Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan told Notre Dame University students in May 1981, ‘The West will not contain Communism, it will transcend Communism. We will not bother to denounce it, we’ll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.'(Schweizer, 1994: 47) After nearly a decade, his edict became reality and the ‘evil empire’ collapsed together with its Marxist-Leninist ideology. The USSR’s disintegration ended the Cold War era and is reshaping world politics.
One key development is the emergence of new republics in a Central Asia which has become, in effect, the Middle East’s northern frontier. The predominantly Turkish-speaking populations in these republics has increased Turkey’s importance in the U.S. government’s eyes. (1) Turkey’s strategy towards this region tries to mobilize its cultural, ethnic, and linguistic ties to the Turkic republics.
This study’s purpose is to analyze U.S. relations with the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. It will also evaluate Turkey’s view of this situation and the relation of the new states–and issues raised-with Middle East politics.
In this area, the main U.S. goals are to increase stability, speed up democratization, introduce a free market economy and make sure that it operates smoothly, increase commercial activity, control nuclear weapons and encourage human rights standards. The principal priority can be defined as blocking the spread of influence of existing radical regimes and preventing the creation of new ones.(Subcommittee statement, 1994: 332-338) U.S. policy wants to see the Central Asian Republics succeed so they will not be replaced by anti-Western radical regimes which may threaten international peace and security.
While U.S. policymakers generally share these goals, they differ over how much U.S. involvement is needed. Those supporting an active policy warn that instability here could damage Middle East states having good relations with Washington, and especially on Turkey.(Christopher, 1994a:403)
Moreover, this view emphasizes the existence of nuclear weapons and equipment for producing them in this region as posing a danger of proliferation to radical third world states or terrorist organizations. Limiting Russian and Iranian influence in the area is another important consideration. Thus, the United States would be well-advised to increase support for the region and build strong bilateral relations. (Christopher, 1994:403) Those favoring intervention also want to gain commercial advantages over China, South Korea, and European states in penetrating the Central Asian market.(Talbott, 1994a: 281)
Those criticizing America’s current policy and seeking less involvement in Central Asia say the region does not mean much for U.S. interests and that Turkey and other friendly states can preserve stability, avoiding a radical Islamic threat in this part of the Middle East. Efforts to promote democracy, they argue, could lead to instability or authoritarianism. The oil and markets of these new states are deemed too unimportant, at least in the present, to justify U.S. activism there. (Nichol, 1996:16)
Of these two approaches, the first has been dominant so far. The United States quickly recognized the newly independent republics following the USSR’s collapse in 1991 and, as Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott noted, evaluated each nations’ characteristics in building different types of links. (Talbott, 1994b: 34) This can be seen in a country-by-country survey.
The key legislation for dealing with these countries is a law entitled Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM), passed in 1992 and providing for special aid.(Myers, 1994: 510)
The U.S. government recognized Kazakhstan first of all, on 25 December 1991. There were an impressive number of high-level visits between the two states. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev went to Washington, 18-20 May 1992. Vice President Al Gore reciprocated in September 1993, followed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher in October 1994.(TDN, 11 December 1993) During Nazarbayev’s second trip to the United States, he and Clinton signed a Democratic Cooperation Agreement emphasizing democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law.(TDN, 16 February 1994) In April 1995, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry traveled to Kazakhstan. (TDN, 6 April 1995)
U.S.-Kirgyzstan relations followed a similar pattern. Washington recognized Kirgyzstan on 25 December 1991 and opened an embassy in Bishkek in February 1992. Kirgyz President Asker Akayev visited the United States, 15-22 May 1993, meeting Clinton, Gore, and Christopher. An aid agreement was signed and Gore went to Kirgyzstan in December 1993, signing an accord to facilitate investments and for a joint agricultural project.
Despite ups and downs, these two are ahead of others in the democratization process, according to reports prepared by American think tanks.(Human Rights, 1993: 192; Olcott, 1993: 92-103) In relations with these and other Central Asian states, Washington has taken a series of initiatives to promote a transition to democracy, including exchange and educational programs in diplomacy, education, journalism, and elections. (Fact Sheets, 1994: 282)
U.S. relations with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, however, are at a slightly lower level, since these two have made less progress toward democracy and a free market economy. (Panico, 1993: 6-10; Oguz, 1995: 41-47; Oguz, 1996: 23-28) Relations have been more strained with Uzbekistan over its record regarding civil liberties and human rights. (Kangas, 1992 : 22-27) Nonetheless, Perry emphasized Uzbekistan’s strategic importance during his April 1995 visit there and reiterated U.S. support for its stability.(Nichol, 1996: 3).
Tajikistan is the country with which the US administration has had the lowest level of relations, despite recognizing that country as early as 25 December 1991 and opening an embassy in Dushanbe in March 1992. The main reason has been a civil war and instability continuing to the present. The United States has held talks about sending humanitarian aid to Tajikistan and State Department officials have participated in peace talks between the warring parties in there as observers within the UN.
OTHER POWERS AND THEIR IMPACT ON U.S. STRATEGY
A half-dozen other states, each with its own interests and assets, also play a role in the Middle East’s northern frontier. U.S. policy must take these factors into consideration. Some of them reinforce American goals, others pose threats–or potential dangers–to U.S. interests.
Clearly, Russia continues to be the most important among the regional powers. Until 1993, it pursued a Western-oriented policy but then revised this stand because of Western attempts to expand NATO’s eastern border and since it received less aid than expected from the West.(Lunev, 1996) Russia has restructured the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to tighten cooperation, sought to improve economic and political links to China, and improved relations with radical Middle East states, especially Iran and Iraq. (Ferdinand, 1995: 8-11) Russia’s growing dialogue with Iran, Iraq and even Libya clash with U.S. policy. Such differences might be reflected in Central Asia as well.
The People’s Republic of China with its annual growth rate of 11-12% and $1.4 billion GNP can also play an important role in the region. (Minghsan and Xiquan, 1995; Qing, 1994; Ferdinand, 1994) China’s rapprochement with Russia enhances their overlapping interests in Central Asia and thus may cooperate. (Bekar, 1995: 47-55; Aras, 1996a: 15-16) Many American analysts view China as a principal great power in the forthcoming century. The way a U.S.- Russia-China triangle works in the coming years will have a big effect on the area’s countries.
In addition, several states friendly to the United States– Turkey, Israel and European countries–have rapidly developed political and economic relations with the Central Asian republics. Despite commercial rivalries, a common opposition to radical Islamic forces and support for stability and a free market economy, makes these nations’ political-economic penetration of the region a positive factor for U.S. policy.
The Russian standpoint, however, may be different, especially given Moscow’s concern over the European Union’s growing economic and political integration with its former sphere of influence in Eastern European. European as well as American activity in Central Asia may be seen by Russia as a threat close to its own southern border. (Cross, 1996; Sloan, 1995)
From Turkey’s perspective, the appearance of five new states in Central Asia has caused a radical foreign policy shift and a search for ways to gain influence in these republics.(Kirisci, 1995) Turkey does not, however, go to the region with chauvinist (i.e., Pan-Turkic) aims. While the Central Asian states look to Turkey as a successful example, Ankara wants to spread its own model of secularism in an Islamic society, parliamentary democracy, and a free-market economy.(Yilmaz, 1994; 194) It appears that U.S. cooperation with Turkey regarding Central Asia will continue in the coming years.
Another country with a desire to play a key role in the region is Israel.(Aras, 1995/96) It seeks to find friends in the Middle East, profitable markets, and forces opposing the spread of radical Islamic revolutionary movements. Within this framework, Israel and Turkey cooperate regarding Central Asia, especially seeking to block Iran’s power in the area.
In summary, post-Cold War balances have brought the United States, Turkey, Israel, and Europe under the same umbrella of interest and general aims. It should be remembered, of course, that these states do not have identical goals and priorities, especially regarding commercial rivalry.
While Russia is the area’s most important power, the above- mentioned states’ concern is mostly focused on Iran. The formation of new countries, whose citizens are mostly Muslims, at the Middle East’s northern edge gives Iran a unique opportunity to shed its international isolation. Given the power vacuum following the USSR’s collapse, this is exactly what the Western world–and especially the United States–fears.
Iran has made serious initiatives toward these states, using its geographic advantage by offering them free passage through its own territory and by providing an alternative model to governments and opposition groups.(Aras, 1996b: 167-180) Iran knows it lacks the financing Central Asia needs. Consequently, Iran requires a ‘big partner.’ Russia is one possibility for this role; India also represents an interesting alternative.(Stobdan, 1995) Russia’s choice of whether to work with or against Iran is going to be a critical factor in the regional power equation.
Aid and Cooperation
The first goal of U.S. aid to the newly independent states is encouragement of the private sector. In FY 1995, Washington set aside $23 million for this purpose plus $10.5 million for Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to engage in economic restructuring. Technical aid and training programs to support a free market economy and develop the private sector, focus on such ventures as agriculture, small- and medium-scale enterprise, communications, and banking. (Nichol, 1996, 13) Countries ready to carry out reforms have priority in receiving these funds. Table 1 shows the total aid given to the Central Asian republics in 1996 and the planned total to be given in 1997.
TABLE 1: 1996 and 1997 Fiscal Years (FY) Aid Program ($ million)
|COUNTRY||1996 FY (estimated)||1997 FY (projected)|
Source: Jim Nichol, Central Asia’s New States: Political Developments and Implications for US Interests, CRS Issue Brief, (Washington: Library of Congress, 1996), 16.
Kazakhstan has been the main recipient of U.S. aid, largely within the framework of Operation Provide Hope (OPH) or Department of Agriculture food programs. (Statement before the Subcommittee, 1994: 335-336) All in all, official and private U.S. institutions gave $24.3 million within the framework of OPH in 1992. Two years, later the United States provided $30 million in food aid alone (Fact Sheets, 1994: 290) There were also many unofficial programs. For example, a joint U.S.-Japan health project vaccinated 500.000 infants were vaccinated against infectious diseases and gave $900,000 in medical equipment.
In FY 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave $10 million to Turkmenistan for buying agricultural goods. Uzbekistan received $500,000 in food and $5.5 million in medical assistance under OPH. Non-governmental groups gave $4.8 million more in medical aid.(Fact Sheets, 1994: 293-298) The country most in need of humanitarian aid is Tajikistan. Humanitarian aid for Tajik immigrants in particular appeared in the FY 1994, 1995, 1996 U.S. government budgets. This included $7.1 million in 1995 and $5 million for 1996. the United States also responded to a February 1996 UN Food and Agricultural Organization report calling for emergency aid to Tajikistan. (Nichol, 1996: 14)
While the amounts of aid given are small compared to those received by other countries, they have a disproportionately large effect on these small, poor states.
Investment and Commerce
At the 1994 U.S.-Central Asia Business Conference Deputy Secretary of State Talbott said, ‘The American businessmen are investing in the region because it is an attractive business, not because of altruism.’ A Central Asia-America Initiative Fund was established there with a five-year budget of over $150 million. (Talbott, 1994a: 280-282) Other agreements aimed to build the legal and material infrastructure needed to support such commercial efforts, including the Kazakh military industries.
The U.S. Eximbank provided short-term funds and guarantees to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan neceded for purchasing food and the medical equipment. Furthermore, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed separate agreements with five Central Asian states.(Nichol, 1996: 14)
In February 1993, the U.S. administration signed an agreement with Kazakhstan granting it most-favored-nation status. The parties opened commercial offices and worked to improve bilateral economic relations. In May 1992 another agreement gave American entrepreneurs with special privileges and it was strengthened in October 1993 with a protocol abolishing double taxation. In addition, within the agreement’s framework, OPIC provided $80 million dollars’ financing to two companies exploring for oil in Kazakhistan.
Economic relations with Kirgyzstan followed a similar course with a most-favored-nation agreement (August 1992) followed by an investment agreement four months later. Similar agreements were signed with Uzbekistan in November 1993 and March 1944. Less emphasis was put on Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, though several mutual investment agreements were also signed with them. (Fact Sheets, 1994: 282; The US and Kazakhstan, 1994: 97-99)
TABLE 2: US Annual Trade with the Central Asian Republics ($1,000,000)
a: Less than 500 thousands $.
Source: US Department of Commerce, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1995, (Springfield: National Technical Information Service, 1995).
Data on foreign trade and trade relations (Table 2) reflect the dimensions of the developing commercial relations, with oil being the main component. In that respect, Russia’s growing assertiveness in the Central Asian Republics would damage U.S. economic interests by preventing American firms’ access to those economies. Big companies like Chevron and Philip Morris have invested about $3 billion in the region and are expected to put in several times more in the coming years. A major agreement has been signed between the U.S. oil company Chevron and Kazakhistan to extract oil in Kazakhistan’s Tengiz and Korolev regions, with a 40- year duration and an investment of up to $20 billion. (Milliyet, 8 April 1993; Dunya, 7 April 1993) There are also U.S.-Israel, U.S.- Turkey, or U.S.-Turkey-Israel joint projects. (Milliyet, 11 November 1994)
One of Washington’s main security problems in Central Asia is the disarmament of the nuclear weapons in Kazakhistan and the regulation of activities regarding the production of nuclear arms in the region. There have been voices in Kazakhistan public opinion advocating the country remain a ‘nuclear power’ by holding onto weapons left there by the USSR. Still, Almaty ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Lisbon protocol on 22 May 1992 to give up these arms. This status was confirmed by a 1994 U.S.-Russia-Ukraine agreement 1994 and the 28 March 1994 Yeltsin- Nazarbayev accord.(Davis and Allis, 1995) By April 1995, 1040 SS-18 missile warheads were transferred to Russia.(Woolf and Galdi, 1996) U.S. aid to Kazakhistan is in exchange for safely transferring the weapons.
America’s security concerns comprise not only nuclear weapons but also nuclear research and the power reactors in Uzbekistan. There is much concern that nuclear weapons might be sold to radical third world countries and terrorist groups. There are reports that the CIA and Mossad keep the region’s nuclear technology experts under watch. (Ehteshami and Murphy, 1994: 103)
America’s other security concern is radical Islam in the region, especially as a force whose spread would be accelerated by victories in Central Asia. This may be more unlikely than it appears, given the actual political culture in Central Asia and the importance of ethnic nationalism. In addition, the diffusion of Sufism as the main dynamic form taken by Islam is not conducive to revolutionary ideology. (Haghayeghi, 1994: 186-189)
The first movement which made the West uneasy about Central Asia, occurred in 1988 when Uzbek students used Islamic terms as slogans during a sudden demonstration in Taskhent.(Olcott, 1989: 399) After this demonstration, new developments regarding Islam in the other Central Asian states have been evaluated in American political and academic circles as the diffusion of radical Islam to various degrees.(Ahmet, 1994: 55-61; Kangas, 1996: 19-23; Dave, 1996: 16-19; Abduvakhitov, 1993: 96-97)
The Islamic Republic of Iran stands at the point at which the spread of nuclear weapons and anxiety concerning radical Islam intersect. One of America’s most important security targets is to contain Iran and prevent it from exporting its regime to the region. Iran’s establishment of good relations not only with the Shiite population but with other communities in the region as well has drawn America’s attention. A nuclear reactor project between Russia and Iran also deepened US concerns.(Milliyet, 6 May 1995)
At the moment it seems that no detailed studies have been conducted on differences between the Islamic revivalism of Iran and the basic dynamics of Central Asian Islam, and whether one could directly feed the other. Moreover, the factor of Iran’s national interests (including an unspoken but implicit Persian nationalism) to widen Tehran’s influence in the area may compete with and undercut any desire to spread revolution or revolutionary Islamic ideology.
America’s third security concern in Central Asia is civil wars and potential border conflicts. In places where there is instability, as in Tajikistan, the situation obstructs the development of democracy and the free market economy which the United States strongly advocates. While the Clinton administration has argued these problems should be solved through the UN, it does not appear sympathetic for the idea Nazarbayev suggested in 1994 to establish a regional peace force and give it the status of a UN peacekeeping force.(Nichol, 1996: 6)
Finally, U.S. policy is concerned with the safety of oil and gas pipelines in the region and ensuring free access to the oilfields there. The most important pipeline route in Central Asia would transport oil from the giant Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, developed by the U.S.-based Chevron corporation, toward Europe and the Mediterranean. According to a specialist, ‘The US should support a pipeline route through the territory of Georgia and Turkey that will bring oil from Eurasia to a Mediterranean port such as Ceyhan in Turkey.'(Cohen, 1996: 13) It is clear that Turkey is again an important ally in this regard.
In the early 1990s the end of the half-century-long Cold War era gave the United States more power and freedom of maneuver than ever before. An important outcome of the USSR’s collapse has been the opening of new horizons for the ex-Soviet Republics. Washington has undertaken initiatives for the healthy integration of these states into the world system. In Central Asia, U.S. policy tries to maximize long-range strategic aims by building relations to the different countries.
From Turkey’s perspective, the U.S. dimension is also an important consideration in formulating policy toward an area where Turkey has strategic, economic, and ethnic/cultural interests. Former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s announcement to the West that Turkey now leads 200 million Turkic speakers and not just its own 60 million people shows how activity in this region is seen as enhancing Turkey’s importance. At the same time, Turkey worries– perhaps excessively–about the possibility of a U.S.-Russia entente to have hegemony over Central Asia.
As Bekar stated: ‘In the post-Soviet era, relations with the Russian Federation have gained more importance for Turkey compared to the Cold War period.’ On the one hand, it ‘is contrary to Turkey’s interests’ if there is ‘a new line of division in Europe.’ But on the other hand, if the West gives Russia a free hand regarding the former USSR republics (which Russians call the ‘near abroad’) that is also a matter for Turkey’s concern.(Bekar, 1996: 77)
Thus, the future of Russian and Iranian influence in Central Asia are important questions for both the United States and Turkey, albeit in somewhat different ways. The extent to which Central Asia becomes part of the Middle East will also be an interesting development which may draw the involvement of regional powers and affect the area’s balance of power.
- Interview with Graham Fuller, a senior specialist in International Relations in RAND Corporation, Istanbul, 4 October 1996.
Books and Articles
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__________ (1996a) ‘Cin-Orta Asya Iliï¿½kileri,’ Yeni Forum 17, no.326 (July)
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Bekar, Olgan. (1995): ‘Cin ve Bati Turkistan,’ Avrasya Dosyasi 2, no.2 (Summer).
_________ (1996): ‘NATO’nun Genislemesi Rusya ve Turkiye,’ Avrasya Etudleri 3, no.1 (Spring).
Christopher, Warren. (1994): ‘Toward a Secure, Free, and Fully Integrated Europe,’ Dispatch 5, no.25 (20/6).
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Cross, Sharly. (1996): ‘The Questions of NATO Expansion: Searching for the Optimal Solution,’ Mediterranean Quarterly 7, no.1 (Winter).
Dave, Bhavna. (1996): ‘Kazakistan Islam’i ve Islam Tehdidini Kesfediyor,’ Yeni Forum 17, no.324 (April).
Davis, Zachary S. and Jason D.Ellis. (1995): Nuclear Proliferation: Problems in the States of the Former Soviet Union. CRS Issue Brief. Washington: Library of Congress.
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‘Fact Sheets: Central Asian Republics,’ (1994): Dispatch 5, (9/5)
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Kangas, Robert D. (1996): ‘Ozbekistan’da Islam’in Uc Yuzu,’ Yeni Forum 17, no.323 (April).
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Kirisci, Kemal. (1995): ‘New Patterns of Turkish Foreign Policy Behavior,’ in Turkey: Political, Social and Economic Challanges in the 1990s, Cigdem Balim et al. (eds.). Leiden: E.J.Brill.
Lunev, Stanislav. (1996) ‘Future Changes in Russian Military Policy,’ Prism: A Bi-Weekly on the Post-Soviet States 2, no.3 (February).
Mingshan, Chen and He Xiquan. (1995): ‘Features and Prospects of the Situation in the Central Asian Region,’ Foreign Affairs Journal (Beijing), no.37.
Nichol, Jim. (1996): Central Asia’s New States: Political Developments and Implications for US Interests, CRS Issue Brief. Washington: Library of Congress.
Oguz, Esedullah. (1996): ‘Dunden Bugune Turkmenistan,’ Yeni Forum 17, no.325 (June).
__________ (1995): ‘Turkmenistan’da Basin ve Yayin Ozgurlugu,’ Yeni Forum 16, no.317 (October).
Olcott, Martha B. (1989): ‘Gorbachev’s National Dilemma,’ Journal of International Affairs, no.42 (Spring).
__________ (1993): ‘Central Asia on Its Own,’ Journal of Democracy, no.4 (January).
Panico, Christopher. (1993): ‘Turkmenistan Unaffected by Winds of Democratic Change,’ RFE/RL Research Report, (22/1/).
Qing, Chang. (1994): ‘Brief Analysis on China’s Relations with the Five Central Asian Nations,’ Foreign Affairs Journal (Beijing), no.33 (September).
Schweizer, Peter. (1994): ‘Who Broke the Evil Empire?’ National Review 46, no.10 (30/5).
Shakoor, Abdul. (1995): ‘Orta Asya: Amerika’nin Cikar Algilamasi ve Guvenlik Politikalari,’ Avrasya Etudleri 2, no.2 (Summer).
Sloan, Stanley R. (1995): ‘US Perspectives on NATO’s Future,’ International Affairs 71, no.2.
‘Statement before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee, Washington, DC, May 10, 1994’ (1994): Dispatch 5, no.21 (23/5).
‘Statement by White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Washington, DC, July 15, 1994.’ (1994): Dispatch 5, no.30 (25/7).
Stobdan, P. (1995): ‘Emergence of Central Asia: Strategic Implications,’ Strategic Analysis (New Delhi) 18, no.3 (June).
Talbott, Strobe. (1994): ‘An Address by US Deputy Secretary at the US-Central Asia Business Conference Washington, DC, USA, May 3, 1994,’ Presidents & Prime Ministers 3, no.5 (September/October).
Talbott, Strobe. (1994a): ‘Promoting Democracy and Prosperity in Central Asia,’ Dispatch 5, no.19 (5/9).
‘The US and Kazakhstan: A Strategic Economic and Political Relationship,’ (1994): Dispatch 5, no.8 (21/2).
US Department of Commerce. (1995): Statistical Abstract of the United States 1995, (Springfield: National Technical Information Service.
Woolf, Amy F. and Theodor W.Galdi. (1996): Nuclear Weapons in the Former Soviet Union: Location, Command, and Control, CRS Issue Brief. Washington: Library of Congress.
Yilmaz, Bahri. (1994): ‘Turkey After the Dissolution of the Soviet Union,’ Balkan Forum (Skopje) 2 (Spring).
Dunya, 7 April 1993.
Milliyet, 8 April 1993;
Milliyet, 11 November 1994.
Milliyet, 6 May 1995.
Turkish Daily News, 11 December 1993.
Turkish Daily News, 16 February 1994.
Turkish Daily News, 6 April 1995.
Prof. Bülent Aras teaches at the department of International Relations at Fatih University.