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Military and Economic Security Perspectives

Svante E. Cornell


The war on terrorism after September 11, 2001, has brought Afghanistan and the post– Soviet states of Central Asia into the spotlight of world politics, with great strategic importance to the United States and Europe as well. Less known is the nearby region of the Caucasus, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia between the Black and Caspian seas, though it is by no means less important to U.S. foreign policy.

In October 2001 the Bush administration took a decision that will likely be recalled as a landmark in Central Asian history. By deciding to set up military bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and sending special forces to train the Georgian military, the United States redrew the geopolitical map of the region. The ever evolving and shifting distribution of power and influence among the states surrounding Central Asia and the Caucasus—and the regional states themselves— was fundamentally altered by the serious commitment of the United States to a military and security engagement in the region, even though the length of this commitment was not announced. The impact was greatest in Central Asia. The U.S. advent on the scene restored a certain freedom of movement to Central Asian states that were increasingly becoming constrained in an environment dominated by Russian and Chinese influence.

Eighteen months later the United States is firmly entrenched in Central Asia. It has considerable military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and an ubiquitous military presence in Afghanistan; it upgraded political and security links with all states in the region, save isolated Turkmenistan, and has a relationship amounting to a strategic partnership with Uzbekistan, the most important regional state. The states hosting U.S. troops are generally happy to see increased U.S. presence in Central Asia; some larger neighbors think otherwise, but have neither the intention nor the capacity to dislodge the United States from the region. There is no great danger to U.S. troops or citizens in the region comparable to that in the Arab world or even Southeast Asia, and anti–Americanism is arguably lower in Central Asia and Azerbaijan than anywhere else in the Muslim world. This entails that, in practice, the United States is in Central Asia for at least as long as it wants to be. This does not mean that the United States will maintain large military bases in Central Asia for decades, or automatically get drawn into regional troubles. However, it is clear...

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