This assessment outlines a basis for U.S. national security planning related to Central Eurasia over the next ten years. The region covered encompasses the five former Soviet states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and the three former Soviet states of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).
Although the two halves of the region are very different and attract the attention of the major powers in distinct ways, planners should avoid rigidly compartmentalizing them given the economic and, to a certain extent, cultural, linkages that exist. It is most important to appreciate the role these linkages play in the geopolitical mindset of the other major powers, namely Iran and Russia, and to a lesser extent, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey. In fact, these linkages are expanding as trends and developments in the region become increasingly transnational, and as the regions overall profile in global affairs becomes more prominent.
This region of newly sovereign states is growing in importance, both to the major powers that surround them and to the world at large, including the United States. The immediate focus for the United States is on economic access and appropriate diplomatic relations that promote stability in the region. Stability remains tenuous, while mounting challenges have put tremendous strain on the states and have increasingly concerned the major powers. These challenges include more frequent outbreaks of cross-border conflict, a surge in the narcotics (largely opium) trade and rising political discontent, including anti-Western varieties of political Islam in some places. Each threat or challenge is to some extent symptomatic of deeper problems of inadequate social, economic and political development common to almost all the former Soviet Union, including Russia. During the next decade, the major powers, including the United States, are more likely to be affected by the negative trends emanating from this region than by its positive aspects or potential.
To support the regional concert, the United States needs a coherent strategic rationale as well as a guide to action. Responsibility for Central Eurasia continues to be divided among geographic bureaus and is often subordinated to other areas in which U.S. interests are more urgently at stake. A higher level of U.S. interest, analysis, interaction and engagement is required for the U.S. government to perceive the region’s evolving needs and make informed judgments regarding appropriate U.S. responses. These, in turn, must be based on specific priorities.