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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Central Asia’s Security: Issues and Implications for U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

The Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) face common security challenges from crime, corruption, terrorism, and faltering commitments to economic and democratic reforms. However, cooperation among them remains halting, so security in the region is likely in the near term to vary by country. Kyrgyzstan's and Tajikistan's futures are most clouded by ethnic and territorial tensions, and corruption in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could spoil benefits from the development of their ample energy resources. Authoritarianism and poverty in Uzbekistan could contribute to a succession crisis. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan's beleaguered civil society might eventually help the relatively small nation safeguard its independence. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan might become regional powers able to champion policy solutions to common Central Asian problems and to resist undue influence from more powerful outside powers, because of their large territories and populations and energy and other resources. 

Internal political developments in several bordering or close-by states may have a large impact on Central Asian security. These developments include a more authoritarian and globalist Russia, an economically growing China, instability in Iran and the South Caucasus region, and re-surging drug production and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. 

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the former Bush Administration established bases and other military access in the region to support U.S.-led coalition operations in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has highlighted U.S. interests in such continued access as well as the long-term security and stability of the region. U.S. interests in Central Asia include combating terrorism, drug production, and trafficking; assisting the development of oil and other resources; and fostering democratization, human rights, free markets, and trade. The United States also seeks to thwart dangers posed to its security by the illicit transfer of strategic missile, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons technologies, materials, and expertise to terrorist states or groups, and to address threats posed to regional independence by Iran. Some critics counter that the United States has historically had few interests in this region, and advocate only limited U.S. contacts undertaken with Turkey and other friends and allies to ensure U.S. goals. They also urge these friends and allies to enhance their energy security by taking the lead in the development of diverse export routes for Central Asia's energy resources. 

Most in Congress have supported U.S. assistance to bolster independence and reforms in Central Asia. The 106th Congress authorized a "Silk Road" initiative for greater policy attention and aid for democratization, market reforms, humanitarian needs, conflict resolution, transport infrastructure (including energy pipelines), and border controls. The 108th and subsequent Congresses have imposed conditions on foreign assistance to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, based on their human rights records. Congress has continued to debate the balance between U.S. security interests in the region and interests in democratization and the protection of human rights. 

Date of Report: March 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 71
Order Number: RL30294
Price: $19.95

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