U.S. Security Challenges In Central Asia: The Kazakhstan Nexus
Without a doubt, the incumbent Trump Administration will be rethinking U.S. foreign security policy. It is hard to underestimate the revolutionary nature of the Trump tenure for America’s engagements around the world, Independent Journal Review reported. A top priority for the U.S. in the next four years will be the fight against religious extremism. Clearly, the main theater of engagement will be the Middle East. However, policies towards Afghanistan and Central Asia will also be rethought. This core region between Russia, China and Iran is at the crossroads of security challenges, including terrorism and radicalism.
Just look at the map: Kazakhstan is at the intersection of political and economic interests not only for Washington but also Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran. As the next American president articulates a new US security vision, the issue is simple: Kazakhstan’s crucial geo-strategic position requires American attention.
The Obama Administration created a vacuum in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, piling up security challenges for the region and for the U.S. The sum total of these conflicts across a wide arc from North Africa to the Levant to Central Asia has created a security nightmare that will demand thoughtfulness and foresight. This requires the Trump Administration to begin addressing the Islamist challenge by engaging Kazakhstan directly.
This is because Afghanistan remains a bleeding wound, as the Taliban and especially Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) are likely to affect mostly secular/moderate, Islamic-majority autocracies of Central Asia negatively.
In addition, the outflow of Central Asian fighters who went to wage jihad in Syria are back-washing to Central Asia, potentially capable of undermining not just Kazakhstan and Central Asia at large, but also Russia and Europe.
The Trump Administration will be well advised to focus on new bilateral security programs with Kazakhstan. First, the US should restructure the C5+1 format. The C5+1, only a year old, is a platform that brings together the five states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and the United States. The C5+1 has met twice.
The C5+1 needs to be given more priority and necessary leadership. C5+1’s ambitious program needs a retrofit. But there is a larger point: President Barack Obama failed to visit Central Asia during his eight years in office. President-elect Trump should rectify this strategic neglect: as the president will be traveling to China and Russia, he should also stop in Central Asia.
Second, Kazakhstan should be one of the key US security partners in the region by revisiting CENTRASBAT, or the Central Asian Battalion. In 1996, the US helped establish CENTRASBAT, which was supposed to strengthen the military-to-military relationships and regional security through joint peacekeeping. Unfortunately, CENTRASBAT suffered from neglect, as a flagging of American engagement moved Afghanistan to the back burner. A new plan that gives CENTRASBAT a sharp, cutting-edge counter-terrorism mission is necessary. The requirements for combating terrorist activity and ideology will require thinking out of the box, including countering radical ideology and propaganda. A new bilateral security relationship is needed between Washington and Astana.
The U.S. should also expand diplomatic cooperation with Kazakhstan, which plays an important founding role in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). However, most valuable is Astana’s ability to work with all great powers and international organizations, including the UN, where Kazakhstan is to become a non-permanent Security Council member as of January 2017.
On the international stage, Kazakhstan, under President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s tutelage, has also chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in 2010 as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2011. Let’s not forget that Nazarbayev promoted his own vision of security with the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which is a possible mechanism for bringing together countries.
On the economic front, international attention will be focused on the China-led One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. This is a reinvention of the historic Silk Road wherein massive infrastructure projects will take place; ports, pipelines and highways will create new supply chain routes across Central Asia, tying China and Europe.
Overall, it is through partnership and cooperation – not a withdrawal behind the two oceans – that the U.S. is going to improve its own security, that of its friends and allies, and will defeat ISIS and other radical threats. It is through positive engagement in the fight against terror that the U.S. can and should engage Russia in a positive way.
The Trump Administration needs to recognize Kazakhstan as the nexus of Eurasia, the crossroads where both strategic and transactional relationships can be built in America’s interests.