For America’s benefit, the Central Asian region is agitated
It has long been an adage in international relations that a country is either “at the table” or “on the menu”. This has never been truer than with the nations of Central Asia, a region that too often has been on the menu of other ravenous powers, rather than an entity with its own sovereign agency. In accordance with good realistic thinking, it stands to reason that the middle powers in the region itself should unite to fight against the great outside powers, preserving their precarious autonomy.
Fortunately, this is exactly what is happening in Central Asia. With Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the lead, Central Asia has recently and dramatically shown itself increasingly capable of standing up to the three great external powers invested in the region: China, Russia and the United States. United.
After the debacle of its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the new strategic objectives of the United States in the region align almost perfectly with this development, which the United States should promote. Central Asia seeks to free itself from any form of domination by the great powers, whether it is strategic dependence on Moscow or economic tutelage under the wing of Beijing. It is precisely because America’s interests so mirror those of the region itself – its main goal is that no other great power dominates the vast Eurasian hinterland – that the Biden administration must do what ‘she can to encourage this rebirth of Central Asia.
If the region as a whole comes together, much of the driving force is Uzbekistan, serving as a catalyst for regional integration and a pioneer of cooperation, connectivity, stability and sustainable development. This is no coincidence, starting with the new overall strategic orientation that Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has defined, which is articulated around a “neighbor first” policy.
Consistent with this approach, Tashkent has sought to resolve decades-old disputes over land claims and state borders with other Central Asian countries, while also settling thorny disputes over water resources and in energy. The Uzbek government lifted bans on intra-regional trade, while strengthening regional transport, as a convenient way to organically tie Central Asia. In 2020 alone, the country’s turnover with Central Asia tripled, despite the COVID-19 crisis.
Geostrategically, and fully in line with American interests, there are now regular summits of the five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – without any external involvement of the great powers, which would have was unthinkable for just a few years. There are.
President Mirziyoyev launched a foreign policy initiative to hold regular regional meetings, and the first Central Asian Presidents’ Meeting was held on March 15, 2018. The initial orientation of the summits was economic in nature, focused on l elimination of trade barriers, encouraging closer industrial cooperation. , and modernize the region’s overall energy infrastructure, in order to increase global trade and facilitate regional connectivity. But behind it all, there was a clear strategic rationale for the whole project. As Mirziyoyev said: “We would like Central Asia to be seen as a region of the world with its own interests and goals.
At the country level, the key fulcrum of regional success – just as the Franco-German link drives the European Union – is solid, increasing ties between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the two largest, most populous and most strategically and economically important in Central Asia. In recent weeks alone, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have declared the transformation of their strategic partnership into an alliance relationship, with a focus on economic issues.
Surprisingly, this is the first alliance of former Soviet states not involving Russia. Taken together, all of this signifies Uzbekistan’s strategic shift to place itself and the region at an equal distance from the three great outer powers – a state of affairs that can only benefit the United States.
There is no doubt that this change is real. On December 13, Uzbekistan and the United States held their first strategic partnership dialogue meeting. The two sides agreed to expand their cooperation; US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu noted America’s readiness to help Uzbekistan further liberalize its economy in order to increase US private sector trade and investment.
So how should the United States benefit from this strategic shift in Central Asia? As I wrote here recently, in order for the United States to play the new “Great Game” successfully, it must clearly articulate its interests in the region. First, he wants to stop the revival of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia following the fall of Kabul. Second, he wants to prevent the great rival powers (Russia and China) from completely dominating the core of Eurasia.
For that to happen, it’s high time America rolled back the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974, a Cold War relic that imposed economic sanctions and tariffs on a Soviet Union that interfered with emigration. Jewish. The amendment no longer applies to Russia but applies, absurdly, to Uzbekistan and its neighbors, which have good diplomatic relations with Israel and freedom to emigrate.
This prevents closer economic ties between the United States and the region. While absolutely correct for the time, everyone – from the United States Chamber of Commerce to the Chief Rabbis and Jewish communities across the region – urged Washington to end the amendment, allowing for expansion. much needed trade. At the same time, the United States Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), the common platform through which America trades even with competitors such as Russia, must be adopted with the countries of Central Asia.
As Central Asia is finally “at the table”, rather than being “on the menu”, presents the United States with a largely unforeseen strategic opportunity. It is high time America took advantage of this.
Dr John C. Hulsman is Chairman and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consultancy based in Milan, Germany and London. A life member of the American Council on Foreign Relations, he is editor-in-chief of Aspen, the flagship foreign policy journal of the Aspen Institute in Italy. Follow him on twitter @ JohnHulsman1.