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Research Report

Strategic Assessment of Central Eurasia

Charles Fairbanks
C. Richard Nelson
S. Frederick Starr
Kenneth Weisbrode
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2001
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 141
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)
    Christopher J. Makins and S. Frederick Starr

    The former Soviet states in Central Asia and the South Caucasus have been the focus of considerable Western attention since they became independent nearly a decade ago. The rapidly evolving strategic environment in the region they inhabit affects not only Western interests, but also those of several other large powers, including two whose future is critically important to the United States — China and Russia. The interests of China and Russia in the region are not limited to a single area, such as hydrocarbon potential, or to a single category of threat, such as ethnic strife, political Islam, terrorism or...

  2. Part One: Analysis

    • (pp. 7-32)

      This region should matter to the United States because it matters considerably to every other major Eurasian power whose global and regional interests affect U.S. interests. The governments of China, Iran, Russia and Turkey in particular believe they have an important stake there. U.S. interests in the near-term are summed up by maintaining access to the region without being drawn into its conflicts, particularly against any of the other major powers. Without access and an active diplomatic role, the United States cannot pursue its direct economic interests or its wider political and strategic interests that involve part or all of...

    • (pp. 33-70)

      With its huge size, enormous resources and a population split between Asians and Europeans, Kazakhstan is arguably the most vulnerable of all eight countries to internal and external threats. Partition, invasion or collapse could have far-reaching international effects. Maintaining a workable and durable balance between the pressures of Kazakh and Russian nationalism is the fundamental challenge for any government in Kazakhstan, and it is critical to both domestic and foreign policies. The support of the large Russian population in northern Kazakhstan depends almost as much on the actions of the Russian Federation as it does on Kazakhstan’s. Kazakhstan’s need for...

    • (pp. 71-92)

      The principal neighboring powers with interests in the region are China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey. Afghanistan, though not a major power, is very much at the center of the region and its problems and its interests are therefore also relevant to this assessment. Finally, other powers with key interests in the region deserve mention because their interests tend to complement those of the United States. These powers include the EU, the Gulf States, Israel, Japan and South Korea.

      When considering the complementary or competitive interests of other powers it is important to keep in mind that their basic...

    • (pp. 93-100)

      Before U.S. interests can be placed in order of priority, they first must be defined. There are three main categories of interests: vital, strategic and important. Vital interests are those that affect the national territory and basic welfare of the American people. Strategic interests involve areas of top priority to ensuring that vital interests are secure. These are now Europe, Northeast Asia and the Middle East. Peace and stability in these regions are important to the extent that their absence would risk bringing about a situation that might imperil U.S. vital interests. By extension, effective U.S. relations with China and...

  3. Part Two: Courses of Action

    • (pp. 101-108)

      The strategic concept that should underpin U.S. policy in Central Eurasia is a regional concert. This means a collective system of relationships and understandings based on mutual self-restraint among large and small powers that emphasizes peace and stability in the region over the particular interests of any one power.

      Essentially, two alternative strategic concepts besides a regional concert could be applied to this region. The first involves a strategy of selective engagement characterized by more passive than active efforts — a balanced approach that does not pick or back a regional power and that addresses the region as a secondary,...

    • (pp. 109-118)

      The dominant theme regarding the security interests of the regional states since they gained independence in 1992 has been their growing differentiation from one another. Initially, they all tried to appear as independent as possible and have not fully embraced cooperative security frameworks sponsored by Russia in the form of the CIS, or by the West in the form of NATO’s PfP. But in the meantime, they also have needed to work together to deal with specific security concerns, such as the 1999 kidnappings in the Kyrgyz Republic, and have taken small integrative steps such as the establishment of a...

  4. Part Three: Recommendations

    • (pp. 119-120)

      To recapitulate, the key areas of focus for planners are:

      Afghanistan: Clear coordination of activities that impinge on the neighboring countries’ relations with Afghanistan should be undertaken. Regular coordinating meetings specifically devoted to Afghanistan should take place with appropriate UN and regional officials to ensure that U.S.-forward-deployed troops and strategies are prepared to cope with any contingencies that come from this quarter in the near to mid-term future. Simultaneously, the U.S. government should regularly test the Taliban’s willingness to enter into dialogue.

      Iran: The U.S. government needs to begin to think about how to reassess its regional relations in light...

    • (pp. 120-122)

      The growing importance of this region and its rising profile in U.S. national security planning demand a responsible approach to coordinating the strands of U.S. policy. Bureaucratic designations are by definition arbitrary but should be flexible. To their credit, several departments and agencies of the U.S. government already have revised bureaucratic assignments with regard to this region with greater appreciation for geopolitical distinctions. However, in keeping with the evolving strategic environment, some additional steps are now warranted:

      The President should give his Special Advisor on Caspian issues a portfolio that goes beyond promoting specific oil and gas pipelines. This person...

    • (pp. 122-128)

      The main constraints on resources for regional engagement include: overall cost, support in Congress and support in the region.

      The last constraint must be taken particularly seriously at the level of implementation. Engagement efforts in the region are less likely to succeed, and most likely will be counterproductive, if they are perceived to hinder the interests of other countries. In some cases, local governments want U.S. military aid precisely as a counterpoise to their dependency on major regional powers, particularly Russia. To develop alternative diplomatic and military resources is a normal part of developing sovereignty. But the U.S. government must...