Security is everyone’s concern?
If you decide to take metro train in Washington, DC, you’re most likely to hear a pleasant woman’s voice - “Safety is everyone’s concern” - referring to possibly dangerous lost bags. Although it sounds a little utopian, this phrase really describes one of U.S. key mottoes, which is also used in foreign affairs. In case of Central Asia the concern on it’s safety and security was leading among discussed regional issues, competing only with water problem. This autumn, as the new academic year starts, scholars in U.S. capital are discussing security in Central Asia, which was a fruitful theme for several years for now, from a new perspective. The question which becomes much more interesting for scholars as the 2014 approaches is will United States still be interested in Central Asia after withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Joshua Kuchera, Central Asia analyst and blogger, on the event hosted by Central Asia Program at IERES (George Washington University) on 12th of September 2013, said that he would expect the decline in US interest in the region concerning the security issues. It seems that behind the scenes, analytical community agrees with Kuchera and turns its attention to Russia and China, waiting to see how the withdrawal of coalition leads the players of the Central Asian “Game” to change their behaviour and bid on different CA countries. United States - focusing on Uzbekistan, Russia - on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and China - on everyone, but the least of all on Kyrgyzstan.
Since the beginning of 2013 CA countries started to declare the willingness of their major partners, mostly Russia and China, to make huge donations to the regions economies. Although this donations usually consist of different types of money - direct investment, loans, technical and financial aid, joint ventures investment, etc., CA countries officials like to talk big, combining this different forms of money into one large sum, which will sound much more credible and significant to their competitors in the region. This situation resembles the beginning of new stage in regional-donors' attempt to establish their areas of influence.
Proximity to Afghanistan made Central Asian republics to be pointed as a possible instability belt. This idea was driven by the assumption that extremist groups would leak into Central Asia, spreading their word and gaining followers. In reality, after 2001 and deactivation of practice of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Central Asia, there were very few cases connected to Afghanistan-based extremism. Regardless of this, Central Asian states were getting a lot of security aid to train their military forces, and some of them did a good job in protecting their borders and their countries. What is usually forgotten, that in most of this countries laws about religion, religious organizations and parties are tough, and the success in extremism fighting is not actually connected with military assistance the region gets. Thus, first of all, all parties whose concern is Central Asian security need to find an answer to the question - is there a credible threat for Central Asian states waiting to spread from Afghanistan? For now this question remains open, albeit Russia, China and USA still help the region with money, technics and military training, especially with training on conducting operations in the mountains.
It’s obvious that the main country around which all strategy of United States in Central Asia was based is Afghanistan. Since U.S. is leaving this country it should reevaluate its approach to the region. So, if in the beginning of 2013 it looked like Afghanistan was still perceived as a core of Central Asian policy, this autumn brings a different perspective. If one put Afghanistan aside post-Afghanistan talks on Central Asia, he or she can see the dispositions in the region. After the withdrawal and closure of “Manas” base in Kyrgyzstan, the only country in post-soviet Central Asia with which U.S. can deal is Uzbekistan. The reasoning behind this is clear for any Central Asia observer - Uzbekistan left CSTO, doesn’t have any plans in joining Customs Union and tries to dominate regional competition. Other countries in the region are ruled out by the the very same parameters but with a different modulus sign.
Russia is dealing with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, providing the two latter with aid and debt forgiveness. At the same time Russia is conducting a very equivocal migration policy concerning labor migrants from Central Asia, this and dubious perspectives of joining the Customs Union can play against Russia in the regional “game”, no matter how generous she is to her allies.
China ‘s mostly economic relationships with Central Asian states make it look like there is nothing Central Asia can get from China in the terms of security, though China is also participating in military training in the region. The question concerning China is mostly - will it actually interfere in case of a real security threat, or it’s going to stay on it’s track and keep economic cooperation it’s main priority. China's main concern for now is energy - so it's policy is to invest everywhere to broad it's energy network. Although China is a major regional donor, it's geopolitical interest in getting an area of influence in Central Asia seems vague.
The rising concerns about region’s future occupy minds of all scholars and analysts studying Central Asia. They express anxiety - the scenario when, divided by the external powers, Central Asia will face disintegration and decay seems to them plausible. The security is no more the most disturbing issue - regional integrity and prosperity is.