Tuesday, September 13, 2005

# Posted 5:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

CENTRAL ASIA WATCH: Carnegie's Martha Brill Olcott has a new book out on Central Asia. Because Carnegie loves you, you get the first chapter free.

Her thesis, in a nutshell: no more than during Central Asia's first chance at political change after the fall of the Soviet Union is there much likelihood now that the region will produce much democratic change during its second chance at political dynamism, in the present context of Western security engagement. The situation's somewhat better in Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, more open to the recommendations of the international community, and in Tajikistan, after its bloody civil war in which 60,000 died; but Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan appeal to the specificity of their national cultures to reject international suasion. U.S. security engagement has served as public demonstration of Russian power in retreat; after years of blustering warning Washington not to reach too deep into its backyard, Moscow gulped and quietly accepted being eclipsed by the United States in areas it had long strategically dominated. But though the United States shows no sign of leaving the region any time soon, nor has it made long-term commitments or binding security guarantees to any states in the region (though its present arrangements on bases and landing rights, on the other hand, give Washington maximum strategic flexibility). States continue to regard their own people as their principal threats, shortly followed by their neighbours, with institutions and initiatives toward regional economic or security integration sputtering to their own halts. A correctly reconstructed Afghanistan would provide a regional jump-start, creating transit corridors to Pakistani ports and the Indian oil and gas market; but for the foreseable future, Afghanistan remains a source of drugs, not jobs, for Central Asia. Not all the blame, actually, is America's. A fish rots from the head down, and Central Asia's leaders have shown little appetite for either economic or political reform.
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