Impressons From Reading “The United States and Central Asia after 2014” by Jeffrey Mankoff

Read CSIA’s 01.30.13 report “The United States and Central Asia after 2014” by Jeffrey Mankoff – a  comprehensive and quality analysis of the situation in Central Asia.

Fully agree with the author that that Central Asia won’t be even a second-order priority once U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, but I disagree that Russia, China and their allies would collectively lack capabilities (and interest) in keeping that region relatively stable if US doesn’t maintain some presence in ex-Soviet states there.

I think Russia with help of  China (and even with help of  Iran in the case of Tajikistan) can keep Central Asia relatively stable. Russia has also demonstrated that it could stabilize CA (mediating end of civil war in Tajikistan with help of Iran and strengthening CA’s defense of border with Afghanistan) and keep the region relatively stable even when it had far less resources in the 1990s.  So fear that others will fail to do the job should not be a factor in making decisions on scale of US presence in CA beyond 2014, I think.

Neither do I think that Russia has given up on the idea of re-establishing influence in entire CA. Rather its cooperation efforts are channeled through multiple lanes, which have different speed limits. It cooperates with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as much as they allow. Should they become open for deeper cooperation, Russia will seize the opportunity.

I would also note that not only Russia, but also CA states themselves would not want to become a staging ground for U.S. military campaign against Iran and will probably negotiate clauses to ban that (if only because Iran will be a powerful spoiler if the campaign fails, but also, if it succeeds, a regime change sets another precedent that CA rules would not want).

Speaking of Iran, I wonder why the author has decided not to address Iran’s interests and role in CA. Iranians helped to end civil war in post-Soviet Tajikistan and they continue to remain interested in a greater role in the region, viewing their ethnic cousins in Tajikistan as the most promising gateway. I would bet that reduction of US presence in the region may be used by Iran to boost its presence there and to more effectively resist US-led efforts to contain it.  Another powerful external stakeholder in the region that the author should have me Turkey. Turks rushed to embrace their cousins in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan after disintegration of USSR Turkey has invested almost $5 bn in post-Soviet CA, builds hotels, funds education projects , trains CA officers. (And Turkish ultra-nationalists view these 3 states as potential junior partners in the pan-Turkism project spanning from Bosporus to China’s Uighur province.)