America Discovers Central Asia

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Central Asia

Text of America Discovers Central Asia

America Discovers Central Asia Author(s): Charles William Maynes Reviewed work(s): Source: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Mar. - Apr., 2003), pp. 120-132 Published by: Council on Foreign Relations Stable URL: . Accessed: 14/11/2012 12:57Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


Council on Foreign Relations is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Foreign Affairs.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Wed, 14 Nov 2012 12:57:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

America Central

Discovers Asia

CbarlesWilliam Maynes


PRIOR SEPTEMBER 2001, theCentral Asian states of the TO 11, former Soviet Union-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-might aswell have been on the other side of the moon as far asU.S. policy was concerned. They were and are everything the United States is not: landlocked,

poor, peripheral, fearful,defenseless,Muslim, and undemocratic. Today, however, they are high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and America once again finds itself engaged militarily in an area about which its key officials know little. Almost none speak the critical languages of Central Asia; all too few have relevant

experience there.Curiously, as different and remote as theUnited States and the Central Asian countries are from one another, their fates have in tersected at least twice before. During the U.S. Civil War, the North's tight trade blockade on the South had an unexpected consequence for Russian textile manufacturers: they suddenly found that they could no longer buy American cotton for their rapidly expanding plants. On learning of their plight, expansion minded Russian officials developed a new rationale for pushing the borders of their empire south: conquering Central Asia, where cotton could grow, would assist the industrialization of

modern Russia.CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES isPresident of the Eurasia Foundation andwas Editor of Foreign Policy from 1980 to 1997. [120]

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Wed, 14 Nov 2012 12:57:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

America Discovers CentralAsia The fate of Central Asia next intersectedwith theUnited States a

when, during theColdWar, American policymakers century later,realized thatMoscow was locating its nuclear testing and missile launch sites in the region, as far away from prying American eyes

The U.S. interestin the region. This promptedrenewed aspossible.United States sought military facilities in Iran and Pakistan to monitor Soviet activities in Central Asia. Many pressing for U.S.

supportof radicalIslamic forcesduring the Soviet occupationof would spread into Soviet Afghanistan hoped the religious fervorCentral Asia, as indeed it did. After the fall of the Soviet Union, America's main objective in the region seemed to be to help the Central Asian states gain sufficient confidence and stability to prevent

of any resurgence Russian influence.But then came September ii, which abruptly brought the United States and Central Asia together much more closely and permanently. One of theworld's richest countries, a state so power ful that itsmilitary and economic reach seems limitless, suddenly began to voice greater concern over developments in one of the world's most remote and powerless regions. Of courseWashington's

heightened interest is understandable.If CentralAsian countriestake thewrong path, it is feared, they may willingly or unwittingly provide sanctuary to the kinds of terrorists that struck the Pentagon and theWorld Trade Center. Indeed, given America's new fears and interests,U.S. involvement inCentral Asia is likely to last longer than official statements suggest. Although theBush administration promises a timely end to themilitary

presencethere, many believe theUnited Stateswill remainengagedthrough an enhanced political and military presence for years to come; after all, staying until the "job is done," as the administration has

in promised, means rootingout the conditionsthatbreed terrorismthe first place. And that formidable goal suggests a quasi-permanent U.S. interest inCentral Asia. In becoming the de facto protector and guarantor of the region, theUnited States has an opportunity to play a constructive role that will further its own interests as well as those of the Central Asian states themselves. To succeed, however,Washington will need a crash course in the realities of this complex and troubled region.FOREIGN AFFAIRS March/April 2003 [121]

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Wed, 14 Nov 2012 12:57:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

CharlesWilliam MaynesTHE LAY OF THE LAND

CENTRAL ASIA is spread over an area roughly a quarter the size of Russia. The largest country, Kazakhstan, is four times as large as Texas; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are each about the size of California; and the last two, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are the size

ofWisconsin andSouthDakota, respectively. Geographicallylarge, the region is also becomingmore importantdemographically. Inmost of Central Asia, the birthrate ismore than 20 per thousand, whereas in Russia it is amere 9. Central Asia, at roughly 50 million, is thus stabilized or growing in demographic weight as Russia's population of about 15omillion continues to decline. Economically, the postcommunist era of freemarkets and global ization has not been kind to the region. According to World Bank studies, Central Asia is now much worse off than it was under

All communism. of its fivecountries havesuffered shocking declinesinhealth and education standards, and all-except oil-rich Kazakhstan

have suffered disastrous a decline ingrossdomesticproduct.InTajikistan, the GDPtoday isonly 38 percent ofwhat itwas in 1990.Kyrgyzstan, another orphaned republic,now finds itSGDPa third lower than in 1990. Where economic reform has been attempted, moreover, it has caused a high degree of disruption without much tangible payoff, whereas Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have staved off much of the economic disruption suffered by their neighbors by steadfastly refusing to reform.Uzbekistan, for example, hasmanaged through intransigence to hold its GDPat 96 percent of the 1990 level.The likely long-run cost of this decision to protect the Soviet legacy could be ruinous, however. Little has changed inTurkmenistan orUzbekistan since 1990, and al though the resultmay be less economic disruption in the present, itwill also almost certainlymean less growth in the future. Machinery from the Soviet period is steadilywearing out. And old markets lostwith the disappearance of the Soviet Union are not being replaced. Given this unpromising outlook, some see the new American presence as an unexpected ray of hope. The U.S. military has now stationed 3,ooo U.S. personnel inKyrgyzstan and i,ooo inUzbekistan to operate out of local air bases. The United States provided roughly $580million in aid to the region in fiscalyear 2002, more than doubling[122] FOREIGN AFFAIRS Vo/ume82No.2

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Wed, 14 Nov 2012 12:57:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

America Discovers CentralAsia its aid level from the preceding year's $250 million. In addition, Washington has dramatically stepped up its diplomatic involvement by assigning top diplomatic personnel there and sponsoring high level visits bymembers of theCabinet and Congress. It is argued that with this new U.S. commitment, local governments will gain a greater degree of confidence and security andwill have the courage to accept the political risks that reform entails. This theory is about to be tested. But what makes change-or at least a restoration of hope for future change-so crucial is the severity of poverty in the region.More than two-thirds of the Tajik people now live on less than $2 a day. In Kyr gyzstan, nearly half suffer at that level.A full third of Uzbekistan's population lives below the official poverty line. Some might point out that Russia's figures are no better, with a third of its own people in poverty. But at least President Vladimir Putin has been able to restore hope in the future of his country, thanks to the economic reforms he has undertaken. Central Asia, on the other hand, has much less cause

foroptimism.FROM BAD TO WORSE

AGAINST THIS BLEAKBACKDROP,the governments of Central Asia

face five fundamental challenges:identity, development, water, borders, and security.All are problems that theUnited States will also be forced to confront as the now preeminent military power in the region. Central Asia today is in the process of etching out a new identity, the contours of which are still uncertain. Its peoples accepted Soviet domination only after a bitter resistance that lasted decades. Indeed, some of the same religious forces that so frighten local authorities and West today trace their roots to the earlier resistance against Soviet the

power.Furthermore,thewider local population,now freed from compulsoryatheistic secularism,is returningto its religiousroots. Mosques arespringing Although often fundedby outsidebene