Why Ignoring Central Asia Hurts the U.S.
Senior Director for Foreign Policy and Civil Society Enders Wimbush testified on Tuesday, July 24th before the House Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia.
In his testimony, Wimbush argued that, to the United States’ detriment, Central Asia has been largely ignored in American strategic thinking. He pointed out that Central Asia, no longer under Russia’s control, is beginning to implement independent foreign policies. Wimbush also noted that China, which has been steadily increasing its presence in Central Asia through investment and trade, seeks to supplant Russia, fill a vacuum created by the American departure from Afghanistan, and flank India on its northern frontier. Turkey, Iran and some Arab states are also actively seeking to increase their competitive advantage in the region, making this strategic competition in Central Asia a game with multiple players. U.S. interests will be challenged from many directions not only by competitors who doubt the American commitment to maintaining strategic balance in the region, but also dynamics that will be harder to contain in this region. Two factors that will challenge the United States include enhanced drug trade via Central Asian routes to Europe and greater dangers from radical Islamist tendencies, which find Central Asia both accessible and resonant.
Wimbush concluded that “robust and active American engagement with and in” Central Asia is vital to American foreign policy interests. He argued that the United States may yet play an important role in Central Asia – through trade, education, and civil society capacity building. As the various regional forces at play react in anticipation of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, American foreign policy needs a revamped strategy to reinforce its presence and staying power.