Return to Astana on the Atlantic event page










Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Good afternoon and welcome.  I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.  Thank you for joining us for a rollout event and discussion surrounding the release of the Eurasia taskforce report, “Astana on the Atlantic” – now, we haven’t changed geography; we’re just trying to provoke some thought about that – “Trans-Atlantic Strategy in Central Asia and the OSCE.”

The focus of our discussion today and of this Eurasia taskforce more broadly is to examine how the trans-Atlantic community can position itself in Central Asia.  Just after the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States will take part in the third of three trans-Atlantic security summits, summits related to trans-Atlantic security:  the NATO summit – I’ve just returned from Lisbon – the U.S.-EU summit in Lisbon, and then December 1st and 2nd, the OSCE summit in Astana.

The upcoming OSCE summit offers, we believe, a unique opportunity for the United States and the trans-Atlantic community to enhance its presence and profile in Central Asia, to the benefit of the region and the trans-Atlantic community as a whole.  When we started this project, we felt there was not nearly enough attention paid in Washington to this region. 

We don’t feel any less that since now, and certainly, we didn’t feel there was enough strategic thinking being done about how this region fits, overall, into a U.S. foreign policy interest at a time of dramatic shift from probably the most dramatic economic and policy shift since the 18th century.

And one thinks it’s from east to west, but when one sees Central Asia, it just happens to be right in between, in the middle of that shift, and affected by all the things that are driving the regions around it.  In the last year, the Eurasia taskforce has been engaged in an effort to define why Central Asia matters to the United States and how it might work more closely with its partners to advance mutual interests in the region.

The taskforce – and I was glad to travel with it – has traveled to Vienna, Austria, to Astana, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to gain an on-the-ground perspective of the U.S. position in the region and the OSCE.  It also hosted numerous leading figures from the U.S. and Central Asia governments for strategy sessions and panel discussions.  And we’ve had a great many meetings with senior U.S. officials on these issues, as well.

The event and the taskforce report are, itself, the culminating efforts of the project and offer recommendations for U.S. policy toward the region just before the upcoming OSCE summit.  I’m pleased that we can be joined today by the Eurasia taskforce chairman and Atlantic Council chairman, Sen. Chuck Hagel, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley and former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan William Courtney.  And both Julie and Bill are members of the taskforce.

It’s also a great pleasure for me to see Ambassador Erlan Idrissov of Kazakhstan in the audience today.  I’m particularly grateful for the thinking that you’ve provided and the guidance and counsel throughout this effort.  We’ve had some lively discussions and you have an impressive strategic mind.  And I’ve learned a lot through our discussions and I’m sure we all have.

I am also delighted to see, in the audience, the ambassador from Turkmenistan and from Azerbaijan.  We see this not only as a one-off report, even though we’ve put a lot of work into the report and the previous papers that came out with it – issue briefs and other papers – we also see this as setting a baseline for work we’ll continue to do on Central Asia and the OSCE, and with the particularly emphasis of our Patriciu Eurasia Center.

Before we hear from Sen. Hagel and enjoy the discussion of the findings of the report by Ambassador Ross Wilson, Damon Wilson and Ambassador Courtney, it’s my particular pleasure to turn over to taskforce member and Atlantic Council board director, Ambassador Julie Finley.  Ambassador Finley – Julie – has been a crucial supporter of this project since it began. 

She brings a great deal of wealth of experience to these issues due to her service as U.S. ambassador to the OSCE during the second term of the George W. Bush administration.  But I actually saw your role on the taskforce as something quite different because, as I was part of this taskforce group –

JULIE FINLEY:  Comic relief?  (Laughter.)

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah, well beyond that.  People kept saying things like “Corfu process” to me.  And all of you, of course, know what the Corfu process is; I was not as familiar with it.  And they would throw out acronyms and that sort of thing.  And Julie was the best person at actually taking wonky language and turning it into English and telling me why we should care.  So we’re all grateful for that, Madame Ambassador.

Ambassador Finley is one of the Atlantic Council’s most active and engaged board members, a crucial figure in the trans-Atlantic community whose support and backing for the enlargement of the NATO alliance will be written down in history.  As a founder of the U.S. Committee on NATO that did so much to change the course of history in Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War, it’s an honor for me to turn the podium to you.  (Applause.)

MS. FINLEY:  Damon, what – I have 43 minutes?  (Laughter.)  Well, thank you, Fred.  And I really think this is a great organization.  And I’m certainly glad you’re all here.  I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to say this afternoon.  I’m know I’m supposed to, somewhere along the line, introduce a certain former senator. 

I didn’t know the ambassador of Kazakhstan was going to be here.  I’m really glad he is.  I’m really glad to see the ambassador of Turkmenistan because I’m crazy about your present ambassador to the OSCE, who I think is an absolutely great ambassador and a great man.  And I want to see you later.  (Laughter.)

It’s hard, in something like this, to be original, so I won’t be – or I will try to be original and I will try not to repeat.  I believe strongly in multilateral organizations, and I believe strongly in the United States belonging to them.  I try not to be a Johnny One-Note on this, but I do think that if we belong to them, we should use them.  I also think there is a place for almost each of them.  There’s some – not so sure about.  (Laughter.) 

And for me, this is an old thing about talking instead of shooting.  Now, when they enter office, heads of state and foreign and defense ministers get boxes and boxes full of tools.  The OSCE isn’t a perfect tool, and it isn’t just the United States that has figured that out.  But someone ought to do some new figuring.  The OSCE summit in Astana should be an opportunity for that organization to present some serious – therefore, achievable – goals that would bring greater unity, certainly, to Central Asia, and perhaps even some peace there.

But that probably isn’t going to happen.  In fact, and most probably, nothing is going to happen at that so-called summit.  I’m very sorry, Mr. Ambassador, to say that.  The OSCE’s membership of 56 countries and 11 partners scattered throughout Europe and Asia, and including two members of this side of the Atlantic, offers a manageable group, in my view, whose representatives in Vienna can, if unleashed with guidance, come up with some constructive contributions to solutions and challenges faced throughout Central Asia.

Presently, of course, the most critical challenge is the stabilization of Afghanistan.  It makes no sense to me that a security organization with five Central Asian members and with Afghanistan as a partner hasn’t been involved in that stabilization process.  But it goes beyond that, to the area’s stability.  That is, if you can’t agree to the importance of the place in our own security held by the corridor of Central Asia to Asia.

The clarity of OSCE messages, as well as NATO messages about commitment to Afghanistan and Central Asia, should serve to reassure the Central Asia neighborhood.  Fog makes driving difficult.  To get through many fogs, luckily for us, out of the heartland drove Chuck Hagel.  We don’t just grow grain out there; we grow good sense, a great work ethic, appropriate patience and persistence.

At about this time, I want to say Alabama gives 35 votes to Chuck Hagel.  No.  (Laughter.)  Sen. Hagel’s CV is so full and varied, I’m going to send you out into the hall to the tables to get those papers.  This is a guy with a life – not a life in the faculty lounge, not a life forever seeking political office.  What he brings today, in particular, to this important subject, and as head of the Eurasia taskforce and the Atlantic Council, is a consistent and demonstrated interest in and knowledge of Central Asia.

His many trips to the region and discussions with its leaders, both in and out of government, makes his voice the one to listen to.  So it is with considerable pleasure – (chuckles) – and respect that I present a man of great and good sense who, at the wheel, can drive us through the fog – (laughter) – Sen. Chuck Hagel.  (Applause.) 

CHUCK HAGEL:  Ambassador Finley, you understated the point about being original.  I think that was one of the more original introductions that I’ve, certainly, had.  And I’m always grateful for your involvement in any project because I know there will be wit and focus and energy and always, a good deal of getting to the heart of the issue rather quickly, and always a rather significant amount of contribution made by you.  And this is no exception – this project and your leadership and involvement.  So Julie, thank you very much.  And we do have a lot of fog in Nebraska and in the Midwest.

MS. FINLEY:  We have fog right here.

MR. HAGEL:  We have fog here.  We have a lot of fog in Washington, yes.  (Laughter.)  But that’s the point of the taskforce, is no more fog.  And to the taskforce members, thank you for your generous commitment of your time and your expertise.  And when you really start to give some analysis to those on the taskforce who have created, I think, a rather significant report with relevant recommendations, that accumulated amount of experience and knowledge is rather impressive.  So thank you to each and others who had involvement on the project.

To our ambassadors in the audience, many from our side of the Atlantic, as well as the other side, thank you.  And in particular to you, Ambassador Idrissov, thank you for what you have done to help us with this.  I would want to add two things to what Ambassador Finley said, which I thought really kind of, as usual, framed it up, and then a point that Fred Kempe made.

I don’t know of a region of the world that represents more possibilities, but at the same time, more combustible possibilities than the region that we’re talking about.  When you consider that in this region, maybe the most dangerous corner on earth exists – and that is the corner where three nuclear powers come together – India and China and Pakistan.  And not too far from that corner is a place called Iran, and then to the north, Russia.  And then everything in between – natural resources, and astounding amount of geopolitical, strategic interest for all nations of the world.

This is an area of nations that, I think, as Fred noted, has been overlooked.  And as Julie noted, engagement using the structures like the OSCE, in particular, for this area – what Kazakhstan has done – first, I think, summit in 11 years that will be held next week, where our secretary of state will represent the United States of America.  That’s significant.  And I think it draws attention, once again, to the importance of this part of the world.

It’s an area that, as I think we all have understood, as I said, gets little attention, but it is an area that’s going to be as important for future geopolitical, strategic relationships as any I can think of in the world today.  So this taskforce report will focus on some things that I think need to be focused on, I hope will be helpful to this administration in Washington, I hope helpful to the Congress of the United States, as well as the countries of Central Asia and other countries that are in the larger region.

When you consider the geographical scope and sweep, from the Caspian Sea all the way over to China and south, having, as we all know, a kind of a sway of a bridge or a hinge region, to connect these areas of the world, it starts to frame up why this is an important area.  So the Atlantic Council is very proud of this report.  We’re proud of the effort that went into it. 

And again, I think it is useful and I think it will – I hope – lay some groundwork and some frame of reference for policies, not just for our country – the United States of America – but others countries that will continue to not just be part of this region, but lead in this region and define their interests more and more.  So with that, thank you all very much for coming and again, to each of you who have been so important here and our ambassadors here who represent this region of the world, thank you.  Fred Kempe, back to you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

(Off-side conversation.)

MR. KEMPE:  To get us started, I think we’ll have Ross and Damon present two different parts of the report, and then Ambassador Courtney – Bill – will respond to what they’re talking about.  And probably, at that point, I’m going to turn to the audience unless I can think of something terribly provocative to ask myself.

Sen. Hagel, thank you very much for those introductory comments.  Julie, those were characteristically provocative comments.  And I must say, I didn’t know you were from Alabama, so that was also a – (chuckles).  But which of you is going to go first?  Ross?  Ross Wilson is director of our Patriciu Eurasia Center.  We’ve recently come back from a major Black Sea energy and economic conference in Istanbul that went extremely well.  Ross was our former ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan so he knows something from which he speaks – or, let me rephrase that.  (Laughter.)  Go right ahead, Ross.

ROSS WILSON:  Thank you, and thanks very much, Fred.  I at least am tempted – and I’m sure Damon is, as well – to just sort of say Sen. Hagel and Ambassador Finley probably pretty well summed up what we have to say.  But that wouldn’t be sporting, so I will try to say a few things, and Damon will, as well, about what were some of our key impressions about Central Asia, what are some of our thoughts about U.S. policy in Central Asia and what are some of our recommendations that are reflected in the report.

I think we will both try not to repeat what’s there, but to review the assessments that we provided, on my part, looking at Central Asia and U.S. policy in Central Asia, per se, and Damon then picking up the multilateral piece, as Central Asia pertains to the interests of the Euro-Atlantic community, and as the OSCE, as an institution, has opportunities and has a need to play a role in the region.

I’ll summarize my part by recounting what I think are five key conclusions or sets of conclusions reflected in the report.  First – this very much repeats what Sen. Hagel had to say – Central Asia is important to us because of where it is, because of what it was, and because of what it can become and what it must not become.  First, the “where” part.

We don’t have a map in this room, but everybody knows – you’ve seen that gigantic National Geographic map with this huge landmass – very familiar Europe on one side, very familiar Asia on the other side – and that big blob in the middle that, for most Americans, I think probably looks kind of like nowhere. 

In fact, of course, that space in between, as Sen. Hagel suggested, is an extremely important connector that ties together exciting, interesting, dynamic developments in South Asia and in the Far East with the Euro-Atlantic – the broader Euro-Atlantic community.  It also sits on the cusp of Afghanistan, and that’s something that we’ll come back to a couple of times in our remarks here today.

Central Asia – important because of what it was.  It was a backwater of the Soviet Union, but it also was part of the Soviet Union.  And for nearly 20 years, it’s been U.S. policy to work to help all of the new, independent states of the former Soviet Union to stand on their own two feet, to realize and consolidate their independence, to establish their own mechanisms of governance, their own market economies, their own mechanisms that would help them to survive and prosper in the future.

And Central Asia is also important because of what it can become and what it must not become.  It can be a stable region, a source of prosperity, an area of freedom and of opportunity for its people, friendly toward the United States, toward the Euro-Atlantic community.  And there are elements of all those things in most, if not all, of the countries of Central Asia. 

But there’s a darker future that I think we’re particularly concerned about.  Afghanistan is a way to perhaps typify the darkest kind of future that one can imagine.  But clearly, there are elements of instability.  There are elements of poverty, of lack of economic development, lack of freedom and opportunity, and a future of problems and instabilities that can threaten our critical interests of the United States and of our friends and allies around the world.

Second, Central Asia is doing well in some senses, but in some important sense, really not doing well.  The poster child of doing well – gross domestic product – in the Central Asia countries quadrupled in the 18 years between 1990 and 2008.  That’s an impressive performance.  But throughout the region, you see declining life expectancy, declining literacy rates.  You see economic opportunity for individual citizens not fully flowering.  Steady incomes and prosperity are really confined to the capitals of the Central Asia countries and to a few sectors that benefit from particular state attention to ensure that they can be successful.

Central Asia is a place where the culture of democracy, the culture of freedom, the culture of opportunity is still something to be developed, by and large, in much of the region.  There are reasons for these things.  Remoteness from the rest of the world is clearly one.  Occasionally dysfunctional state policies, when it comes to over-regulation, the heavy hand of the state on economic and individual activity – all of these things cry out for different kinds of solutions, whether it’s policies to promote deregulation, debureaucratization (ph), the rule of law, transit and trade development strategies – the last, in particular, something that can build on Central Asia’s role as a link between the Euro-Atlantic community, as we know it, and the Far East.

Third, the idea that Central Asia is static or stable in a long-term sense, I think, is, when you look at the area, wrong.  Kyrgyzstan and the events in Kyrgyzstan this past year I think have been one very graphic demonstration of that.  Tajikistan – in a lot of respects, a very vulnerable country now wracked by some significant terrorist violence in the Rasht Valley of that country.  Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan – better in many respects, but clearly, there are some important and serious long-term questions about stability in each of those countries that we address in our report. 

Fourth, the United States has become a marginal player in Central Asia.  We spoke at an event here in July about this at some length.  And I don’t want to repeat all of that.  The distortions in American policy in Central Asia that flow – to some extent, for good reasons – but that flow from what happened on 9/11, that flow from the very, very high priority given to Afghanistan and successful prosecution of the effort in Afghanistan show up most graphically in Kyrgyzstan, where you have this sort of clash of American interests related to Afghanistan, on the one hand – which means the Manas Transit Center, fuel for the Manas Transit Center and several other things – and then a human rights and democracy effort that kind of went awry and didn’t really work as well as American interests – certainly, as well as American interests required.

And Kyrgyzstan turns out not to be unique.  We spoke with another American ambassador in Central Asia who talked at great length about the frustration that he had in reconciling different parts of America’s agenda in Central Asia and effectively integrating those into a coherent policy that actually advanced American interests.  And so there’s some serious challenges in getting that right.

The fifth conclusion on our recommendations – our recommendations don’t really call so much for more from the United States – certainly not more when it comes to assistance programs that have poured, I think it’s about $1.5 billion in American aid into the region.  We don’t call so much for more as we call for smarter American policy – more investment in relationship-building for the long term through effective dialogue with the countries’ leaders and their citizens; more stress on effective governance, on sound administration and on the rule of law, all of which are important for advancing stable, prosperous and successful societies in Central Asia

More emphasis on cooperation and integration among the region’s countries; more and more effective work to embed the military part of our bilateral relations, which is very important, and the human rights and democracy parts of our bilateral relations – also very important – in a broader conversation that more effectively includes economics, trade, investment, regional security matters, nonproliferation and a range of other matters that have, for years, been important parts of America’s diplomacy in Central Asia, but relatively speaking, have, in recent years, languished.

And then last: more effective work with the neighbors and with other countries that are deeply interested in the future of Central Asia.  And that might be a good way to segue to the multilateral piece and to my colleague, Damon Wilson.

MR. KEMPE:  Before we turn to Damon, let me just ask you one quick question, and that’s to pick up on your fourth point – the U.S. has become a marginal player in Central Asia.  I don’t think there’s an ambassador in town who doesn’t tell me that the U.S. isn’t paying enough attention, whether it’s Latin America or whether it’s Africa or whether it’s wherever else, and so why, particularly, here?  What’s the cost of us not being more than a marginal player, or what’s the potential cost?

ROSS WILSON:  I think Afghanistan is a terrifying example of the cost of American inattention in this part of the world.  After the Soviets pulled out, and certainly after the Taliban took over in the mid-1990s, the U.S. more or less turned its back on Afghanistan, failed to continue to try to invest in cultivating relationships with the country’s leaders, finding ways to be influential despite a range of difficulties of greater or lesser concern to American policy.

It’s not obviously the case that all of the Central Asia countries face the serious and real prospect of Afghanistan being their future or their model, but I think a continued lack of American engagement will complicate our work in Afghanistan for, I think, reasons that are fairly obvious, and leaves us exquisitely ill-equipped to try to influence the future of these countries in ways that we would like to see toward that positive vision, and against ways that we don’t want to see – that negative and dark vision of Afghanistan.

MR. KEMPE:  And perhaps with a different kind of engagement, Kyrgyzstan might be in a little different position, as well?

ROSS WILSON:  Yes, I think that’s very much the case.  Our engagement over the course of the last three or four years in Kyrgyzstan until the April revolt that threw out President Bakiyev ended up focusing almost exclusively on our Afghanistan agenda – extremely important, and there were reasons for that – but in the process, left American diplomacy and American diplomats in Bishkek sitting on the sidelines observing change when it happened and really not sufficiently able to shape events that followed over the course of the number of months since then.

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks, Ross.  Damon Wilson, vice president of the Atlantic Council and director of the international security program, and before coming to us, most recently was at the National Security Council’s staff as senior director for Europe, and has done a great deal of work related to the region in that position and previous positions.  But Damon will take on the OSCE piece of this report and then we’ll turn to Ambassador Courtney to give a response.

DAMON WILSON:  Thank you, Fred.  Thanks, Ross, for that opening segue.  Sen. Hagel, terrific kickoff; Ambassador Finley, thank you.  I first wanted to start out by pointing out two folks who have been critical to us getting our work done here:  Jeff Lightfoot, who really has been our taskforce coordinator – led our trip there and has been a driving force in it – Matt Czekaj, who’s done so much of the research that we’ve depended on throughout this process.

Ross and I decided to tag-team on this effort because part of it, as we began to look at the challenge before us, you know, as Ambassador Finley has said, when you rollout the words “OSCE”, you start to lose attention of some folks.  And part of what we thought the synergy here was, this wasn’t just about the OSCE summit, the Astana summit, but how to use this as an opportunity, really, to refocus policy on Central Asia.  And so we’ve tag-teamed my experience working with European security institutions, including the OSCE, Ross’s, certainly, from the region, because it bought the compelling mix.

Our thesis, really, has been that the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in office – they really have given the trans-Atlantic community an opportunity to refocus and reposition itself in Central Asia, as Ross has outlined.  And it’s really given impetus to the OSCE to take on a more Eurasian dimension – to really become serious about the work of Eurasia within the OSCE.

Given the late date with which the United States came around to support the summit, it’s a bit of a test, as well, on whether, at Astana, we can avoid a missed opportunity for the long-term repositioning we’ve been arguing for in the region and for laying the groundwork to ensure that the OSCE can have an enduring impact there.  So our report and our message today comes with a bit of a warning that lack of ambition on our part, combined with this traditional sense of Russian intransigence within the organization – the still-immunity ph) of the Russia reset – it risks marginalizing the OSCE if we don’t get this right.

Now, we’re not naïve in terms of our recommendations and in terms of this project.  We understand the limitations of a consensus-based organization.  Ambassador Finley’s been clear on this throughout the discussions.  I dealt, in government, with the frustrations of the organization, particularly as it came to an issue like Georgia.  But I also saw how there was enormous value for much of the impact the OSCE had through its field presence, even  if we struggled sometimes to get the guidance that folks like Ambassador Finley needed in Vienna.

So I think the challenge we face is not just the lack of U.S. vision or U.S. policy, but combined with the reality that we’ve had of U.S.-Russian obstructionism difficulties within the organization.  It’s easy to criticize policy as being lackluster, but the fundamental problem isn’t just a U.S. position here or there; it’s getting the ability to work with Russia inside this organization effectively which has been the challenge.

So we saw an opportunity earlier this year with the Obama administration, with Russia reset and with Kazakhstan’s chairman in office to try and apply Russia reset to the institution, and I’ll come back to that.  Policy is often developed by a crisis or forcing event.  And while the OSCE, in some respects, some would argue, has been in a slow-turning crisis, Astana really is the forcing event, much like the Lisbon summit was for NATO.

So we’ve argued that with a little bit of attention and effort, the trans-Atlantic community can have an impact to lay the foundation for the next phase of the OSCE.  And if not, the West risks becoming a coconspirator in the marginalization of the institution, and that’s something that we need to avoid.  So as I set out the challenge there, I want to get into how the summit fits into U.S. strategy and then lay out our specific recommendations.

Essentially, this year is the first time since 1999 that there’s been three summits in the Euro-Atlantic security area:  the U.S.-EU summit, the NATO summit and the OSCE summit.  In 1999, when I was in government working with Ambassador Mark Grossman at the time, this was what we called a “triple crown” strategy, to develop a coherent strategy to advance against all three of these summits.  It’s an argument which Ambassador Grossman has made as part of the Eurasia taskforce work.  We put out an earlier paper on that.

But I think it’s important to recall, particularly coming off the heels of this weekend, just as a new strategic concept approved at the Lisbon summit and the prospect of a real growing U.S.-EU partnership, post-Lisbon Treaty, are important elements of a rejuvenated trans-Atlantic relationship, reform of the OSCE should be one of those pillars, as well.

The U.S. can’t afford to just reject President Medvedev’s proposal for a European security treaty and then not turn around and come out with a proactive strategy for actually using the OSCE as a bit of the answer.  So the question we’ve asked ourselves in this process is, can the OSCE do for Eurasia what it’s done for Europe, in large part – helped to advance the norms and practices that are present in all three baskets of the OSCE – political and security, economic and environmental, and the human dimension?

Can it begin to shift the emphasis of the organization away from the conflicts of the Balkans further east into the Caucasus and Central Asia in order to ensure the continued relevancy of the OSCE as a Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian security institution?  So specifically at Astana, we’ve recommended six recommendations to be taken up.

First, to reaffirm the Helsinki Final Act’s core principles and their importance today.  That sounds easy today, but if you thought about it, if we tried to, we couldn’t even negotiate those principles from scratch today, probably.  So I think we’ve got violations of them in place.  Reiterating Helsinki is the first important baseline, I think, of Astana.

Second, we see this, as Ross laid the groundwork for, of really initiating a new area of sustained U.S. engagement in Central Asia.  So it’s not just a secretary of state visiting the region; it’s a chance to build on what we’ve done with these bilateral consultative groups, the trip to the region, to try to create a new narrative of how the United States is relating to Central Asia to give purpose to this trip that the secretary is taking to signal what I would hope would be the end of a sense of transactional, one-off trades in the region and the beginning of this more enduring partnership that we’ve called for.

So in that context, we would hope to see the secretary use the trip to deliver a coherent policy message – a major policy address on U.S. strategy for the region.  Third, I think what we’ve argued throughout this is that Astana is a chance to reposition the OSCE as the enduring, relevant and comprehensive security organization in the region.  I really think this should be the takeaway from Astana, or what the summit’s remembered for.

If you look back over the history of OSCE, the Helsinki Accords are remembered for the institution of détente.  Paris is remembered for laying the post-Cold War ground rules for European security.  A series of the summits are remembered for laying out the conflict-resolution, conflict-engagement strategies of the OSCE because of the trauma in the Balkans.  Astana is an opportunity to be remembered for creating an enduring Eurasian focus and dimension within the institution.

It’s well-suited because of bringing together the sense of comprehensive security, the political and security basket, the environmental/economic basket, the human dimensions basket – responds to the actual needs in the region appropriately.  And furthermore, it’s the right instrument because it’s really the only institutional framework that links the trans-Atlantic community to Eurasia. 

And we shouldn’t underestimate the value of that.  In fact, if we look at it, if we don’t play, the alternatives, whether it’s the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – these are institutions where, for the first place, we aren’t involved, we aren’t members, and second, that don’t bring some of the values and norms that the OSCE brings to the discussion that are so important to us.

So how do you actually do this at Astana?  I think it’s important that the summit have a clear political statement laying out this vision, laying out the goal, and that we really begin to see a shift in resources within the OSCE from the Balkans to the region.  Just to give you an example, in Kyrgyzstan, precrisis, the Kyrgyzstan mission of the OSCE had 16 international staff, 75 local staff, a budget of 5.5 million euro. 

If you contrast that today with what the OSCE is in Kosovo, 700 civil servants and a 23.5 million euro budget, and in Bosnia, 530 staff and a 15 million euro budget.  I think that represents the past of the priorities; we need to be focused on the future of our priorities and align the institution accordingly.

Similarly, in the second basket, this is where we’ve failed to, I think, develop robustly enough within the OSCE issues that respond to the region.  And so I think Astana is the opportunity to see a set of Eurasia-centric initiatives focused on transportation, on counternarcotics and, increasingly, transparency in the extractive industries. 

I think these three areas provide some real grist to fleshing out what that second basket can mean, in terms of practical terms, for the region.  And finally, presence.  I’d like to see an intensification of OSCE presence in the region by building out this OSCE – establishing a network of OSCE academies focused on professional development, building on the presence that’s there already.

Quickly, the last three recommendations:  advancing concrete initiatives to strengthen the OSCE role in conflict management, especially what it can do in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.  The United States has put forward some good ideas, in terms of the chairman in office being able to dispatch fact-finding missions, play a mediation role.  The idea of developing a civilian roster that the OSCE could call on in any crisis is an important contribution that Astana can make.

Specifically in Kyrgyzstan, where the police advisory mission was essentially blocked, finding a way to introduce many of the same tasks, many of the same competencies, and a way without some of the political bravado so that, at the end of the day, the OSCE could fulfill that operation in Kyrgyzstan.  And on Afghanistan, as I think Ambassador Finley has articulated, we’ve just come out of a NATO summit where NATO and Russia put forward real cooperation on Afghanistan.

We need to be able to build on that synergy to get agreements that were blocked in the past, to get them out and approved in Astana, where OSCE can work on border management and counternarcotics in a serious way.  Spotlighting the protracted conflicts, I think, is the fifth area. These won’t be solved, whether it’s in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria – they won’t be solved in Astana. 

But it’s important that this be an opportunity to keep the spotlight on these issues and to continue, for the OSCE, to prepare for peace – to work on creative formulations for the reintroduction of the mission in Georgia; to begin to lay out an idea of an OSCE presence to reduce tensions along the line of contact from Nagorno-Karabakh; preparing for its type of presence in a postsettlement phase; and really, in Moldova, thinking about – with the upcoming elections – the postelection strategy to help a new democracy succeed in this process.

Sixth and finally, modernizing the military transparency regimes in the OSCE area.  There’s been a lot of focus on the CFE.  There’s an attempt to get an agreement on a framework statement that outlines common principles.  The crux is really a difference between NATO countries and Russia on this concept of host-nation consent.  I wish those working this all the best, but I’m not all that optimistic.

So I think the first rule is that Astana do no harm.  We don’t want to see us walking away from this principle of host-nation consent.  But where it can make a real contribution is drilling down on the more obscure Vienne document, where I think really offers the model.  It’s not a legally binding, but it’s a set of political commitments.  I think there’s an opportunity to use this to get the type of military transparency that we’ve lost with the CFE regime falling back.

I even think there’s a potential to task a major enhancement of this so that something that comes out of this really could become known as the Astana Accords.  So I conclude with, the way to get here is, I think, that the United States needs to be clear in its messaging.  We need to reap the dividends of Russia reset and we need to say that it matters to us to reap those dividends within the OSCE.

We need to be able to draw Moscow away from its posture of obstructionism, use Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in office to facilitate and enjoin confidence on both sides, and to ensure there’s top-level engagement to say what this actually means to us.  I think with this, with the atmosphere coming out of the NATO summit, there is an opportunity in the end game here to push some of these across the field goal for Astana.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  I think you and Ross did a brilliant job in a relatively short period of time summing up a quite far-reaching, complex report.  The audience is sitting there probably saying, that was a lot of recommendations and we’ve got one week before the summit.  Just so you know, a lot of these things have appeared in previous things we’ve done and issue briefs, and we’ve also engaged with policymakers along the way, so our views are probably not going to be any surprise to policymakers.

But that said, tell me how much of this ambitious list of recommendations you think will actually get done next week.  And how does the NATO summit outcome affect any of this?  How does this change the stakes or, potentially, the outcome of Astana? 

DAMON WILSON:  I think the NATO summit actually gives some momentum that folks need to move on, jump on very quickly.  The NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon, leading to practical decisions on Afghanistan and missile defense, I think, opened up an atmosphere and opened up the opportunity for us to go in very quickly and say, okay, we’ve been having trouble coming to agreement in Vienna on some of these key issues.  Let’s parse away some of the differences and come up with a few key things that we can really do.

I think this is the chance to forge an agreement with the Russians on counternarcotics for Afghanistan, on the border-management initiatives for Afghanistan, as well.  I think some of this is how U.S. policy should use the Astana summit to advance its greater good, in terms of repositioning it in Central Asia, which doesn’t require that type of agreement with the Russians, per se.

I would also like to see us go back and say, look, Russia reset was meant to open up new opportunities.  We’ve had trouble in coming up with some increased powers for the chairman in office to do conflict resolution.  And I think there should be a high-level push to revisit that in the closing days, the closing weeks before the Astana summit because I think Lisbon gives some real momentum there.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Damon.  Ambassador Courtney, former ambassador to Kazakhstan, former ambassador to Georgia, on President Clinton’s National Security Council staff as a director for newly independent states – so lots of expertise on this panel. 

I’m sure you have some response to what you’ve just heard, but within this, perhaps you can also address the issue of President Obama was in Lisbon; he’s not going to be in Kazakhstan.  It will be Secretary of State Clinton.  Does that make a difference to what Damon is outlining as goals or not?  So within your comments, perhaps you can also address that.

WILLIAM COURTNEY:  Fred, thank you very much.  Senator you and your colleagues have produced a distinguished report.  It sounds like you had some really interesting trips and some salient observations from the trips, but it really is an unusually good report.  And so I don’t have much to say that is critical, but let me say a few things anyway. 

Central Asia was in the news over the weekend, but it was not because of the Lisbon summits.  Commenting yesterday on President Obama’s tribulations in gaining Senate consent to the New START Treaty, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, tongue in cheek, quote, “A man who won the Nobel Prize on layaway doesn’t want to be responsible for any loose nukes ending up in the crazy ’stans,” end quote.

Humor aside, Dowd’s reference to the “crazy ’stans” does reflect a real problem.  The poor reputation in the West of the Central Asian countries and an underestimation, in the West, of their significance.  This superb report helps address these challenges.  It offers insights, and policymakers should follow their recommendations sooner, rather than later.  And there are three major reasons why.

First, the report rightly says the Kazakhstani chairmanship of the OSCE this year offers an opportunity to breathe new life into what had become a paralyzed security institution.  Since the 1999 Istanbul summit, the OSCE has carried out a wide range of very successful, but modest, projects.  Yet, the political profile of the OSCE has receded, and the organization is very much under-utilized.

The OSCE has suffered from Russian obstacles, from inattention from the West and wariness in Central Asia.  Yet, a deteriorating security environment in that region offers the potential for the OSCE to play a greater role.  Security is diminishing for three reasons:  growing challenges to the legitimacy of governments, made more acute by the staggering corruption in all of the countries, spillover threats from the fighting in Afghanistan and the ever-present risk that renewed Russian military action against Georgia could choke off an important economic lifeline to world energy markets through the South Caucasus, leaving Caspian energy producers increasingly at Moscow’s mercy.

The OSCE is playing only a modest role in alleviating these security challenges, instead by creating the impression that the OSCE’s primary interest in Central Asia is its poor human rights record.  And by devoting few resources to the region, the West has caused the undemocratic governments there to perceive that they are the object, and not the subject, of OSCE interest.

Especially because of the heightened security risks, it is important that the Central Asian countries come to see that the OSCE is fundamentally on their side and not a principle protagonist.  Basket three, the human dimension, is noble and should not be stinted.  Perhaps in the long term, it is the most important basket.  Today, however, basket one – the security dimension – should be the predominant OSCE activity in Central Asia.

And Ambassador Finley was quite right when she said it makes no sense that the OSCE should not be more involved in supporting the stabilization of Afghanistan.  Certainly in retrospect, considering the vital importance of the Northern Distribution Network and the recent political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, America and Europe should have welcomed, and not grudgingly accepted, Kazakhstan’s offer to serve as OSCE chair in office.

It is clear that there will not be a new European security architecture of the type proposed by President Dmitri Medvedev – one intended to legitimize Russian coercion against the interests of nearby countries.  For Central Asia, the most meaningful security architecture should be a strengthened OSCE.  The region lies beyond the main focus of NATO and the European Union.  Indeed, Central Asia was not even mentioned in the NATO strategic concept issued in Lisbon, although that document is preoccupied with Russia.

Second, the Atlantic Council report correctly calls for a more robust Eurasian dimension to the OSCE and the beginning of a shift in resources and attention within the organization from the Balkans to Eurasia.  It is indeed time for the OSCE pendulum to swing more in the direction of Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Even though the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and other European institutions have devoted billions of dollars to assist conflict-torn countries in the Balkans, these organizations have spent one or two orders of magnitude fewer resources in Central Asia.

The countries of the region are betwixt and between.  Despite being in the OSCE, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council of NATO, and NATO’s Partnership for Peace, they are not regarded as part of Europe.  The European Union’s Eastern Partnership stops at the western edge of the Caspian Sea.  And the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty includes only a sliver in Central Asia and western Kazakhstan.

In addition to a greater OSCE role, new, more substantive NATO arrangements should be adopted for countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.  Depending on reforms and security interests, NATO and its members should offer more cooperation in defense planning and intelligence sharing.  Georgia especially needs stronger defensive arrangements, including to help protect the transportation routes of such great importance to Central Asia.

Third, the report is on the mark in urging that the Obama administration “plant the flag of the United States in Central Asia.”  My only criticism of the report is that the word, “Europe” should be included – “plant the flag of the United States in Europe” – because in the region Europe, increasingly, is important.  The United States is seen as the ultimate strategic guarantor for some of those countries – maybe all of those countries. 

But on a day-to-day basis, in terms of where their exports go and their economic interchanges, where they want to travel, Europe is increasingly important.  So I think from here on out, we should always try to think of America and Europe together as we think of what should be the strategies out in Central Asia and the South Caucasus area.

Despite the current war in Afghanistan, over the long term, the West may have as many or more enduring security interests in Central Asia, including because of Caspian energy.  Any war which left Russia in control of Georgia would be a monumental diplomatic setback, not only for Central Asia, but also for Europe and America.  Western support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the new states could seem hollow, as could its strong backing of multiple independent routes for the export of Caspian energy to world markets.

Russian control of Georgia could also have a wider impact on the credibility of European and U.S. assurances.  In the North Caucasus, Moscow has yet to employ an effective strategy to quell widening terrorism and insurgency.  As in the second war against Chechnya, Russia could be tempted to blame Georgia or Azerbaijan for abetting rebels, and perhaps strike at targets there.

Such actions would have a sudden and adverse impact on transportation to and from Central Asia.  America and Europe have many interests in Russia, and ought not unduly jeopardize them.  Improving cooperation with Russia must remain a priority, as the report quite correctly says, in applying reset to the Central Asian and the OSCE.  But it is a reality that Moscow is heightening security risks by its belligerent stance toward Georgia, its strong opposition toward independent routes for the export of Caspian energy and its repressive strategy in the North Caucasus.

Moscow is more likely to be deterred from pursuing a second invasion of Georgia, which, in early 2009, looked like it might come that summer, or coercion elsewhere, if Russia understands that the South Caucasus and Central Asia are not alone.  The United States and its NATO allies ought to step up training of military and security personnel in the region, especially Georgia, and assist them to enhance security awareness and ensure the integrity of their command, control and communication systems.

The U.S. and NATO might also help with logistics capabilities to help military units be more agile.  NATO, the European Union and the OSCE together – and I emphasize together – should offer comprehensive security dialogues with each country in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.  The dialogues ought to address, depending on the country, such issues as defense reform, threat awareness, risk mitigation from nearby fighting, ways to improve the security of Caspian energy, how to counter transnational threats and the widening of political participation in order to improve internal security.

A dialogue with Moscow should also address its claim of, quote, “privileged interests,” end quote, in neighboring countries and ways to enhance cooperation in countering narcotics and WMD trafficking and terrorism.  Finally, security dialogues should encourage countries of the region to cooperate more with each other, including through defense transparency.  Threats such as illicit trafficking are best countered through cooperation among neighbors.

President Obama should go to the Astana OSCE summit and his administration will be in the midst of a review of policy in Afghanistan, and that might offer another good reason to go.  But if it is Secretary Clinton who goes, she will be a distinguished and strong representative of U.S. interests.  Thank you.

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks for that.  I’m going to go straight to the audience, but I actually want to pick – you picked out – President Obama’s been on the road a lot lately, so one could understand why he’s not going, so my question is not really whether he should or shouldn’t; my question is more, how does it affect the outcome?  Would there be a different outcome if the U.S. president were there than the U.S. secretary of state, or with some of the other countries having heads of state and government, some of them not, or not?

MR. COURTNEY:  My sense is that, at this point, there probably wouldn’t be much difference because preparations have been made over a period of time.  If the president had signaled early on that he was going to go and that we were going to elevate the importance of the OSCE, as your report so well recommends, then that could have set a difference. 

It is good to use smart power and use resources smartly, but in Washington, money talks and more resources for OSCE – a lot more resources for OSCE, for the Central Asian region – for example, resources to fund the academies, which the Helsinki Commission has proposed – would make a great deal of difference, actually.  But at this point, it’s a little bit too late.

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah, I understand that.  It’s an interesting message that’s been sent to all NATO members, that the 2012 summit for NATO is going to be in Washington.  And one might not have known that, going into the summit, so I hear what you’re saying.  I do want to get to questions right away, but I also want to give Ambassador Idrissov a chance to respond, tell us what his expectations of the summit are and/or raise a question, if you’d like.  Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR ERLAN IDRISSOV:  Thank you, Fred.  Actually, the first name in this report is “Astana” – do you want me to turn to the audience?

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah.


MR. KEMPE:  Feel free to do it from the podium, if you’d like.

AMBASSADOR IDRISSOV:  Okay, I’ll take the ambassadorial position.  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  Since, as I said, the first name in the report, the first word is, “Astana,” so I felt that I am obliged to plant firmly the flag of Kazakhstan in this debate.  (Laughter.)  As you are trying to plant the U.S. interests in Eurasia through your report, I think it is quite appropriate.

Of course, first of all, I’d like to thank the Atlantic Council, Sen. Hagel, Fred, our distinguished panelists, Ambassador Finley, all the other members of the taskforce, for this great effort.  I am very heartened to be involved in this.  I was privileged to open our mission to the United Nations back in 1992, and now, I serve in this country for the last three years in the 21st century, and I can compare contexts.

In itself, this exercise and report is quite gratifying exercise because I can compare contexts, as I said, and back in 1992, there was no context at all of our part of the world in the United States.  Today, I can register that the education has taken place.  We can debate how fast and how deep and how successful that education was, but we definitely can register that education is taking place.  And this report and this event is a testimony to that.

Of course, I would like to say that I will read the report with great attention, but we had, in the process, debates, and you asked our perspective on different things.  And I, with great interest, will read the report with the magnifying glass, try to read between the lines – (laughter) – but I don’t think that the purpose of the report was to give final answers to all the challenging questions we have.  The purpose was to generate the informed debate.  And I’m very happy that this is happening.

I think that I will not agree with everything which you have written in the report, but as I said, what we are trying to find here is an effort to generate an interest and understanding of what is the U.S. or what is the West’s priorities and key, long-term interests in our part of the world.  I think this is a very helpful and very desired exercise.  I would hope that the report will be read and will be continued to be debated.  The report has, clearly, two, kind of, prongs of approach – two key priorities:  U.S. versus OSCE and U.S. versus our part of the world – I prefer to call it Eurasia, rather than Central Asia.  And the report tries to give answers to these two key priorities.

I think the answer was given by President Obama himself when he picked up the phone right after the election in November, 2008, and called President Nazarbayev.  He singled out the region; he singled out the country and the leader to call and have a meaningful exchange.  He answered in giving a special welcome to President Nazarbayev when he came for the nuclear summit here last April.  And they continued their meaningful discussion. 

And quite pleasantly, he also used the opportunity of the NATO summit in Lisbon and last Saturday he took the liberty to come up to President Nazarbayev and talk to him at some length.  And he explained why he cannot come to the summit, but he also explained that his not coming to the summit does not have anything to do with the lack of attention and serious efforts of the United States, as you say, to flag the U.S. interests in our part of the world.  This is what was quite a heartening thing to see be hearing. 

And actually, also, hoping that President Obama will be at the visit, we in no way didn’t mean to downgrade the importance of Secretary Clinton’s visit; on the contrary, we everywhere stressed that because of Secretary Clinton’s personal involvement, personal interests toward the issues in our part of the world in different areas, whether it is security, whether it is economic development, whether it is our human situation, gender policy or environment, she clearly sends a very strong signal that she’s personally involved.  And we believe that her participation in the summit will bring that required quality in the overall debate at the summit.

The report, of course, will be debated.  I wanted just to make a few points, listening to the panel.  I think that it is very good that the prevailing thought is to talk region and to talk regional approach when coming to our part of the world.  I think that this is a very gratifying exercise, but one should not kind of underestimate and downgrade the country-specific approach.  Initially, when this region came up into being, that regionalization or lumping up together of things did not help.

And I personally would kind of caution analysts and observers to focus only on regional approach.  Country-specific approach is very important, and you should be very cautious in generalizations like, you know, degrading our literacy, our falling living standards, our lessening economic opportunities, et cetera, et cetera.  There should be, definitely, a country-specific approach and I think that analysts will not forget about that.

Finally, Ambassador Finley, I listened to you with great affection, as usually, and – how to put it diplomatically – I hate to say that I disagree with you; I would rather say that I respectfully agree with you not 100 percent, right?  (Laughter.)  So I think that you’re right when you say that there are very few or very little expectations of the summit.  I understand what you mean.  We are also alive to all the undercurrents existing in the OSCE community.

We took the chairmanship not being naïve and believing that we will be able to deliver on all the challenges, whether it is protracted conflicts or the military basket or human basket, et cetera, et cetera.  We were quite alive.  Therefore, we came up with four T’s as our motto:  trust, transparency, tradition and tolerance.  Kazakhs, like Americans, are positive thinkers.  We have a longstanding, ancient saying among Kazakhs:  If someone is not ambitious enough, he or she will never be able to achieve any meaningful goals. 

Therefore, we believe that we have to set healthy ambitions for ourselves.  Then we will be able, together, to find a meaningful way to achieving those goals.  And this is our expectation for the summit.  We believe that having the nucleus of important countries in our part of the world coming together and trying to understand each other and come out with some meaningful results of their debates is an achievement in itself.  We hope that the fact that this debate, at this high level, takes place in a new, emerging part of the world also adds importance to what we are going to see in Astana.

On the 3rd of December, believe me, Georgian problem will not go into history, or Nagorno-Karabakh problem will not go into history – that’s for sure.  But what we hope for is that the spirit with which we gather people and the spirit with which countries and leaders agreed to come to Astana will prevail.  That’s our hope. 

This is our ancient, nomadic expectation.  This is our ancient, nomadic practice and habit of setting healthy – maybe lofty – but healthy ambitions.  And we hope that during this process, in realizing those goals and ambitions, we’ll all be the winners.  And we are absolutely sure that the U.S. will have a major and important say in this process, and I think this debate is a testimony to that.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MR. KEMPE:  Ambassador, thank you very much for that intervention.  I’m going to turn to Harlan – first question.  Let me just say one thing, as you talked about bilateral versus regional.  We actually agree.  And you can’t say everything in a report.  But I think part of our problem we see with the bilateral relationship the U.S. is having with specific countries in the region is, it’s very transactional.

You give us a route for getting into Afghanistan and we’ll give you X.  And what we’re trying to do through a regional approach is actually strengthen the argument for the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan and basically say, the bilateral relationship is of strategic value.  And I agree with you:  The five ’stans does not – it’s never been a region in that sense because you also have to look at the relationship with Turkey and the relationship to the south, which you and I have talked about so much.

So I do think that we want to blow up that notion of these five countries being in some sort of circumscribed region, but I do think to get people to care more about the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan, you have to have them care about the strategic positioning of all the countries there, which I think Sen. Hagel talked so compellingly about.  Harlan?

Q:  I’m Harlan Ullman of the – can you hear me in the back – of the Atlantic Council.  First, thanks for a very intelligent, professional and comprehensive presentation.  A caution and a question arising from the NATO summit:  Bush 43 administration wanted to make Africa less the “dark continent,” and put in place Millennium Challenge Account, AIDS and malaria initiatives and, of course, established Africa Command.  In retrospect, maybe we’d want to do some of that over, and I’m sure you ought to think carefully for what you hope you may get.

My question has to do with the NATO summit, specifically, and the decision to declare the end of 2014 as the exit time for NATO, in terms of transferring all security to Afghan forces.  And second – first of all, what does that really mean, if anything, for this particular region?  And second, if New START turns out to be a stumbling block – I’ll mix a metaphor – for the reset button, what impact do you think it might have on Russian views in terms of being helpful or unhelpful in the region?

MR. KEMPE:  And let me – I see a couple of other comments so let me pick up a few comments and then come back to the panel.  Please.

Q:  Robert Beecroft, former head of the OSCE mission in Sarajevo.  First of all, congratulations to all concerned on, really, an excellent and impressive report.  I noticed one comment that Damon made that gave me pause, when he referred to the OSCE in the Balkans as the past, sort of like old SCE and new SCE.

I think it’s a little premature to be hanging “Mission Accomplished” flags on OSCE’s mission in the Balkans, and I say that at the risk of partisanship.  The debate is continuing in both Kosovo and Bosnia on the future of the office of the high representative and of the EU mission.  And I would think that any kind of precipitous drawdown in that region would send exactly the wrong signal. 

We have not only Ambassador Finley, but also Ambassador Minikes, both of whom represented us in Vienna here.  I wonder if I misunderstood.  I hope we don’t get into a tradeoff situation where we think that the problem of today somehow overrides the problem of yesterday, which is still the problem of today.  Thank you.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Let me pick up a couple more.  Please.

Q:  Jeff Goldstein from the Open Society Foundations.  Damon, you called – and this somewhat follows up on Ambassador Beecroft’s statement – a swing of resource from the Balkans to Central Asia.  What leads you to believe the Central Asians would like this?  I mean in the summer of this year, the threat of Balkanization was used very effectively in Kyrgyzstan to actually generate public opposition to the OSCE police monitors. 

Moreover, a lot of the work that OSCE is doing in the Balkans – things like police reform, rule of law, governance – are things in which there is no political will for change in Central Asia, or desire for Western teachings in that way.  And even such second-basket, normally non-political issues as environment take on an extremely political dimension in Central Asia today.

MR. KEMPE:  Does anyone else want to jump in at this point?  No.  And what I would add to your question for Bill is the same question regarding the military issues that you were talking about for Central Asia, et cetera, and do you know for a fact that one would want them? 

Let me go, maybe, to Ross on the, what difference Afghanistan might make for the region and the agreements that have been made and the passing – you know, once one has transferred control of the country to Afghan troops and police, inshallah, then what effect on the region and also the Russian aspect?  And then I’ll turn to Damon and Bill for the second part of that – the OSCE part.  Please.

ROSS WILSON:  Sure.  We had a private discussion here a number of weeks ago with the American ambassador serving in Central Asia.  It was private so I can’t get into the details of it, but I think it would be fair here to say that they were all quite concerned about the ability of – their ability or the ability of their successors to focus attention on the region, post-Afghanistan, post-large scale American involvement in that region. 

For all of the distortions that I think Afghanistan has represented in U.S. policy in Central Asia, per se, they do get a certain amount of attention, and the countries get a certain traction here, whether it’s issues connected with leakage of terrorists or leakage of narcotics or, in a different direction, the northern distribution route that focuses attention.

But the truth is that whatever is the future in Afghanistan, we can be pretty sure that it will be messy.  We can be pretty sure that Central Asia, or Eurasia, to use Ambassador Idrissov’s term, is still going to be a region or an area that connects the messiness of Afghanistan with the Euro-Atlantic space, including with Russia. 

It’s still going to be a place that needs attention.  But I think it will be a lot harder to generate resources, to get leadership time focused on it, and maybe also to – there will be less of a catalyst that requires a modicum of cooperation among countries and among governments that don’t want to cooperate with one another or have not wanted to cooperate with one another very much.  And again, the Northern Distribution Network is a way that has pointed things in a somewhat different direction.

I think a more complicated relationship with Russia, if START does not succeed in the near future, or if there are other reasons for serious tension in relations between the United States and Russia, will complicate this part of the world.  It was remarkable, in the spring of 2009, that all of the turmoil with Kyrgyzstan did not lead to sharp U.S.-Russian disagreement over what should happen there, or a contest for power and influence, or anything of the sort.  It was much more a source of common concern.  It didn’t exactly lead to common cause, but common concern going forward.

DAMON WILSON:  I just wanted to start on a couple of the points that Harlan put on the table because I think we went into the NATO summit with everyone focused on July 2011 – drawdown – and increasingly, a little bit, 2014 out there.  If you listen to the secretary general and the messaging from the summit, they went on offense to try to address this issue of the perception in the region, particularly among Afghans and Pakistanis, but also, from what we’ve heard, Central Asians concerned about, basically, NATO leaving.

And by signing an enduring partnership, a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, the United States doing the same thing over the coming months, the narrative, the messaging is trying to change, to say, look, we are looking forward to a different phase over the next several years, downplaying what July, 2011 – the imminent side of that.  We are looking for a different relationship as we phase out of combat at the end of 2014. 

But we’re trying to be very clear and articulate that we’re not walking away from this region.  We’re not going to replicate the mistake that’s happened here before – just walking away.  I think that same messaging is what we’ve been arguing, and we need to think about post-Afghanistan baseline for policy in the region that’s more enduring, that isn’t just resting on the pillar of Afghanistan.

I do think the immediate casualty of New START’s delay is, it makes it harder for me to see a deal on CFE in Astana, which, if you looked six weeks ago, you could have argued there was a real potential to get a common framework statement of principles for CFE.  I expect if START continues to be delayed, there wouldn’t be as much of an appetite on that, specifically.  But I continue to think it’s going to be delayed and not dead, so I don’t think it necessarily is an enduring problem.

I’m very sympathetic to the criticism that I’ve taken on the Balkan side of this.  I guess what I’m trying to really argue is that the ‘90s – the OSCE was defined – when you think about a summit – when I was at the White House, when you were doing a summit, you try to think of, how do you sell this?  What are we doing that’s new here?  You can look at Helsinki – institutionalized détente.  You can look at Paris – it laid down the rules for the road for post-Cold War Europe.  You can look at a series of summits in the ‘90s, which really developed the OSCE’s role in conflict management in the Balkans.

What’s the story?  What’s the narrative?  Why does Astana matter?  And if I were sitting in government today, I’d be selling this as, this is where we really start to focus and emphasize the Eurasian dimension.  So does it mean that tomorrow, Kosovo and Bosnia – the missions get cut down and chopped down and the OSCE’s mission become larger?  No.  You pointed out, absolutely right, there’s not even a political appetite for doing that type of scale.

But what I’m trying to say is that you’re opening a new chapter for how you think about the institution, which played quite an effective role, as you well know from what you did in the Balkans.  It’s really now time to put the intellectual energy and the resources into seeing how it can play an effective role in Central Asia.  The Balkans are still messy, but we’re getting there. 

Increasingly in Kosovo, it’s EULEX in the EU that needs to take over it.  Bosnia’s going to continue to be a challenge.  The OSCE shouldn’t evaporate overnight.  But when I do look at the numbers and statistics, I do have to question – I would like to see a more focused effort to raise the profile and the enduring impact and role that the OSCE can play in Central Asia.

You hit on absolutely the right question:  If it’s not demand-driven, you’ve got a challenge.  So part of this is using, I think, the beauty of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, the successor process to begin to open the narrative of a constructive role that the OSCE can play in the region by developing a few issues that aren’t so radioactive, where you can begin to work on transportation, you can begin to work on some of these things.

It’s got to be incremental.  You can’t go in – Kyrgyzstan taught us you can’t go in strong overnight with a major presence.  But I do think that this summit should be remembered as opening the Eurasian dimension for the OSCE, and that’s how I would try to sell it and build it.

MR. KEMPE:  We’re down to our last three or four minutes.  If you could give a brief comment on any one of these pieces you want to pick up for your last comment, but I wouldn’t mind going to Ambassador Idrissov for a last comment on this Afghanistan question because I do think what we’re trying to do is get people to shift how they’re thinking about the region. 

And if you could just give a final comment of whether you see a concern here about the U.S. looking at the region too much through the prism of Afghanistan.  And if so, what happens in conjunction with the plan, now, for Afghanistan?  But yeah – and we’re down to our last few minutes, so if we can make it short –

MR. COURTNEY:  Okay.  First, if START fails, we have other policy instruments we can use to improve Russian cooperation in the region.  Let me cite three.  One is, Russia is extremely concerned with the narcotics flow from Afghanistan coming northward up to Moscow and Russia.  We have made some decisions in Afghanistan about the extent to which we’re going to prosecute the poppy war there, if you will.  We might want to take a hard look at those decisions which, to some extent, create externalities for Russia, causing Russia more problems.

Secondly, that NATO has refused to deal with the CSTO on any kind of equal basis, yet, the CSTO has some activity in the region, OSCE and NATO might want to think about working more closely with the CSTO on the ground in the region, although there is some cooperation already.  And then third, sharing intelligence information on terrorist flows coming from Afghanistan through Central Asia up to the North Caucasus and Russia – that’s something where we could adjust our policies.

With regard to the swinging of resources to Central Asia and whether they want them, it’s not just swinging resources; it’s swinging the pendulum, if you will, away from predominant emphasis on human rights to predominant emphasis on security so that the Central Asian countries see that, again, the OSCE is fundamentally on their side.  We can swing resources in that context, but we can’t swing resources without changing the fundamental OSCE approach to the area.  And what we do in the security realm in Central Asia has to be combined – NATO, EU and OSCE.  Each can offer complementary strengths. 

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks, Bill, very much.  Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR IDRISSOV:  Thank you, Fred.  I think that we hear what you say about the transactional approach. Indeed, if you look into the history, you will see that this transactional approach just surfaced very clearly when there was a nukes issue in the early ‘90s.  Then there was the oil and gas fields issue in the mid-’90s, et cetera, et cetera. 

Now there is Afghanistan and we understand the priorities of the United States and pressures on the United States.  But I think that a comprehensive approach would better address even that outcrying (ph) priority for the United States as Afghanistan.  If Afghanistan is fit into a comprehensive, long-term policy, that would be a more winning situation, rather than just having a transactional approach.

Of course, Afghanistan will be very high on the agenda for the OSCE summit.  We, as chairman, did everything to make sure that Afghanistan is a feature of the summit.  And we hope for the deliverables on Afghanistan during the summit, after the summit, particularly in terms of using OSCE as a tool, where it is necessary and where it is appropriate, to address the multiple challenges in Afghanistan.

More generally, I would say that the overall kind of vision for our part of the world, through the second prong – U.S. versus our part of the world or the West versus our part of the world – is looking at it in a broader context.  You know that these countries are the most landlocked countries in the world, and we are kind of finding ourselves in squeeze situations.  Therefore, I think it is all natural to try to see beyond those squeeze situations to different corners of the world.

And one logical thing is to look south.  Therefore, it is an area where our interests come together.  We need a stable and peaceful south, going all the way to India.  We need a peaceful and stable south going all the way through Iran, for example.  So this is the answer to the question, and I think one of the hopes Kazakhstan, as the chair, has in raising the Eurasia angle at this summit and during its OSCE chairmanship is exactly that broader vision of the region.

MR. KEMPE:  A new look at the map.  Ambassador, thank you very much for that, and thank you for letting me draft you into becoming the fourth panelist this evening.  But let me, in closing, thank the panelists for their remarks, thank the audience for good questions.  We choose these sorts of topics strategically.  We have put down – I don’t know about the European flag or the NATO flag or the U.S. flag, but the Atlantic Council flag – (laughter) – is certainly in the region.  And the Atlantic Council flag is there because we actually understand the stakes. 

And we also understand the proclivity in this town to sometimes take one’s eye off of issues that are neither transactional, nor crisis.  And so we’re going to stay focused on this.  We’re going to do more issues regarding this.  And we thank you all for being here, because by the sound of the questions and the look of the people attending it, we’ve got a clientele for this, as well.  So thank you very much.  (Applause.)


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