia and elsewhere. Next, the United States has yet to fully recognize that, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has noted, Afghanistan is itself a Central Asian country. Noting this, the logical next step is for the United States to fully include Afghanistan in its mechanism for consultations with Central Asian states.

The strategy does not mention the crucial east to west corridor linking Central Asia to Europe through the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus. Expanding the Central Asian linkages with lands to the west should be a priority of American engagement. Finally, the strategy acknowledges the security challenges Central Asian states face from Russia and China, but it offers little detail on how the United States should address them.

Central Asia, including Afghanistan, presents geopolitically important real estate. Building on their rich indigenous cultures, its countries now look to the Americans to provide a balance to other major powers in the region. They believe that such an arrangement can provide the basis for better relations among all involved. Until now, the United States has hesitated to embrace this challenge. The new strategy indicates that at long last Washington is beginning to take Central Asia seriously. Having finally taken important first steps, it should now finish the job.

 Frederick Starr and Svante Cornell are the chairman and director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Read More

Tuesday, 29 October 2019 18:39

Azerbaijan: Reform Behind A Static Facade

Ilham

 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

By Svante E. Cornell

October 17, 2019

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is undergoing a major process of top-down modernization. Here’s why the reforms are happening now—and why Washington should take an interest.

CACI and CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program cordially invites you to

Tokayev’s Kazakhstan: A New Reform Agenda

 

This year’s transition of power in Kazakhstan marks a turning point for Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region as a whole. Following the resignation of Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, long-time Senate Speaker, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kassymjomart Tokayev won a June 2019 snap presidential election. Nazarbayev maintains a central role including chairing the National Security Council, and recently gained additional influence over personnel appointments. While Tokayev has pledged continuity with Nazarbayev’s legacy, his September address to the nation also indicated a new urge for political reform, including what Tokayev labeled the “Listening State.” 

The CSIS and Central Asia-Caucasus Institute invite you to a discussion with leading Kazakh analysts, who will provide their perspectives on Kazakhstan’s direction under President Tokayev.


Please join us for a discussion with

Askar Nursha

Dean, School of Public Policy and Law, Almaty Management University

and 

Shavkat Sabirov

Director, Institute for Security and Cooperation in Central Asia

Introductions by

Frederick Starr

Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program


Moderated by

Jeffrey Mankoff

Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS
 

Friday, November 1, 2019

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

2nd Floor Conference Room
Center for Strategic & International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20036
registration button
Published in Forums & Events

Screen_Shot_2019-09-17_at_11.15.09_AM.png

Image: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan's President and presidential candidate, votes during presidential election in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo via Atlantic Council

 

  • President Tokayev seeks to "maintain continuity" yet nonetheless calls for "systemic reforms." He appears to mean both.
  • In the effort to engage society more deeply in governance, Kazakhstan will institute and seek to manage reforms from above.
  • In continuing the principle of balance in its foreign policy, which Tokayev invented two decades ago, Kazakhstan will seek increased engagement and investment from the West.

By S. Frederick Starr

September 17, 2019

The Xinjiang Crisis and the Rest of Central Asia: Impacts and Responses

The Uyghurs of Xinjiang constitute one of the oldest Turkic peoples and the first to be urbanized and to develop a written language and rich intellectual life. As such they are, in a historic and cultural sense, part of Central Asia. The forum discussed how the ongoing crisis in Xinjiang affected Uyghurs, the Central Asian countries, and how Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan responded?

Speakers: 

Sean R. Roberts, Associate Professor, George Washington University 

James Clad, Director, Asian Security Program, American Foreign Policy Council

Ilshat Hassan, President, Uyghur American Association

Moderator: S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at AFPC

 

Where: Middle East Institute: 1319 18th Street NW, 20036

When: Tuesday, March 26, 2019 from 12:00 - 2:00 pm, 

Scroll Down for the Full Recording

Published in Forums & Events

isdp

AFPC-Full-Logo

 

Silk Road Papers and Monographs