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Uzbekistan Summit: US Seeks Toehold in Central Asia

Monday 23 July 2018
Uzbekistan Summit: US Seeks Toehold in Central Asia

Related Content

Kazakhstan Denies Granting US Access to Caspian Sea

Alwaght- The Central Asian states will hold a security conference in Uzbekistan on Monday with the US participation, a couple of days after Kazakhstan dismissed the media reports that it granted the American military access to the Caspian Sea.

The Uzbek capital Tashkent will host the regular meeting of Working Group on Security Cooperation. Central Asia + the USA (C5+1), is the format picked as the bloc’s name.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the United States will discuss issues of regional security, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, Uzbekistan’s official news agency said.

This is the second time Uzbekistan is hosting the C5+ 1 meeting. The six-country club held its first meeting in September 2015 and discussed a set of regional issues in Samarkand in the center of the country. The last summit, gathering together the foreign ministers of the six countries, was held in January in New York.

According to a statement on the US Department of State’s website, the July 23 meeting will focus on collective security, the terrorism risks, and economic matters. The State Department further said that the economic discussions will concentrate on improving the region’s trade balance and the US trade with and investment in the regional countries. The meeting will also discuss the environmental challenges in Central Asia.

At the second meeting, held in August 2016 in Washington, the members agreed on a pact according to which they work on at least five trade, economic, security, and environmental projects under a $15 billion funding program supported by the US Congress. The majority of the projects are meant for trade, counter-terrorism, transportation, and environmental fields. Sources familiar with the conference said that the US was set to participate in launching the program in Central Asia.

Sitting with Trump is different

Although this is the second time Uzbekistan hosts the meeting, the Monday summit is very different from that held three years ago. In fact, the third summit is scheduled to be held while the current US administration is heavily pursuing its foreign policy from a mercantilist point of view. Although the previous conference in Washington saw the US provide it with a relatively big funding to keep the group active, the Monday meeting may prove different if Trump opposes the past agreements reached by the six parties.

To put it differently, at the 2016 summit the economic aspect was under focus, but under Trump, the US will give priority to the political and security aspects. This will cut the power of the summit to make difference.

The US in Central Asia wrestling ring

It has been over two decades since the Soviet Union collapsed and the small republics grew to independence out of its body that extended to the whole of Central Asia. But Washington still finds itself of very limited sway in the Russian backyard. The trick for infiltration of the region rests in reforming the current regional order to Washington’s advantage, something the Americans have been working on more seriously over the past decade. Central Asia is landlocked, far away from the US, and infrastructurally-underdeveloped. But it has privileges to the US decision makers as it is home to massive energy reserves and is bordering Russia, China, and Iran, three of which are the rivals of Washington.

In autumn 2011, the US opened its first military base in Central Asia. At the time, the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank, said that some American political and security experts recommended to the US administration that it should consider expansion of its presence in Central Asia as it seeks to take on Russia and China in a game of sway and as the war in Afghanistan continues to unfold.

The war in Afghanistan over the past 17 years has influentially modified the US foreign policy. Before the war, Central Asia was not high on the White House priority list. But things changed as the US and the allied NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and drew a long-term presence plan. Kazakhstan has reportedly allowed the US to use its railway system to transfer forces and supplies to Afghanistan. This exhibits the important place the region is finding in the US strategy. The US-Kazakhstan relations become more important as Washington-Islamabad ties were hit by a diplomatic chill that followed the unveiling of the new US strategy for Afghanistan war in which the American President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of supporting terrorism in the conflict-hit nation.

On the other side, competition against China and Russia pushes the US to build pressures on its traditional rivals in the region. The worst situation for Washington is that the regional republics lean to Beijing and Moscow in the quest for help amid a struggle to move out of poverty and underdevelopment. Now it is easy to figure out why in 2016 the Congress approved a $15 billion aid package for the five former Soviet republics.

The US struggle for a foothold in the region has geo-economic a dimension, too. Turkmenistan by itself, for example, has 10 percent of the global gas reserves. Should the US manage to gain weight in the region, it can hold a sway over a considerable part of the world’s energy market. This issue by itself is enough for the Americans to justify their financial aids to the regional states.

Amid Washington’s effort to turn the tide to its advantage in Central Asia, the upcoming years may prove the region a field where the US wrestles with against China and Russia with the corollary being new crises that very likely slip out of the involved powers’ control. The US can flex its muscles for Russia in its backyard using crises caused by artificial terrorism. After all, following the losses in Iraq and Syria, its ascendance spots, the Western-backed ISIS terrorist group is relocating to Central Asia.   

Tags :

Central Asia C5+1 Uzbekistan Russia China

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