Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

Us Interests in Central Asia

Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

Us Interests in Central Asia

Article excerpt


The US interest in Central Asia is of recent origin. During the heydays of the Soviet Union, an iron curtain separated the Central Asian states from the outside world. The disintegration of Soviet Union opened the doors for the outsiders into the region, which was hither-to a terra incognita for outside powers. The newly liberated states felt the resource crunch and looked for possible new investors from the West, Japan and South Korea. However, there is no gainsaying that US was to play a central role in the region, being the sole super power. What are then the US objectives in the region?

Inaugurating the Central Asian Institute at the John Hopkins School of Advanced Studies, Washington in October 1996, James F.

Collins, Special Advisor to the Secretary for the newly independent states, defined the US objectives in the Central Asian region as follows:

1. Support for the independence, sovereignty and security of each of the Central Asian states.

2. Assistance in the establishment of free market economies and democratic governments committed to equal opportunity and human rights for their citizens.

3. Integration of these states into the world community of political and financial institutions as well as their participation in the EuroAtlantic security dialogue and co-operation programmes.

4. Encouragement of these states to pursue peaceful relations among themselves and with their neighbours for regional cooperation and to resolve local conflicts with international mediation.

5. Prevention of any trafficking in weapons of mass destruction or their elements across the region or the borders.

6. Enhancement of US commercial interest and the expansion and diversification of global energy supply.

7. The highest American priority, however, was to denuclearize these Central Asian states in exchange for political, diplomatic and economic support. In this respect, Washington cooperated with these states to dismantle and transport fissile material to the US. The departure of the last nuclear warhead from Kazakhstan in 1995 was a significant achievement in support of non-proliferation.1

US in Central Asia:

The US appears to be taking keen interest in defining the interests, goals and strategies of Central Asian states. It roped in all the five states into the NATO Partnership for Peace and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)- a process by which Washington not only sought to enlarge the European security complex, but also intended to provide fresh mechanisms to address Central Asian security concerns.

The promotion of democracy and free market are among the principal objectives of the US administration. According to Strobe Talbott, formerly the Deputy Secretary of State, political and economic reforms in Central Asia would contribute to stability in a strategically vital region that borders China, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and that has growing economic and social ties with Pakistan and India.2 It is increasingly in the US interest to encourage the development of stable democratic systems, and that market economies in these new states emerge strong and take deep roots.

While numerous US programmes have had a beneficial impact, other initiatives have been criticised by locals as patronizing the very governmental structures, which are in need of reform. The US efforts have been subjected to criticism for viewing democratic and market reform as something to be imposed from the top. Despite the stated commitment of the US to expand the role of grassroots efforts, USCentral Asian partnerships in small non-governmental organization (NGOs) have played a relatively minor role in overall assistance programmes.

As US assistance networks expanded, they were restructured to take account of population whose support for reform was more complex and ambivalent than observers had envisioned. The US efforts were sensitive not only to the social safety nets, cultural values and traditions of Central Asia but also to the uniquely evolved mixtures of Soviet and Middle Eastern political and economic systems in these new countries, which may be quite specific. …

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