Domestic Sources of Uzbekistan's Foreign Policy, 1991 to the Present. (the Andrew Wellington Cordier Essay)

By Kazemi, Leila | Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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Domestic Sources of Uzbekistan's Foreign Policy, 1991 to the Present. (the Andrew Wellington Cordier Essay)

Kazemi, Leila, Journal of International Affairs

While Karimov's policies have appealed to recent U.S. administrations, the recognition that Uzbekistan's stability is merely an illusion may jeopardize U.S.-Uzbek relations in the future.


While systemic theories often serve as the starting point for examining interstate relations, the orientation and practice of Uzbekistan's foreign policy since the nation achieved independence in 1991 highlight the importance of sub-systemic factors in explaining these relations. In fact, forces at the domestic level have profoundly impacted the development of Uzbek foreign policy over the last decade. An examination of Islam Karimov's three-pillar approach to handling the state-building enterprise and the political, economic and social transitions accompanying independence demonstrate the role of domestic forces. (1) Karimov's pursuit of sovereignty, domestic political stability and economic reform have provided the basis for a wide and shifting set of cooperative and conflictual relationships with the outside world. These relationships cannot be readily explained by traditional systems-level theories of international relations.

This article will explore and analyze each of the three pillars of Karimov's approach and provide examples of the foreign policy orientations and specific outcomes these have generated. It will be shown that domestic factors are central to understanding Uzbekistan's foreign policy, especially the variations and seeming contradictions among its policies. For example, while the pursuit of sovereignty is often associated with Uzbekistan's attempts to undertake a foreign policy of "de-linkage" from Russia and court an array of allies outside the former Soviet Union, the government's approaches to political and economic reform have necessitated the maintenance of some aspects of linkage to Russia. This has created impediments to the country's ability to pursue relations with countries not in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).


As noted above, the theoretical framework of this paper is based on an analysis of the domestic-level factors impacting Uzbekistan's foreign policy. While this is certainly not a novel approach to the study of international relations, it nonetheless conflicts with the hegemony of systems-level theories, particularly neorealism, in the study of international relations. As Celeste Wallander points out, evidence from the first post-Soviet decade highlights the importance of understanding domestic-level variables and "the causal impact of power, institutions, interests and ideas within states" on foreign policy, particularly in attempting to understand variation within this realm. (2) The following analysis will take up this cause and draw on empirical examples that show the utility of such an approach in explaining the forces pulling and pushing Uzbekistan's foreign policy in various directions across time, actors and issue areas.


"Very few states in the world have had as little advance warning prior to independence as did the five new states of Central Asia, which were effectively chucked out of the USSR" on 8 December 1991. (3) Thus, propelled reluctantly into independence, the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan found themselves in uncharted waters, lacking traditions of statehood and facing challenges of ethnic and national identification. Because their current boundaries were artificially imposed during Stalin's rule in order to make cooperation among the republics difficult (the borders actually appear to have been set in such a way as to foster tension among the republics), these states had not previously existed as independent members of the modern international state system. (4) The challenges they faced with independence broadly fell into two related categories: those associated with the process of state-building in all of the post-Soviet states, albeit to different degrees; and those emanating from the Soviet legacy in the region.

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