A New Silk Road: The Future of US-Kazakh Relations

By Thaisrivongs, David | Harvard International Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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A New Silk Road: The Future of US-Kazakh Relations


Thaisrivongs, David, Harvard International Review


Historically, the United States has had a difficult time currying favor with Central Asian countries for political, religious, and cultural reasons. However, since 2001, events like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the crumbling roadmap in the Middle East have highlighted the need for the United States to establish both trust and mutual cooperation with countries in regions where its interests have traditionally been blocked. In order to break this problem into manageable policy areas, the United States should focus on developing alliances with already friendly states in Central Asia. One such state is Kazakhstan, whose independence was recognized by the United States soon after its declaration in 1991. Given the potential strategic and economic benefits of an alliance, the United States should continue to invest energy and resources to develop Kazakhstan and secure a viable US presence in the region.

Kazakhstan is the fastest developing nation in Central Asia. Its Economy and Budget Planning Minister, Kairat Kelimbetov, predicts that by 2015 it could be one of the world's top five oil producers, thanks in part to foreign investment and international trade that reached US$16.1 million in 2002. Moreover, the United States has become more involved in the Kazakh economy in recent years. Between 1992 and 2001, the United States gave US$874.3 million in technical assistance and investment support to Kazakhstan. In 1999, the United States passed the Silk Road Strategy Act, which emphasized the importance of political and economic independence for South Caucasus and Central Asian nations through policies that focus on regional stability, democracy, and human rights. The United States gave more evidence of its support for Kazakhstan in 2002 by holding a major joint conference on trade and investment that produced many bilateral initiatives to increase investment opportunities between the two countries. The US Pentagon even helped Kazakhstan build its first military base at the port of Atyrau on the Caspian Sea. In 2002, US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham stressed US interests in Kazakh resources, calling Kazakhstan a "key partner" in the US National Energy Plan. Additionally, there are ongoing, US-funded projects to develop Kazakhstan's natural oil resources through the construction of pipelines and other infrastructure.

Yet recent events have begun to show a cooling in US-Kazakh relations. Kazakhstan supported the war in Iraq, but is now in favor of a stronger UN presence in the region. Also, Kazakhstan's new international presence has allowed it to rely on oil transit itineraries towards Russia, China, and the Mediterranean instead of on US support. In 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was founded by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to fight "terrorism, separatism, and extremism." The SCO has since become a way for China and Russia to take back control of the region.

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