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Growing U.S. Security Interests in Central Asia

Authored by Dr. Elizabeth Wishnick.

October 2002

56 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author assesses U.S. security interests and military activities in Central Asia. She notes that strengthening the Central Asian states against terrorism and assisting their transition to stable and prosperous nations are difficult and fraught with danger. In particular, there is the risk that the U.S. military presence in the region and security assistance to repressive regimes might taint America. If not astutely managed, this strategy could have the opposite of the intended results and generate increased instability, spark anti-Americanism, and antagonize Russia and China. To avoid this, Dr. Wishnick advocates a multilateral strategy that integrates the military, political, and economic elements of national power and prods the Central Asian regimes toward reform.


As Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee in February 2002, the United States “will have a continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not have dreamed of before.” After providing background on the development of U.S. security interests in Central Asia, this monograph examines post-9/11 trends in U.S. policy and military engagement.

In the 1990s the United States initiated military engagement with Central Asia to support the region’s integration with western political-military institutions, as well as to protect the sovereignty and independence of these states, assist them to improve their border security against transnational threats, encourage them to adopt market-oriented reform and democratization, and ensure access to energy resources in the region. U.S. military cooperation expanded rapidly with Central Asian states in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 due to the framework of relations that had been built piecemeal in the 1990s. For the first time the United States acquired temporary basing in this region in response to a changing security environment, as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan became frontline states in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Anti-terrorism became the central focus of U.S. policy in the region, although other goals still remain important.

The author argues that by placing a priority on anti-terrorism in U.S. policy toward Central Asia and rewarding Central Asian leaders for basing rights, the Bush administration is shoring up authoritarian regimes and encouraging public distrust of U.S. intentions in the region. She points out that weak regional security organizations, contingent support in Russia and China to the expanding American military foothold in the region, and instability in Central Asia will pose considerable challenges for the U.S. military. In conclusion, the author recommends an emphasis on rapid deployment from existing bases in Turkey rather than continued basing in Central Asia, a more coherent regional strategy and improved foreign area expertise for the Central Asian region, and a multilateral approach to addressing instability in the area.

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