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MONDAY, JULY 12, 2010
11:00 A.M.

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Good morning.  I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, and it’s terrific to see such a strong turnout today for a discussion on the importance of Central Asia to the United States.

I particularly want to give our greetings to the ambassador of Kazakhstan.  Also, if the ambassador of Lithuania is not here, he will be here.  Kazakhstan is in the chairmanship of the OSCE, and of course Lithuania will follow.

The Atlantic Council launched our Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center last year precisely because we think this region is crucial to the future of the trans-Atlantic community and that it is important to have discussions like this to encourage smarter thinking.

Not only did we think it was crucial to the future of the trans-Atlantic community, this is also a sweet spot for an organization like ours.  We didn’t think there was nearly enough thinking, and particularly strategic thinking, in this town about it.

The Eurasia Center and the Program on International Security have jointly taken on a project entitled “Eurasia as Part of Transatlantic Security.”  And the project aims to leverage Kazakhs’ historic chairmanship of the OSCE to rethink the role Eurasia plays in the trans-Atlantic security environment.

This project and the taskforce producing its analysis has been chaired by Atlantic Council chairman, Sen. Chuck Hagel, who stood out among his peers in the Senate for his experience and knowledge of the region.  During this time in the Senate, Sen. Hagel, I believe, was the only sitting senator to have visited all five Central Asian republics, one of the many reasons he is highly respected in the region.

Before turning over to Sen. Hagel, I want to pass along the regards of Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, Beth Jones, director of the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan.  Ambassador Jones was to be a fourth panelist with us today but she’s ill and regrets that she cannot be with us.  However, looking around the audience I see more than enough experts who will fill her shoes and give their views, as well as great questions, when we get to that.

Without further ado, I would like to turn the floor over to Sen. Hagel.  He needs little introduction here at the Atlantic Council.  Let me just say he’s currently serving as co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.  He is a member of the Defense Policy Board and the Department of Energy, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s nuclear future.  Of course in connection to Kazakhstan this is all important and he is a distinguished professor at Georgetown University.  Sen. Hagel.  (Applause.)

CHUCK HAGEL:  Fred, thank you.  Good morning.  Welcome.  We are very grateful for your attendance, for many reasons.  We will hear, in some detail this morning, about why it is the opinion of many of us that this region of the world is going to continue to be a region that will play a rather significant role in shaping 21st century relationships.

When you step back for a moment and frame this region of the world and understand who resides in that neighborhood, it’s rather significant.  Aside from the energy dynamics and the geopolitical relationships, this region of the world I think represents as much both a threat, if this is not an area that gets some rather significant attention from certainly the United States but all the great powers in the world today.

But also, and probably more to the point, it’s a region that represents tremendous opportunity for democracy, for security, for energy production, for cooperation.  I think it is somewhat indicative and timely and certainly relevant that Kazakhstan is the chairman of the OSCE this year; the first time a non-European nation has led that organization.

That is a statement that I think reflects the reality of why this region of the world is so important.  This is a region that is combustible, that’s complicated.  It has a long history that most of our experts in this audience not only know about but many have written about over the years.  When we go back and talk about the Great Game, the Silk Road, the history is rather replete with every dimension of relationships, both good and bad. 

And one of the reasons that the Atlantic Council put a particular focus on this region and this effort with this task force, that you will hear from some of the members this morning, is because we do believe that the Euro-Asia relationship is going to continue to be a very, very critical part of not just our interests, America’s interest, and our allies’ interests, but the interests of all nations and particularly the nations of this region.

This examination comes at the same time that NATO is working through its Strategic Concept.  As you all know, the secretary general will be coming forward with that concept, based on the Council of Experts’ recommendations, which, as you know, that 12-member council was headed up by our former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. 

So when you look at what’s in this universe, what’s swirling around at this particular time, we felt it would be helpful – we hope it will be helpful to not only give some analysis and attention to this but also see if we could contribute to framing some ideas and recommendations based on the experts that we listen to and are sure that will come up with concepts that not only are relevant and real but very visionary.  And, again, you’ll hear from some this morning. 

A couple other points on this task force.  Many of you know that our president and CEO, Fred Kempe, Damon Wilson, our vice president in charge of these areas, were in Kazakhstan and in Europe over the last few weeks meeting with the senior officials, including the foreign minister, of Kazakhstan, and NATO officials and other senior members of governments in this region.

That helped start to frame some of this up.  And, as you all know, part of this culminates to some extent in a meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan later this week, where our government, the United States government, will be represented by the deputy secretary of state, Jim Steinberg, leading an impressive senior American delegation to that OSCE conference.

One of the things that they will discuss and examine is whether a full ministerial meeting should be held this year in this region.  When we look at what’s going on right now, obviously Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and all the surrounding areas, I don’t know, again, of a region of the world that represents such immediate and long-term combustibility if we don’t pay attention to this.  The Atlantic Council will make some recommendations to the administration and others as a result of the work that Fred and Damon and others have put into this. 

This morning you will hear from one of the preeminent thinkers as well as practitioners of statecraft and policymaking and implementation in this area, Ambassador Ross Wilson.  You know Ross represented the United States as our ambassador to Azerbaijan and Turkey, two not-insignificant countries, not just for this region but for the world, and you all understand why.

Unfortunately, Beth Jones, one of our other Atlantic Council experts in this area, at the last minute had to cancel this morning, but you all know that Beth has put a lot of work in this and will continue to work on it as well.

I also, again, want to acknowledge the Kazakh ambassador who is here with us this morning.  I think all of you know Ambassador Idrissov, and he has been, of course, very helpful and insightful.  And he will offer observations this morning as well.

So again, thank you.  Let me quickly introduce now our three-member panel.  I have noted that Ambassador Ross Wilson will be one of the members – Beth Jones was to be, and she is no longer on the panel; Damon Wilson, who I have noted, who many of you know of his background with NATO and Lord Robertson when he was the secretary general, as well as his experience in not just this region of the world but especially on NATO affairs.

And of course his exalted eminence, our president and CEO, much admired worldwide for mainly his vodka intake – (laughter) – but nonetheless, these are personal dimensions that are important you know about your leaders – Fred Kempe.

So with that, Freddie, is that a good introduction?  Why don’t we get started?  Thank you very much.  (Laughter, applause.)

DAMON WILSON:  Thank you very much, Sen. Hagel, for that kick-off.  We very much welcome your – I think – (laughter) – welcome your thoughts, but your track record of leadership on this set of issues has been important to us, important to the council, and we welcome that leadership and guidance on this process. 

As both Fred and Sen. Hagel alluded to, the impetus for this whole project began in sort of two areas.  The two areas that brought my program, the International Security Program, together with Ambassador Ross Wilson’s Eurasia Center first was the Atlantic Council’s focus on becoming more involved – actively involved in what we thought were pivotal regions that deserved greater attention and debate here in Washington. 

And this was really a driving force of Fred’s to help create this Eurasia Center that is now headed by Ross Wilson, combined with the work that the International Security Program has done pretty continuously over the past several years of looking at the range of institutions that impact trans-Atlantic security.

As most of you know, we’ve put out a series of reports on NATO, most recently related to NATO’s Strategic Concept, as well as on the U.S.-EU partnership, working with Fran Burwell on our Transatlantic Relationship program.  We had not yet done a comparable exercise related to the OSCE, and this set of impetus brought our two programs together to work on this. 

The taskforce just returned from a trip the end of June – June 20th to 26th – to Vienna, OSCE headquarters, to Astana, Kazakhstan; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where we met with government officials, OSCE officials, civil society throughout the trip, and that’s what led us to today’s event, an event to discuss what’s at stake for the United States and Central Asia.  Why does Central Asia matter for trans-Atlantic security?

Many of us talk about and hear the conversations about Afghanistan or about energy, but this often leads to the result of a one-dimensional approach to the region, which, as we’ve argued, has had a distorting effect on these relationships.

The moment we have now to think about this in the context of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE, at the time when the first post-Soviet state is leading the organization, when the first Central Asian organization is leading the organization, and it really raises a question in terms of thinking in trans-Atlantic security, and in the OSCE particularly, an organization that has been so focused, in particular I’d argue, on the Balkans, whether a stronger, more sustainable Eurasian dimension is critical to a broader discussion of trans-Atlantic security.

We returned from this trip, as most of you have seen, and came out with two reports – one related to the discussion on an OSCE summit, and the second related to the crisis situation in Kyrgyzstan.  We actually reversed our order on the approach to this project because what we’re really working on as part of the broader taskforce is a broader case on trans-Atlantic engagement, trans-Atlantic strategy for engagement in Central Asia, and as part of that broader perspective on the region, how the U.S. approach to the OSCE factors into that and the immediate crisis of handling Kyrgyzstan are obviously relevant. 

But because of the way that these two issues were facing decision-makers, facing policymakers in the wake of our trip, we went out quickly with these two reports, which we hope to get into today, and this discussion will be part of an ongoing discussion that will feed into a broader report that we’re also working on. 

With that, I want to turn to my two panelists here:  my boss and my colleague, Fred Kempe, who needs no introduction at the Atlantic Council.  As all of you know, a longtime reporter for the Wall Street Journal, editor of Wall Street Journal Europe, author of three books, and now my boss here at the council.

MR. KEMPE:  And colleague.

MR. WILSON:  And colleague – and colleague – and Ambassador Ross Wilson, who I had the pleasure to work with in government.  He left government after 30 years in the Foreign Service and a distinguished career, which, as Sen. Hagel said, included ambassadorships both to Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also, importantly, for today’s discussion, served as deputy to the ambassador to the newly independent states.

When we used to have an entity at State called S/NIS – we didn’t quite know how to bureaucratically organize ourselves to deal with this region – Ross was the number-two handling relationships in this region.

So with that, let’s jump into our discussion here.  What’s at stake for the United States?  Sen. Hagel began to make the case for why this region matters to Washington – why it should matter to Washington, and the reports that have come out from the taskforce already – we’ve argued that the trans-Atlantic policy in the region is essentially failing, in part from a lack of consistency and part from, to be more blunt, neglect.

Our taskforce report has even said that the U.S. can be considered to be AWOL in some circumstances, but with so many other important U.S. foreign policy priorities right now, why should the United States care about Central Asia?  Why should the broader trans-Atlantic community care about the region?  And what are the consequences for ignoring the region?

Let me turn to you, Fred and Ross, to get let this conversation begin. 

MR. KEMPE:  When people ask me why we launched the Eurasia Center, I ask them to look at a map, because if you look at a map, it answers it pretty quickly.  And as we were in Bishkek – seeing that Bishkek is as far east as India – if you talk about the rise of Asia and the rise of China and India, and then you talk about the continued importance of the West and Western Europe – and of course Western Europe and the U.S. still make up together the most important economy – you can look at that map and see Central Asia as a pivot point.

And I think that’s the way we look at it.  It’s a geopolitical – the geopolitical center of gravity.  I don’t think anybody is questioning whether some of that is not moving to China and India.  But then you have to look very much at Central Asia as, first and foremost, a strategic location that’s absolutely critical and pivotal, but for which we do not have a strategy, which is a perfect moment for any think tank. 

And if you just take a look at – when I was running the Wall Street Journal Europe as managing editor and then editor in the ’90s, we were actually much more engaged, Mr. Ambassador.  Business, which is still there, was all over there, but we also had many more politicians going over there.  Part of that had to do with the denuclearization but, very importantly, the commissions were focusing on it.

So we’re now in a situation where we were right to focus then, we’re wrong not to focus now.  Our inaction and absence are making us irrelevant.  And if you just look at this whole OSCE summit debate, wherever you come down on whether we ought to have an OSCE summit debate this year, we’re getting the arguments wrong. 

We’re arguing about whether this is going to use too much of President Obama’s valuable time or whether the Kazakhs deserve to have a summit in their presidency when we actually should be saying, what a wonderful moment for us to actually form a strategy and then be able to execute it and push it at the summit. 

Instead, by getting tied up in all the arguments about whether we should have a summit or not, we end up being in a situation where we’ll probably end up there but we won’t have shaped the agenda and the strategy.

Finally – and, Damon, you talked about this, and I’ll end this part with just a little anecdote.  You know journalists love anecdotes.  We are must too focused – we get, very often in U.S. foreign policy, focused on a country on a single issue, and we’re very focused in Central Asia on the issue of Afghanistan.  And when we were in Kazakhstan, the group that was there was negotiating overflight rights when I think that perhaps the more important issue to be discussing with Kazakh leaders would be what our strategy for the whole region ought to be, not that it’s not important to have the Afghan thing right.

And here is the anecdote that illustrates that:  Going on to Bishkek – two anecdotes about how we can influence a region.  We landed in a plane that was half-filled with teenagers wearing FLEX t-shirts – blue t-shirts.  That’s the Foreign (sic) Leadership (sic) Exchange – high school kids from Kyrgyzstan who had just spent time in America – Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, California; 3 in the morning, as flights are at that part of the world, you know, fresh-faced, you know, pro-democracy, you know, friendly with America, speaking English fluently, and all of them of a caliber that they will be leaders of their country in one way or another.

So this is something that the U.S. has done with former Soviet states; I think something like 60,000 kids thus far, 60 a year from Kyrgyzstan if I’m not mistaken.  And then we get on the ground and we hear about American betrayal to Kyrgyz’ democracy.  And this is all based on stories that had been in the press about how we handled fuel contracts at the Manas Air Base and how they helped to enrich the former leader’s brother, family, et cetera, et cetera.

You know, we can make a judgment or debate how right or wrong those impressions are, but on the one hand you had the U.S. pushing forward democracy with some really terrific programs and civil society, and on the other hand potentially undermining it by enabling – by abetting and, to a certain extent, enabling corrupt leadership.

So let me leave it at that.  There are lots and lots of reasons to care about the region, but one of them is it’s pivotal, we don’t have a strategy, it’s fragile, things could go seriously wrong.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you, Fred. 

Ross, you have had the practical responsibility in government of having to balance priorities and balance interests.  Why should we care about Central Asia?  What’s at stake here?

ROSS WILSON:  Well, I’ll pick up on a couple of themes that Fred has touched on and just expressed them in a semi-different way.  One is history.  We care about Central Asia or need to care about Central Asia for the reasons that led Secretary Baker to make two whirlwind trips around the states of the former Soviet Union in the weeks after the collapse – after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

We did that because for 50 years the preeminent threat to our way of life had come from the Soviet Union, and we determined at that time that never again should that kind of threat to our way of life come from the Eurasian land mass. 

And so, we would engage all over the former Soviet Union, including in Russia but most definitely in Central Asia, to ensure that these new countries stood up on their feet, that they realized their independence, they realized their sovereignty, they realized their territorial integrity, and they started to build a basis of a successful way of life for their people that would, among other things, be friendly toward us and toward allies we have around the world.

I think a second reason is circumstance.  Fred touched on Afghanistan and the reality is we need the help and the cooperation of states in Central Asia in order to prosecute the campaign in Afghanistan.  There are obvious lines of communication and supply issues that make this region extremely important for air rights, for overflight rights, for ground transit of supplies that we have to have, and there’s no sort of ignoring that.

Afghanistan I think plays importantly in a different sense as well, and that is the leakage of terrorists, the leakage of narcotics, the leakage of instability into a region that has made a lot of progress over the last nearly two decades of its independent existence but remains vulnerable, remains very much exposed to the kinds of threats that are very operational and current in Afghanistan coming to the north.

And the third reason, really, is the future, a future that is dominated by poverty, that’s dominated by instability, that’s dominated by ethnic conflict.  This is not a particularly good future for any part of the world.  It’s not a good future for Central Asia.

What’s happening around the world?  You see dynamic growth in China, dynamic growth in India, dynamic growth in Turkey, Brazil, a number of other countries around the world.  Parts of Central Asia are growing rapidly – certainly the energy sector in Kazakhstan, the energy sector in Azerbaijan, which is not part of this project, growing very, very rapidly, but much of the rest of the economy falling behind.

That, I think, is a circumstance that can feed the sorts of problems we have in Afghanistan.  It is certainly an opportunity cost for the whole world to take advantage of and be part of the enriching of Central Asia and to gain from the enrichment of Central Asia as we build a more prosperous global community.

So I think, you know, on these three fronts – the history, the circumstances that exist today and the opportunities that exist in the future – Central Asia matters deeply and should matter deeply to the United States and the trans-Atlantic community.

MR. D. WILSON:  Ross, if I can just push you a little bit on your takeaway from the trip, I heard you talk about how you were struck by how much relations with the region had in some sense deteriorated since the decade immediately following their independence.  Can you explain how you see our engagement as having evolved?  What was the driving factor behind this?  Explain how you contrasted – how you saw our relationship a decade ago with today, and how is this something that can be turned around?

MR. R. WILSON:  Well, I think the contrast is quite significant.  In the 1990s you had very active, very personal diplomacy with regional leaders and in the region by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Albright, Strobe Talbot as the first ambassador-at-large to the new independent states and then as deputy secretary, other very senior officials from the Pentagon and the State Department, very regularly traveling out to the region, engaging with the regional leaders.

We worked hard on some specific issues, energy perhaps being the most prominent; a whole effort on Caspian Basin energy diplomacy, headed up out of the Office of the Vice President and led by a special representative of the secretary of state, to be in the region to engage on a very regular basis.

Things kind of turned a pivot after 9/11, and we can say for some very good reasons; the military very focused on getting the cooperation, assistance and support of Central Asian states for our efforts to prosecute the military campaign there.

But a couple of things happened, I think, as an extension of this.  The military in Afghanistan really came to overwhelm the rest of our agenda.  That became the core and the central thing that we were working on, and in some respects, even at least anecdotally, from what I heard in the region, became disconnected from the rest of our policy and disconnected from our embassies.

In talking about what the military was doing in one of the countries, a local ambassador said the embassy has nothing to do with it.  That’s not the way you carry on an effective and coherent U.S. government policy or U.S. government strategy in the region, to have an ambassador say – and apparently the reality reflecting – the embassy has nothing to do with it.  That partnership is missing.

I think a second thing that happened is our non-military relationship and our non-military engagement really kind of languished and narrowed down in some non-constructive ways.  The energy dialogue that had been at a very high level began to be carried out at a lower level.  It remained active.  We remained very active with the Kazakhs, we remained active with the Azeris, with others on various projects, but not at such a significant level.

On the broader economic side, we went to the trouble to negotiate a trade in investment framework agreement with the region as a whole, a rather unique agreement in the way that the Office of the U.S. Trade Rep. does these things, but that agreement never got any serious attention at any significant policy level in this town – other economic agencies basically AWOL in Central Asia, not engaged, not particularly involved.

Our consultations on regional issues; from every account that I’ve gotten, narrow, limited, sort of – and the post child of that is a pretty consistent limitation on the extent to which we wanted to engage with the Uzbeks, who border on Afghanistan, about developments there and trends and futures. 

And then there was the democracy and human rights part of our relationship – clearly important for important historical reasons but the dialogue came to be perceived as a shrill one and one that took place outside the context of all the other things that had been very much a part of our senior-level dialogue in the region in the 1990s.

And so, you know, to sum it up, you had two things – this is perhaps an exaggeration of the way U.S. policy in the region is seen, but you had two things going on.  One, the military, we need basing, we need overflights, we need other support; and, two, the civilian parts of the U.S. government saying, we need democracy and here are 10 things that you need to do in the next year, in the next two years or our relations aren’t going to be very good.

What kind of a dialogue, what kind of a dynamic does that set up with regional leaders?  Not necessarily a very predictable one if the impression is created, we want to talk about the things we want to talk about and we don’t want to talk about the things you want to talk about.  It was not a set of circumstances that was planned, but I think it is what has evolved over the last 10 years.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thanks, Ross.  I want to come back in the OSCE context of this third dimension issue in just a second, but let me just add two things and then turn to Fred, of course related to Russia.

But, bureaucratically, when we were sort of looking into this effort, we had Matt Cjekaj, one of our research associates, sort of do a tracking of all senior U.S. visits to Central Asia since independence.  And while I don’t want to extrapolate too far, there is a little bit of a story that you can extract from this where you can see the impetus and the urge – immediate collapse of the Soviet Union – to focus on arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear security issues that had a lot of prominent folks in the region, obviously particularly Kazakhstan.

You can see a surge related to energy diplomacy, hydrocarbons and – related about that in a different time cycle.  And then in a later time cycle, after 9/11, related to Afghanistan access, military side. 

And if you sit back and you look at it from a Central Asia perspective, you can see these three waves that have different types of delegations coming in that lead to a lack of coherence and consistency across a comprehensive discussion.

MR. KEMPE:  But in all those waves not a U.S. president.

MR. D. WILSON:  In all those waves not a U.S. president, that’s right.  The other –

MR.    :  Actually, Obama was there with Lugar as a senator.

MR. D. WILSON:  That’s right.  (Laughter.)  That’s right.  Thank you.

MR.    :  That’s my only worth.  (Laughter.)

MR. D. WILSON:  And you have advised presidents.  

The other thing that struck us as we’ve been working on this, both when we worked on some of the issues related on the inside as well as on the outside, is how bureaucratic politics impact policy here in two different ways.  One is how is Central Asia handled in the U.S. government? 

And, actually, it’s been evolving and it’s been different in most agencies, at the State Department and is now linked to South Asia as part of a strategic perspective on opening the Southern Corridor, linking Central Asia to the south, providing strategic alternatives, yet it remains more of an idea, more of a wiring diagram than anything in reality, and there have been implications to that. 

At the National Security Council it’s been linked back to Russia, to the Eurasian portfolio.  This used to be an area of EUCOM interest.  Now it’s CENTCOM.  You see how we have had not-overlapping bureaucratic entities dealing with it throughout the interagency has actually led to some distortions, I think, in policy as well.

On top of that, the three constituencies that come to play in a lot of these issues, those that handle the European security and therefore OSCE, those that handle Central Asia as territory, and those that handle democracy and human rights bring three strong constituencies within government into a conversation that doesn’t always lead to a coherent output.

Let me turn back to you, Fred, on another strategic plane.  As Sen. Hagel mentioned, most Americans were somewhat familiar with the whole concept of Central Asia because of the term Great Game.  U.S. policy itself has been premised on helping to strengthen the sovereignty, the independence, the territorial integrity of these countries essentially as a way to give them strategic alternatives, strategic choice so that the region isn’t dominated by one particular power on the Eurasian land mass.

Some have even talked about how to change this paradigm into the “great gain,” a term we’ve heard from Ambassador Idrissov as well.  But what’s your perspective on what are the implications of U.S.-Russia reset for Central Asia itself, and then in particular for potential cooperation either within the OSCE or on Kyrgyzstan itself?  How does Russia – how does the Obama administration relationship with Moscow reverberate in Central Asia?

MR. KEMPE:  It opens up real possibilities, and the way in which it opens up real possibilities is you could actually get into a cooperative posture in the region instead of a competitive posture in the region.

Just to give one example that we heard when we were in Kyrgyzstan, the Manas Air Base is largely – entirely Russian fuel.  That’s what we’re talking about.  These corrupt contracts that were paid for with American dollars were buying Russian fuel through a Kazakh middle man.  I could easily imagine a very interesting conversation with the Russians and with the Kyrgyz about how to set this up in a much more transparent way.

And that’s much more possible now than it was before the reset process.  I mean, we can have a longer conversation and meeting on the reset process with Russia and how successful it has been and what we’re getting out of it and a host of other issues, but we’re talking right now about what it opens up in Central Asia.

Another example.  We were talking to the OSCE representative in Bishkek – very impressive individual – and he was quite interested in engaging with CSTO in Kyrgyzstan because he saw ways that they could actually help each other and learn from each other and work cooperatively to help stabilize Kyrgyzstan.  The fact that Russia didn’t answer the president of Kyrgyzstan’s call to come in with troops was a very interesting indication and also opened up possibilities to us.

So I think, to this Great Game or “great gain,” you know, the competition that’s taking place there is more likely to be between Russia and China than it is between Russia and the United States.  And so I think we can very easily go in there and help things along in a way that would have been much harder before relations had improved with Russia.

MR. D. WILSON:  Ross, maybe you can pivot on that towards Kyrgyzstan in particular, potential opportunities both because of U.S.-Russian cooperation on the reset policy yet still real problems within the OSCE on getting U.S.-Russian agreement inside the institution. 

What sort of lessons do you extrapolate or opportunities to do you see in Kyrgyzstan in particular, both in the Russia context, the OSCE context, but also immediately for the international community?  What should we be thinking about in Kyrgyzstan and why? 

MR. R. WILSON:  Well, I think one thing we should have clearly in mind is what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan and the potentially very serious dangers there.  You have a very weak government.  You have a government that will be moving through the elections that are scheduled for this fall into a complicated and essentially unprecedented process of forming a coalition government and a parliamentary system, unique in this part of the world or anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

You have acute ethnic problems and tensions that exploded last month that remained really quite volatile.  You have some very serious economic problems, partly that flow from the collapse of state authority, partly flowing from the violence that took place in the south and then reconstruction needs there.  And you have a problematic neighborhood and relations that have, at least in the past, been rather difficult between Kyrgyzstan on the one hand and several of its neighbors on the other. 

But I think one interesting thing kind of came through in the international response and in particular in the local response to the events that took place this past spring, and that is that as the countries in the region looked at the problems in Kyrgyzstan, they looked at the prospects of failure, I think we will look back on this and conclude that they concluded that failure of Kyrgyzstan was such a wretched prospect and posed so many dangers, not just in Kyrgyzstan but elsewhere in the region, that they needed to try to help this country, notwithstanding what have clearly been reservations on the part of several other countries about Kyrgyzstan’s aspirations for democracy, about Kyrgyzstan’s emphasis of democratic institutions, even at the cost of less than fully functional state mechanisms, including state security mechanisms, as was demonstrated in June.

So you know, two interesting examples of this.  One was the decision by the Uzbek president, Karimov, to open his country’s borders in the context of this terrible violence.  That wasn’t something that I think anybody would have necessarily taken as a given.  And I was struck when we were out in the region; human rights activists praising President Karimov for taking this step, perhaps a rather unique episode of the Uzbek leader being praised by human rights advocates in Central Asia.

I think a second thing – and this gets to sort of, I think, really the heart of your question.  Kazakhstan, because of its role as chairman in office, required, really, by the circumstances, in a similar way, to step up to the plate, to exercise its statesmanship and its leadership in the region and really try to help to forge some consensus, both in the region, among the former Soviet States, and as chairman in office among the OSCE states on what to do about it.

And I think that is an interesting pivot point in the development of Central Asia, it’s an interesting pivot point for Kazakhstan, and it’s probably a necessary set of changes if the OSCE, in particular, is going to be able to play any significant role in helping to stabilize that country.

MR. D. WILSON:  One of the things I took away while we were in Bishkek was actually how surprisingly well-positioned the OSCE was on the ground in Kyrgyzstan, and that because of its presence over the past few years it had become part of the fabric of society in working with civil society NGOs such that it actually had strong relationships with those folks that are now in the interim government as well as trust and confidence across a range of communities, including the Uzbek minority population.

But the other thing that struck me was the scale of – you know, having worked in government on issues related to OSCE, we still have in the Balkans a 700-person OSCE operation in Kosovo, a 500-person operation in Bosnia.  Their budgets are over 20 million euros.  And in Kyrgyzstan I think there were under 20 international staff as part of the presence right there and 5-million euro budget.  Pretty striking.

Let me – two more questions, then I want to bring in the audience to –

MR. KEMPE:  Let me pick up on that for a second.  Actually, we, in this report, have been more ambitious for the OSCE than it is being for itself, and because of all those reasons.  And we’ve made ourselves a little bit unpopular in Vienna because of that. 

And the OSCE has to set its sights higher and a crisis offers an opportunity.  Kyrgyzstan offers an opportunity and then the chairmanship of Kazakhstan opens an opportunity.  And, you know, crises don’t leave things the same.  They either change things for the worse or you take action and you can improve things for the better.

We have this incredible opportunity to improve things for the better through the OSCE in Kyrgyzstan in the region, and if we don’t take it, I can promise you, you know, it will not go in as positive a direction as if we did get more active.

And this gets back to the Russian reset again.  You know, a lot of this is about politics.  The Russians don’t necessarily think the OSCE is the place that should house Medvedev’s idea of a new European security architecture.  However, under a Kazakhstan chairmanship, you can actually get the Russians to show up to a summit, which, with all due respect to Lithuanians, might be a little bit harder under the Lithuanians.

And so, we also have to be pragmatic politically in our timing, and so I would say, with reset going on, with the Kazakh chairmanship, with a crisis on the plate, all of these things sort of line up as a moment that one should actually move, and as we said in the paper, go on the offense instead of playing defense.

MR. D. WILSON:  I mean, some basically argue that the OSCE is mostly a talk shop.  You can contrast that with its presence in field operations, but as a recovering journalist, I mean, one is an issue of the president’s time, which is not insignificant from my perspective of having had to deal with those issues.  But if you were a journalist, how would the OSCE convening leaders – how would that be newsworthy?  What’s the meat here?

MR. KEMPE:  Well, this is a point; you make it newsworthy.  We’ve talked about the triple-crown strategy, which I think the two of you are more expert on than I am and maybe you can talk a little bit about that and what happened in 1999.

But what happened was there was this awful thing facing you – particularly if you’re President Obama you don’t much like these kinds of meetings – and that is three meetings with lots of people sitting around a table reading from talking points and not getting much done.  But the way you can use these meetings is you pre-cook what you want out of it and then use the three meetings to go after the strategy you want and rally your allies around it. 

And so, that’s the way you make it newsworthy for journalists is you do it by creating news.  And otherwise I would agree it will be a terrible waste of time, but you have the Strategic Concept; you have the EU summit as well; you have this.  And Sen. Hagel rightly pointed to the Strategic Concept.  This is going to be a great time for re-thinking what the alliance and our presence with our allies in Europe is all about.  Why not seize OSCE as part of this at the same time to build on the Central Asian part of it?

MR. D. WILSON:  Fred alluded to this triple-crown concept.  We’re actually working with Marc Grossman, who is on our board and part of this project, on helping to remind folks about what we did in 1999 in the Clinton administration. 

Again, when faced with the prospect of a NATO summit, a U.S.-EU summit and an OSCE summit, you can look at this and bureaucratically pull your hair out by the angst that it can cause, but when Marc was assistant – when Ambassador Grossman was assistant secretary at the time, we put together a team to try to think through this coherently to say, okay, we’ve got the three markers coming down the pike; how do you advance one coherent U.S. policy and approach for European security? 

And I think that’s what the potential question is here:  Can you advance a U.S. vision for European and Eurasian security through one coherent approach that you weave through the narratives of three different summits of these key institutions?  It seems like doing this is a way to show actually how to formulate a more coherent response to the Medvedev security proposal for a European security treaty.  In the absence of a coherent strategy, it opens the door to potential Russian calls for a new treaty.

Second, can you use this process actually to develop a coherent policy and articulate, convince folks of a coherent policy for Central Asia, embedding this gathering, embedding this summit within the context of that strategy?

And, third, using this substance to drive it in terms of what you’re trying to achieve in Afghanistan, a narrative of progress and regional support, as well as Kyrgyzstan – rising to the challenge in Kyrgyzstan. 

I want to give one last question and then turn to the audience, so please just catch my eye if you have a question.  One of the challenges of dealing with the region has been how the United States approaches the issue of democracy and human rights.  Democracy and human rights is why the United States is valued so much at the OSCE and why there is a question of will the OSCE be able to actually have a Eurasian dimension?  Is the OSCE able to endure in a region in a way that is not just ephemeral through this chairmanship right now?

How do we effectively approach and handle democracy and human rights in the region as a critical element of U.S. foreign policy without losing the broader comprehensive discussion?  How do we advance those interests in combination with what we’re trying to do, and how does this relate to the OSCE, where we have gotten in a tough dynamic of consternation over many countries’ role within the OSCE, which has the impact potentially of U.S. policy minimizing the importance of the organization, which was at the heart of the Helsinki Final Act in advancing these principles in the first place?

MR. R. WILSON:  Well, as I said earlier, it seems to me that human rights and democracy issues, issues of freedom, have to remain central parts of U.S. diplomacy in Central Asia.  When Secretary Baker made those trips to all of these capitals, in 1992 negotiated arrangements by which the United States established diplomatic relations with these countries, there was very specific language with each and every country reflecting commitments on human rights and democracy matters.

In addition, all of these countries have signed on to the relevant United Nations documents, to relevant OSCE documents, committing themselves to certain things.  They have constitutions; they have laws that reflect aspirations in these directions, aspirations that obviously take some time, evolution to fulfill but they’re clearly stated nevertheless.

I think one part of the way forward, as I described earlier, is to keep the – is to ensure that our conversation about these issues is embedded in a broader conversation about other things as well, to the extent that we become sort of “Johnny one note,” just banging on human rights incessantly, repeatedly and very specifically, with very specific demands – do this or don’t do that, we end up defeating ourselves.

The OSCE missions in these various countries play an extremely important role.  And I had kind of forgotten about that, to be honest, until we met the team in Bishkek – the wide diversity of activities that they’re involved in, the impact that they have locally, the ability that the OSCE has.  Because it is made up of 56 member states who more or less have a veto right over what goes on, over the activities that get carried out, the OSCE can engage with the governments in a somewhat different way, and certainly I saw that in Azerbaijan as well.

So I think keeping those substantial OSCE missions, keeping them involved in a diversity of activities, pursuing in our own bilateral relationship a multi-track approach that works on many different elements at once – and perhaps to go back to the OSCE context, bearing in mind there were three baskets in the Helsinki Final Act. 

One reflects issues of democracy, freedom and human rights – respect for human rights.  But there were also security and economic components there as well.  Work on all of those and I think our ability over the longer term to foster free societies, pluralistic political systems that more clearly reflect the will of the people.  We can get there.  The countries can get there over time, but it is a process that takes time and on which we much be persistent.

MR. D. WILSON:  I think one of the things that also struck me as we have gotten into this project is the growth of other international organizations and potential roles that may develop in the region for CSTO, for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, for SECA (ph), all of which are fine.  There is no reason for the U.S. policy to oppose this.  But it is striking that if we don’t work to sustain a continued and enduring presence of the OSCE in the region, you lose a hook of an organization that actually does include this third dimension as part of the – (inaudible, cross talk).

MR. KEMPE:  If you don’t pay more attention to the two other baskets in OSCE, you are in danger of losing the third one.  And that is the real point.  And you have to have all three.  And our policy is rightfully focused on the human rights dimension, but wrongfully under focused on the other two dimensions.

MR. D. WILSON:  Let me kick off – turn to Harlan Ullman, I think.  If you could get a mike and – right here.  Please introduce yourself for the record.

Q:  I am Harlan Ullman at the – can you hear me?  Is this working?

MR. D. WILSON:  Yes.

Q:  At the Atlantic Council.  First, thanks for your presentations.  My question really is to try to ask you how are you going to provoke, generate or plead for action here?  It seems to me that the White House and the administration are obsessed and consumed with many, many more critically urgent issues than the one you raised no matter how important it is.  At home, you have got BP, you have got the economy, you have got jobs, you have got immigration, you have got the tea party and on and on and on.  Abroad is even worse – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, North Korea.

So how do you do that?  How do you really engage action?  Can you do it by stimulating someone in the bureaucracy here possibly such as Central Command who may raise the narrative for you?  Can you have a kind of a track two with some other outside organization or through OSCE?  Let’s assume that you are right that this is really critical.  How do you tee this up and then make it operational so that what you are saying in theory can be executed in practice?

MR. KEMPE:  I am going to give a 30-second answer that will be a little cynical, but then I will pass it on to my colleagues who have been in government and will tell me how it is really done.  We have criticized that we are leading too much.  We are focused too much on Afghanistan as the reason this region is important to us.  But that is the way you get people’s attention.  You basically say if you don’t pay attention to this region right now, not only are you going to lose the support you need for Afghanistan, but you also are going to create the possibility of other Afghanistans.  If you just look at the South of Kyrgyzstan, there really is a danger there and it has to be taken care of.

So just from a – we are focused on Afghanistan.  Well, if you are focused on Afghanistan, you have got to – and we keep talking about a regional solution to Afghanistan.  Well, how can you have a regional solution to Afghanistan if you are not working out how Central Asia fits into that?  So I would say that is the way to focus people right now because it is crucial to what we want to achieve in Afghanistan.

MR. R. WILSON:  My first point was going to be the one that Fred just made, so I will skip that.  I think the other thing here that is worth saying is that I think what we are advocating is not, for example, a gigantic new U.S. aid program in Central Asia or a – or even really a dramatic reconfiguration of what our U.S. objectives – U.S. objectives are, what they were, the independence, the sovereignty, territorial integrity, success of these countries.  They are heading in the right direction in terms of their ability to provide for their people, to build prosperous, reasonably stable societies.

Working – and so we can accomplish that not by giant new programs, but by – I think largely by the way we engage with the countries in the region in sort of raising the profile here, raising the activity level, finding ways to engage on specific issues, whether it is energy, economics, regional security concerns, regional integration issues, which have almost completely fallen off the radar from where they were 12, 15 years ago.

There are a variety of specific initiatives, I think, to encourage the countries of the region to take up and then U.S. policy can find ways to fill and be supportive either through what we do or through multilateral institutions of which the OSCE may be the preeminent one because it is all over in the region.  There may be others as well.

The specific entity – you mentioned CENTCOM.  I am not sure I would make that the leading edge.  The problem is the seeming militarization or overemphasis of the military aspects and our priorities.  The Pentagon, the Department of Defense, CENTCOM really kind of overwhelm our relationships there in ways that end up distorting what I think are America’s real priorities.

MR. D. WILSON:  Let me turn to Ambassador Idrissov for your comments and reactions and then I will come to this side of the room.

AMBASSADOR ERIAN A. IDRISSOV:  Thank you very much.  First of all, Sen. Hagel, Fred, distinguished panelists, thank you for holding such an important discussion.  I tried to recall.  I have been to many roundtables and conferences like this.  And I absolutely agree that previous ones were focused on specific issues, you know, about denuclearization, energy issues, democracy building, but never had an opportunity to participate in something, which we will try to provide a comprehensive overview of the region generally.  And I think that this is very encouraging and very heartening to be part of this discussion.

For myself, I identified a number of keywords.  One is history.  Second is combustibility and opportunity.  Third is lack of strategy, coherent strategy.  And OSCE has the political context for all of this.

I will give short comments to all of them.  History, of course, is very important and history tells us that Central Asia – the ancient Silk Route Bridge is back on the map.  So with modern technologies, with modern means of communication, of course, the challenge is to help Central Asia to come back as quickly as possible both politically and technically and through other means.

Combustibility and opportunity, of course, is a challenge for all of us.  And we agree that we have to focus on the opportunity part rather than on the combustibility part.  And, of course, use all the checks to make sure that combustible material does not get ignited.

The lack of strategy is a very interesting point.  For our part, I will tell you that at least we in Kazakhstan do have a strategy for ourselves.  We have a strategy running until the year 2030.  And we have – this is a strategic plan for Kazakhstan development and we have identified eight important areas for ourselves to grow, which include democracy building, which include market reforms, which include energy potential, transit potential and regional context.

We very much want to see the West and America as a leading power do exercise themselves in chalking out a very clear strategy for our part of the world and ensure that this strategy is delivered.  I absolutely agree that America being the global elephant has to address all the issues, whether it is East Timor or Middle East or other issues.  But you have to be everywhere.  And it is very difficult to put everything on your top priority.  But I think that the agreement here is that Central Asia is coming to a point where it should get its rightful position on the priority list of the United States. 

From our strategy, I will tell you that we live in a world, as the senator said, in a very interesting neighborhood.  And we have to understand what we want to make sure to see how this part of the world develops.  Our overall strategy is to make sure that even competing interests – if competition is healthy, it is good because healthy competition always is a matter and a reason for progress.  We want to see that this part of the world logically embraces all of the legitimate interests of all the actors.

United States will never be able to replace, for example, the role of Russia for Kazakhstan.  United States will never be a huge market as Russia, for example, is for Kazakhstan or China, for example, is for Kazakhstan.  But there are many areas where the United States has its own benefits.  We generally take – and it is not only certain groups in Kazakhstan, but political elite in Kazakhstan and general public take the West as a very important source of not money.  Some countries in the region like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan do have enough money in the economy.  But most importantly, we take the West and the United States as a source of new values or new standards and habits.

And I am not talking only about technical standards.  I am talking about business standards.  I am talking about political standards.  I am talking about general walk of life.  And it doesn’t mean that we reject everything Russian.  But at the same time, we do not reject everything Western.  We want to see every nice and reputable combination to follow this, which will make our part of the world a very healthy place where competition doesn’t turn into confrontation.  That is our overall strategy.

I would also touch upon – would like to highlight particularly the issue of the so-called Madrid Commitment or democracy building.  This by many people is perceived as an area of controversy and confrontation.  We know that all the governments of our part of the world are under very serious suspicion that we only declare democratic parlance, but do not engage ourselves seriously in democracy building.

I will tell to this partner that they are partly wrong because we have made our choice for a liberal political and economic development.  This is a long-term goal for ourselves and we say that democracy is not at the start of our journey.  Democracy is rather a destination.  You need time to instill and bring the technical standards.  Time is also required and patience is required in bringing new political culture in our part of the world.  And this is something to be nurtured.

I think that we – I will really accept that.  For example, on so-called Madrid Commitment, Kazakhstan is under performing.  We agree with that.  But at the same time, our colleagues and partners and critics should understand that we are talking about the process.  We cannot put this very difficult process into a very rigid timeframe, in particular one year of our chairmanship.  One has to identify the direction and the intention.  I can tell you both personally and formally that Kazakhstan is committed to what it has announced for itself because this is part of our long-term strategy. 

And finally, I would like to comment on OSCE.  We came up with a lot of, again, premonitions and suspicions with our chairmanship.  We all know that the United States was hesitating a lot when agreeing to give the chairmanship to Kazakhstan in OSCE.  And we understand these hesitations.  Again, every one of us comes from our own political cultures with our own political concepts.  We have the right to question certain things.  But let me take you back to 2007 when hesitation was around that Kazakhstan will not be an independent chair of the organization, that Kazakhstan will seriously undermine the third basket, the human dimension basket of activities of OSCE, that Kazakhstan will play into the hands of certain countries or certain groups of countries within the OSCE.

Today in 2010, we can see how through our chairmanship, you can see that all of those premonitions didn’t come true.  We come up with a number of ideas for our own sake and understanding of the importance for our long-term development.  We came up with the idea of Eurasian dimension without OSCE security concept.  Until now, Eurasia OSCE was built on Euro-Atlantic dimension largely.  We believe that in a new historic context speaking serious about Euro-Atlantic security or European security without due account of all the aspects of the Eurasian dimension is pointless.

Therefore, by calling and inviting people to join for a summit, we want to make sure that they come with a full understanding of the importance of this new Eurasian dimension.  And if you look into the deeper – into the Eurasian dimension, you will recognize that it is energy sources, it is Afghanistan, it is Caspian Sea, it is reset with Russia, it is relation with China, it is fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and all these new threats.

Therefore, we are very much encouraged that a political thought being encouraged by the academic thought is taking the things in the right direction.  Of course, we do not expect that U.S. will develop a Eurasian strategy tomorrow.  But we want to thank you for stimulating this kind of thought in Western capitals.  We believe that it is high time that this missing Eurasia bridge comes into the play and we believe that beneficiaries of this will be countries on all sides of the OSCE map.  And actually by calling the OSCE summit, we want to throw into the history the (concepts ?) when we were seeing and viewing each other as being on different sides of the barricade.

We believe that it is one playing field for everyone.  We were very much encouraged by the parlance of President Obama and President Medvedev when they were talking about the discontinuation of the zero-sum game into the win-win situation.  So this is our philosophy.  We fully share that.  And this philosophy lies deeply underneath of all our initiatives in OSCE.  Thank you.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.  I have got a couple of questions right here.  So if we could give you a mike in the front.  Let me start to the gentleman to your right.  He actually caught my eye first and then we will come to you.  Excuse me.

Q:  Hi, Kevin Jones from Georgetown University.  I have first a comment and then a question.  Ambassador, I would look at the same events that you outlined, just look at them a slightly different way.  For example, I would actually see the recent events in June – there was actually a failure of the international community and a failure of the regional.  For example, with Uzbekistan, while the border was opened very briefly, I think the key lesson is actually how quickly the border was shut down again and remains shut to this day.  So I think there are many Uzbeks that are actually trying to cross the border that have been forbidden.

So the irony is that Karimov was able to do a very small act, got a fair amount of praise in the international community.  But the reality on the ground is that Uzbekistan, the lesson they took was that they needed to do absolutely nothing.  I think the same lesson – with all due respect to the ambassador – was also in Kazakhstan.  So I think unfortunately the lesson in the near community was the local countries could do nothing and it would actually be perceived okay and the same thing from the international community.

Russia was asked for assistance, did nothing.  U.S. was primarily asked for assistance, which brings me to the question because here we have something that we have been talking about for 15 years, a crisis in the Fergana Valley.  It occurs and quite simply, the international community does nothing.  It more or less burns out, continues to have small flames going on now.  But basically, nothing is happening.  It hasn’t spread wider. 

Looking at OSCE, the role of some type of state, either policing or international security of going into the region, from your discussions in Vienna, from looking towards a ministerial conference, do you think it is realistic that OSCE would actually put people on the ground and actually put people there to actually deal with the police presence, which is specifically what the country has been asking for and what – if you talk to people in the South, specifically what they are asking for?

MR. D. WILSON:  And let me pick up your colleague’s question right here as well.

Q:  I would like to talk about the economic dimensions – (inaudible) – and the other (links ?) then, democracy, human rights, et cetera.  And a strategic suggestion for the strategy.  And I will pick on the example of Kyrgyzstan, which I know a little bit.  Kyrgyzstan got accession to WTO in 1998, the first member from Central Asia or the former Soviet Union to join WTO.  And in 2009, Kyrgyzstan was listed as one of the top 10 reformers, one of the top 10 reformers in terms of the investment climate in the whole world in terms of reducing business – you know, all kinds of restrictions, administrative regulations, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

My suggestion for strategy – and I would like some comments on that – is that the best thing the United States can do is to help Kyrgyzstan to serve, to provide demonstration effect at this time to build upon some of those reforms to help improve the climate for business, for investment, reduce the kind of bottlenecks in customs, trade, et cetera because it does have the potential for agribusiness exports.

And the World Bank is helping it with certification, accreditation, et cetera, with the German Metrology Institute.  And I would say that Kyrgyzstan, as a small country with 5 million, needs only a little new investment to have a big return or impact in terms of visibility can serve as a demonstration effect for the rest of Central Asia.  And I think the other countries could adopt similar approaches, which are more sustainable in the long term, are much more likely to achieve a permanent improvement in conditions than putting 200 or 250 million that the Kyrgyzes ask for budget support, which I consider absolutely unrealistic, or the 400 million for reconstruction.  It is not going to happen.  So I think this is a better way in the longer term.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you, sir.  Let me turn to Fred and Ross.  Police mission, regional reaction, police mission, OSCE and the economic aspect of this.

MR. R. WILSON:  I might disagree with a few aspects of the symptoms that you described.  But the diagnosis, I think, is spot on.  The international community has let down the region to some extent and the people of Southern Kyrgyzstan, in particular.  The point of what we are doing and the point of the reports that we rather hurriedly got out last week or the week before has specifically been to influence the debate in ways that would help the OSCE or help those within the OSCE that want the organization to step up to the plate in a much more meaningful way.

As Damon noted, the organization currently has around, I think, 18 or 20 international staff, about another 80 or 90 local staff.  So say that it is 100 for sort of round numbers, pales in comparison to what has happened elsewhere.  Is it because it is so far away?  You know, that is not a very good reason.  It is within – it is within the zone of – it is within the realm of the OSCE.  It clearly fits within the problems in the South, clearly fit within the range of what the OSCE does.  And I think, in particular, we would like – we believe the organization should step up to the plate in a much more energetic way.

On the economic side, you know, I was involved some with Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s, when it took the steps to substantiate its application to join the WTO.  And at that time, we thought – we hoped that it would have this kind of demonstration effect in the region.  It didn’t.  It didn’t in part because its neighbors did not adapt by and large to not adopt complementary reforms.  And Kyrgyzstan is a little country a long way away from the rest of the international marketplace and proved in spite of having taken a number of reforms then and the more recent reforms that you referred to.  In isolation, it has proven to be not enough to take those steps to get the kind of investment that would really make a difference.

Clearly, action in Kyrgyzstan and around the region to deal with investment climate issues to strengthen the rule of law and the protections that go along with that for investors improve even simple, almost mechanical business facilitation steps that work in a variety of other parts of the world, customs simplification, easier travel arrangements.  I mean, why do we arrive in Bishkek at two in the morning for god’s sakes?  You know, dealing with some of those kinds of issues can make a difference. 

And I think one of my biases is can start to build a constituency in the region for more trade liberalization for dealing with non-tariff, as well as tariff barriers that have produced a situation where these five countries really don’t trade very much with each other at all.  There is trade with Russia in the case of Kazakhstan, the energy trade with the international economy.  But otherwise, they still are remarkably autarchic in the way they deal with one another.

MR. D. WILSON:  Demonstration effect, Fred?

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah, very quickly.  First of all, I was very pleased to hear the ambassador’s comments particularly about the direction of Kazakhstan because it seems to me that has to be the direction of the region.  The criticism of Kyrgyzstan that one hears among some of its neighbors is you see this shows an immature political system like Kyrgyzstan that democracy can’t work – parliamentary democracy can’t work.  So I embrace your notion of Kyrgyzstan as a model because if it does unravel, it will hurt that cause elsewhere in the region.

And if it can stabilize and move ahead, then I think we will have the opposite effect, even though it is smaller and even though it is certainly not going to immediately, you know, change the way Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan operate.  But what we said in the report is that the current leadership underestimates the problem it faces in the South and probably isn’t calling for enough help.  And the West and, in particular, the U.S. underestimates what is at stake.

And I think one has to redress both of those things because we can’t ask and help in ways that the leadership is not asking for.  In the South, there is now so much pent-up resentment and anger that I can’t imagine that the Kyrgyz government can take that on itself.  You know, I don’t know what kind of party has to come in with what kind of mandate.  But I just can’t believe they are going to handle it themselves.

And then to the point that I don’t think we made strongly enough for the report.  It is all well and fine to focus on human rights violations, which are symptomatic of unfree systems.  But it is corruption that corrodes fragile democracies and countries in transition.  That is what hit Kyrgyzstan was corruption.  You had two leaders that everybody was really excited about when they came into power.  And they both got seduced by the riches that they could sort of bring to themselves, their families, their cohorts.

And so we have to be very careful in all these transitional democracies.  And I look back to Boris Yeltsin about seeing to it that the notion – that corruption doesn’t corrode democratic change.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thanks.  I want to keep us on track.  I have got quite a few questions, so let me grab this question right here and then turn to Debra Cagan and then we will come to Margarita.  And then we will try to wrap with that.

Q:  Hudson Institute, Raphael Jansoldano (ph).  Stability and prosperity in Afghanistan is critical for the Central Asian countries.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, for example, has been devoting considerable attention to the Afghan conundrum.  My question is this.  Is it feasible to form a NATO in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization partnership to address the question of Afghanistan?

MR. D. WILSON:  Okay.  And, Debra, let’s pick up your question as well.

Q:  Just very quickly.  Nobody raised – (Ross ?) – the issue of the spread of fundamentalism.  Anyone who is familiar with the recent history of Afghanistan knows that at any given time, a large number of the insurgents fighting with the Taliban were the IMU and, indeed, the Chechens at other times.  And they are still there. 

But I have a human rights question.  Why would you expect U.S. administration policy that beats the Johnny One Note, as you said, Ross, on human rights to succeed in Central Asia when there is another set of standards that are used for Russia and China?  I mean, why is it that there are things that happen every day in Russia and China that get swept under the rug and yet – for infractions maybe not quite as large in Central Asia, it becomes the sine qua non of U.S. foreign policy.  How do you resolve that?

MR. D. WILSON:  NATO, SCO, human rights.  Which would you like to take?

MR. R. WILSON:  One of the interesting conversations that we had in Kyrgyzstan was about – Fred referred to this, I think – was about this issue of OSCE cooperating with Shanghai Cooperation Council with CSTO with SECA, with other kind of regional – other kind of regional groups.

There is some serious political history, I think, to how NATO is dealing with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  It gets looked it in Western capitals.  And I am not – I don’t want to get into that.  I am not sure I am really that competent to describe that at great length.  I think we came away with the idea, though, that it is in our interest and it certainly can be in the interest of the countries in the region who have to live there and who are members of these overlapping – these organizations that have overlapping memberships to have an open mind about cooperation, collaboration among these organizations.  And I think that is probably as far as I would want to go.

Debra, on your question, I am not sure that there is a particularly good answer.  As I suggested in my earlier remarks, it seems to me that to turn a phrase that Secretary Clinton used when she was in the Caucasus a couple of weeks ago, she talked about walking and chewing gum at the same time on some of these matters.  In this particular region, we seem neither to be walking nor chewing gum really as effectively as we would like.  Our human rights, democracy, freedom agenda not succeeding including because the most democratic state in the region is failing and is failing so potentially catastrophically.

So you know, we have to work on those things as we have to work at them, you know, in China and Russia.  There are different circumstances in different countries.  There are different issues that rise like cream to the top of the jar as we have a complicated, multifaceted relationship with Russia and with China.  So the reality is we have and we need to act like we have a multifaceted set of interests and relations in Central Asia that then puts these things in a context where we can have more likelihood of succeeding.

MR. D. WILSON:  We are running out of time, so I am very going to quickly try to give a last bundle of questions and then we will conclude.  Margarita – I don’t know, pass it along and then we’ll take these three and then we will conclude with the panel.  Keep your questions brief.

Q:  Thank you.  Margarita Assenova, Institute for New Democracies.  There are two comments I would like to make.  We may want to start thinking about Afghanistan and strategy for Afghanistan that would involve the five Central Asian republics and think about as a region and probably develop a stabilization pact for Afghanistan.  That would counter the effects of the situation in Afghanistan to the region, stabilize the countries around the region and this way, help Afghanistan as well.  OSCE can play a role, can play a very significant role, even if it is not directly involved in Afghanistan, can play a role for Afghanistan outside of the country.  

The other thing is there was a warning that circulated yesterday about new violence expectations in Southern Kyrgyzstan again against the ethnic Uzbeks.  So are we ready for that?  The international community, is it ready to prevent it, to protect the people out there?  OSCE failed to develop its rapid response mechanism that was announced back in the Istanbul summit.  That is something that OSCE really needs to focus on because the mechanism involved peacekeeping forces, involved – and in our opinion, it should involve also much simpler decision-making process.

Right now all 56 countries have to decide in order for 50 policemen to be deployed to a conflict area.  And this is something that OSCE needs to think about.  Are we ready as international community to react?

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you. 

Q:  Andrew Pierre, Georgetown University.  I had the privilege of spending a week or so in Bishkek last October sponsored by the State Department talk on President Obama’s foreign policy.  And what struck me the most is that I was told by a local at the embassy who had been there for the 17, 18 years since independence that I was the first American speaker to be in Bishkek talking about U.S. foreign policy in toto. 

And then I was offered by the State Department to the U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan.  And the embassy there said oh, that is a little too dangerous for us.  So there is really a dire need for a new public diplomacy program in that part of the world.  And I completely agree with the comments that were made about the over militarization of U.S. policy.  I had several conversations about that.  And clearly, that is what was probably because it was told by Washington merely the high point of the agenda, the only item on the agenda for the U.S. government.

When you go out to Manas Air Base, as I am sure you gentlemen did, terrific commanders doing their job, but they really could be doing their job in almost any country because very insensitive, unknowledgeable really about what was going on.  So I think we need to put Kyrgyzstan and the whole region much more actively than the past 10 years or so on the public diplomacy agenda.

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you.  Ambassador Idrissov, you wanted a brief final comment?

AMB. IDRISSOV:  A comment and a question following up Debra’s question.  First of all, let me once again repeat our message is that I think it is wrong to believe that our part of the world rejects democracy agenda.  We are not rejecting the democracy agenda.  We want to cooperate on this agenda, but in an informed way.  We do account that we are talking about the different political cultures.  So the political culture is a crucial point.

If you turn around things with deep understanding of the difference of political culture in addressing democracy agenda, then I think you will see in a different light democracy dialogue with Russia or China or our part of the world.  My question will be we heard that a number of people in our part of the world commented on the parliamentary choice of Kyrgyzstan.  So Kyrgyzstan has announced to be the first parliamentary-based democracy in our part of the world.  And we heard comments from academics after the top leaders in our part of the world who questioned the capacity or deliverability of the parliamentary reform.  Why do you think this issue is being questioned?

MR. D. WILSON:  Thank you.  I will just say real quick on Margarita’s question is I don’t think we are prepared if there is another outbreak in Southern Kyrgyzstan – not because we actually don’t have the capacity to address it, but we are actually lacking political consensus and more importantly, political will to do so.  Let me turn to Fred and Ross to wrap up.

MR. KEMPE:  I will be very fast also with an eye to the clock.  I don’t want everyone to go away thinking of the U.S. military as a negative force in that region.  It isn’t.  The military-to-military relationships have been some of the most positive relationships we have formed.  And indeed, in Kyrgyzstan, one of the most articulate voices for democratic change and one of the most knowledgeable people we talked to was someone who had spent considerable time at CENTCOM and was a Kyrgyz general.

And so in many ways, these military leaders really learn about the role of a military in a democratic society.  So I just want to say – and I don’t think any of us said this – Ross, none of us said this – the point really is that when that becomes your one-dimensional relationship and you don’t have a deep enough relationship on other issues.  I wanted to make that very clear.

And then on human rights since it came up – I think Debra put the question nicely – look, the Obama administration will not be the first U.S. administration with inconsistency in its human rights approach.  And what happens is – and here the ambassador is right is what are your other interests and then how do you weigh them?  And what do you know about the country and where the country is going?  I can’t say South Korea was always a stellar example of human rights policy in our relationship with it, but look where it is now. 

And so I think we just have to look at things more comprehensively.  And I think that is what we are trying to do with this report is say have a strategy.  And then within that, for god’s sake, have a human rights approach because there is not – there is not a U.S. administration that will be able to consistently lead a foreign policy to any country that disregards that simply because it will come up to bite them at one point or another.  And let me just leave my comments at that.

MR. D. WILSON:  Comment, Ross?

MR. WILSON:  The two questions that I think were not addressed, public diplomacy, yes, by all means.  And your story is a fascinating one and unfortunate that 18 years – or would have been 17 years after Kyrgyzstan attained its independence, you are the first person to go out and discuss U.S. foreign policy.  You know, I think that is part of what we ought to be trying to do in the region.  It is paying a certain amount of respect, but developing relationships that can matter for us over time.  The whole public diplomacy function has been starved of funds for some time.  That is probably a project either for a different Atlantic Council study or perhaps for a different organization, but it is a serious problem.

Why, you know, parliamentary systems?  They are hard.  They are very hard.  And I think they are particularly hard given – or Kyrgyzstan’s experience will be particularly difficult given it has a somewhat different history.  Its leaders are not strong.  There is no one there with particularly high levels of popularity.  Most people we talked to expected that no one party is going to win a significant plurality of the votes.  And then stitching things together, it is going to be really hard.  Hopefully they can do it.  They will need the support of their neighbors.  They will need the support of others in the international community including the OSCE, the United States, the European Union, Russia and others.

And I think the crisis and the stakes in the region indicate to us why we have to support it, even if we have some misgivings about how successful they are going to be.  They have to succeed because the costs of not doing so are too high for the region.

MR. D. WILSON:  I think this link between the human rights and corruption issues is pretty important.  And Debra, your question got at it that in Kyrgyzstan where since Hillary Clinton’s visit there as first lady where we put an emphasis on democracy, human rights.  The perception among the Kyrgyz population, whether it is the allegations related to how we have handled Manas Air Base have totally undermined the consistency and the impact of our democracy and human rights message.  And we have done ourselves more harm in trying to advance that.  So I think getting these elements right.  And Fred, I think you appropriately emphasized the role that anti-corruption efforts have to play in this context.

We have run a little bit over.  I thank you for your indulgence.  I want to thank you for coming out today for a discussion on a topic that sometimes doesn’t get the attention that it needs in Washington policy circles.  I want to thank Sen. Hagel for leading our effort, Fred, Ross, for the discussion today, as well as broader members of our taskforce who will be involved in the coming weeks and months in various aspects of our work.  And the team here that helped put it together, Jeff Lightfoot who was our trip manager for this impossible journey through Central Asia, Jonathan Ruemelin, Susan Parker, Matt Czekaj, all of you that have been working on this project, thank you very much.  (Applause.)

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Related Experts: Ross Wilson and Harlan Ullman