Our Other Perennial Theme: Central Asia

by Joshua Foust on 5/25/2011 · 21 comments

Going right back to our founding in 2003, Registan.net has been consumed with one very fundamental conceit: the region of Central Asia is important, both strategically and economically, to the world in general and the West in particular. So it was with some dismay that I read the latest CNAS report, which details their proposal for a regional strategy for South and Central Asia, and saw the actual region of Central Asia de-prioritized:

This report focuses primarily on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, viewing the surrounding neighbors as influential but ultimately less vital actors…

From a military standpoint, an improved network of trade and transport throughout Central Asia would provide the United States and NATO robust options for supplies beyond overland routes through the to Torkham Gate and the port of Karachi, removing one more point of Pakistani leverage over the allied effort in Afghanistan…

The United States will also need deeper intelligence and security relationships with the states of Central Asia to contain and defeat al Qaeda and its allies, as these terrorist groups seek new locales that offer respite from the intense pressure they now face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, deepening these relationships creates a conundrum for the United States, since autocrats rule these countries and democratic movements are often suppressed. The United States must continue to advocate for democratic reforms while engaging in these counterterrorism partnerships. In the best case, military-to-military and other security relationships may help establish a standard of democratic civil-military values in the region. This is an important and consistent component of any U.S. military assistance efforts.

And that’s… just about it. Now, no one would argue that from the strict perspective of terrorism, Pakistan is the enormous elephant in the room: it is the greatest agent promoting instability, the most likely to fall apart, and the most dangerous to its neighbors should that eventually happen. Pakistan is why the war in Afghanistan has dragged on for so long—and Pakistani-trained militants are killing hundreds of NATO soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians each year.

Now, all of that being said, CNAS includes in their report at least part of why the northern post-Soviet States are so important, even if they discount the real importance those states might hold. To an extent, I’m retreading the argument I laid out for The Century Foundation Task Force on Afghanistan, namely:

  • The Central Asian states do not have the same interests in Afghanistan that we do, and those interests might in fact work at odds to what we want to accomplish regionally;
  • The promise of economic growth and development is very appealing to the governments of the region, and a U.S.-led crusade against terror groups is very unappealing;
  • Given their involvement with several militias and other organizations involved in the war, as well as their linguistic and social proximity to half of Afghanistan, the Central Asian states can play a positive role in any reconciliation efforts.

But these points also bear expanding upon. As CNAS notes, the state of strategic energy in the region will be very important, and the NDN provides a vital way of asserting alternative leverage against Pakistan (which routinely holds our access to the Torkham and Chaman border crossings hostage). We could probably add, in Kazakhstan at least, a compelling interest to prevent the proliferation and sale of dangerous nuclear materials (though this is a problem in most of the region).

CNAS is very wrong, however, about the need to deepen our relationship with the intelligence and security services in Central Asia (what is a “standard of democratic civil-military values” anyway?). It is that belief—that our interests are best served whilst in bed with the local thugs contributing to the problem—that brought us to our current dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan. We would do well to avoid the same mistake in Central Asia. Hopefully without ruffling too many feathers, this is a common mistake when people who do not understand Central Asia very well try to craft policy in the region.

As I noted in my six-year retrospective on the Andijon massacre, the U.S. government gets a deeply distorted picture of the players and problems in the region when they rely too heavily on the local governments for understanding. It was how the assumption—as false as they can get—that Akromiya was behind the initial street protest took root in the DC policy community, and how, even to this day, some former administration members insist some super-secret shadowy Islamist group no one ever really hears from was behind an uprising that never happened.

Christian Bleuer has documented on more than one occasion that in Tajikistan—the Tavildara area “scares the shit out of us,” according to a senior Obama official in 2009—the reports of “insurgency” are little more than rumors. The “insurgency” there has very little to do with radical Islam, but is instead about social and political factors.

As a result, the U.S. is slowly funneling more and more money into “military training centers” both in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (they’re hiring!) to address a problem that actually has very little to do with us. In effect, we are helping those countries suppress their populations—with the unintentional consequence that we actually make the al Qaeda problem we’re seeking to contain much worse in the long run. (There is a related problem: the popular writers people listen to about Central Asia, like Ahmed Rashid, actually have no idea what they’re talking about and are consistently wrong about the region.)

The end result of relying too much on host governments to get intelligence about a problem we don’t understand leads, predictably, to building bases to train militaries that don’t actually address the problem we’re concerned with. This is important, though not the most important thing to U.S. strategy in the region—and in fact, many would say that it suggests even less engagement so as to prevent the accidental misuse of resources. But that’s not quite right either.

In a very real way, the Central Asian states represent what happens when the U.S. decides an area is unimportant to its interests—as it did in the 1990s.

That’s Uzbek dictator (don’t sue me, bro!) Islom Karimov debating future IMU commander Tohir Yo’ldosh in Namangan in December of 1991. Karimov basically says that if he becomes a tyrant he can grant them their Islamic State, just as they want, but those pesky trappings of Democracy are getting in his way. There is a helluva lot more to the story of how Karimov responded to the existential threat the IMU posed to his government, but here’s what I find so interesting: as the 1990s wore on and the IMU moved first into Tajikistan and then into Northern Afghanistan, it became integrated into the power structure of the Taliban. And as the 2000s wound on, the IMU became much closer to al Qaeda.

This is badly simplifying a complex story for the sake of argument, but in large part the reason why we even face an IMU—which continues to assert control over Northern Afghanistan and threaten to undo the war’s progress there—is because we chose not to care about what was going on in Uzbekistan in the early-to-mid 1990s. Even today, a single-minded focus on counterterrorism clouds out actual understanding of the countries and groups involved, which leads us to misjudge both the situation and what to do about it.

To bring it back to the CNAS report: I do not dispute that Pakistan is the biggest problem to be addressed, and that the Central Asia states are at the periphery of this problem. However, a regional strategy is a regional strategy, and looking at Pakistan only in terms of Pakistan is mistaken and shortsighted. The CNAS authors hint at a regional strategic rivalry (disappointingly, they call it a “New Great Game”) between China and India. This is very true, but that game isn’t being played out only in Pakistan—it is also being played out in Kazakhstan, in Kyrgyzstan, and elsewhere. Iran is one of Tajikistan’s largest investment donors.

The NDN through Central Asia is America’s best shot at disentangling our reliance on Pakistani territory for supplies and transit, thus increasing the leverage we could exercise over Pakistan’s support of militancy—yet it is given barely more than a passing mention by the CNAS authors. And let’s not even talk about Manas, and the many problems we’ve contributed to Kyrgyzstan through a laser-focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the exclusion of smaller, “unimportant,” states in the region (or, for that matter, the nasty choices our desire for an air base in the region has prompted policymakers to make).

While definitely not at the center of the immediate threat coming from the region South and Central Asia, it is shortsighted to pretend that the Central Asian states don’t really matter to the region’s future. They matter deeply, and if they’re not paid attention to, they have the potential to act as spoilers. They can also contribute substantially to a good outcome. But only if we take the time to understand what they’re like, what their priorities are, and how we can work with them and through them.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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doyle May 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm

The relationship between US reluctance to be too overtly ambitious in Central Asia and our attempts to not offend or step on Russia’s toes (publicly at least) cannot be understated.

On a very public and very grand scale, the US has worked for years to court Russian cooperation on many issues, even more so as Russia courts the similar cooperation from China. Privately, the US can be a bit more adventurous if working against Russian interests but Moscow still likes to play ‘Mother Russia’ to the Central Asian ‘children’. It is very difficult for the US to keep forays into any of those countries quiet if those forays ruffle the Kremlin’s feathers.

I agree that Central Asia is hugely important to the stability of the region and I’ll even argue that Central Asia and more specifically, the untapped resources in Central Asia are a bigger part of the reasons we are involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan than they are given credit for.

However, Central Asia lacks a squeaky wheel. Coupling that lack of the squeaky wheel element with the aforementioned reluctance to storm into Russia’s backyard, it’s not surprising that the regional attention paid to those states pales in comparison to the attention demanded by the squeakiest of squeaky wheels, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nathan May 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I think the claim that cooperation with Central Asian security services contributes in any meaningful way to these governments’ repressive capacities needs some evidence behind it. These governments have done just fine in cracking down on their people without our help, and many of the ways in which we have helped — border security, for example — don’t appear to have much potential to effect the region’s citizens. And we really for seriously do have an interest in increasing the compat capabilities of each of these countries. The better they can deal with groups of 10-15 dudes running around the countryside without going all Keystone Kops, the happier we should be.

I’m also not terribly concerned about cooperating with their intelligence services. It doesn’t mean taking everything they say at face value, and I think the ISI comparison is inappropriate.

As unexciting as it is, I’m all for engagement for engagement’s sake in Central Asia. The region is important, but the US needs tempered expectations about what can be achieved, which really is very little. It’s good, though, to know whom to call in a crisis and to be establishing relationships with the junior and mid-level officials who will one day be running these countries (an important point because the current crop of human rights activists have no such future). I think there’s even a good case to be made that during periods of increased engagement (such as US-Uzbek relations 2002-2004), the human rights situations are marginally better.

Joshua Foust May 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Well hang on a second, I think a few issues have become confused. You’re not the first to suggest that military aid improves the professionalization of the host nation military. In some cases, you could perhaps make that argument—in particular with very close military-to-military relationships like in Egypt or Georgia. But in limited relationships, such as with Yemen, there’s very LITTLE evidence that U.S. military aid resulted in a more professional force (and in that particular case there’s substantial evidence U.S. military aid is misused for suppression).

Now, that doesn’t mean the Central Asian states behave in the same way. In the immediate aftermath of Andijon, Chris Chivers laid out the basics of this debate, and especially highlighted the positive aspects of U.S. engagement.

But to make your argument – that aid improves human rights, and that military aid contributes to a professionalized security services – I think we could also use some evidence. I realize the danger in sole-sourcing this, but OSI has released two very relevant reports on this front.

The first, charting U.S. aid to Uzbekistan (pdf), shows on page 6 a very dramatic reduction in aid to Uzbekistan in 2003, which then tapered narrowly in 2004 and 2005, and only dropped off rapidly after we were kicked out of K2. Since we remained firmly “engaged” to Uzbekistan during that time, prior to being removed from K2, I’m curious what effect you think such a rapid swing in aid might have caused on the part of host government behavior. Just because things were better pre-Andijon, we have no reason to say that they were better because of military aid.

The other OSI report, an analysis of the OSCE’s police reform efforts in the entire region (discussed here) indicates that at least in a general sense simply trying to reform the security forces through aid is incredibly difficult and maybe not very practical (its weakness is, it doesn’t discuss U.S. aid, but if you can think of a reason why the U.S.’s efforts aren’t subject to these same limitations I’m all ears).

All that being said, here’s the kicker: I never argued for less engagement, or even necessarily less military engagement. In fact, I argue, very explicitly, for the opposite: more engagement, but smarter engagement. I didn’t say this in the post, but I see no reason why there shouldn’t be a military component to this engagement. I do, however, see a huge problem in assuming our only interest and only concern in the region is terrorism, and so I see huge problem in funneling ALL (or even MOST) of our assistance through the military and intelligence services. I didn’t frame our relationship with Pakistan in terms of the ISI—I framed it in terms of our obsession with security assistance to the detriment of everything else going on. In Pakistan, we assumed the only problem we had to deal with was the relatively short term problem of terrorism and that distorted the choices we made afterward—to include deepening our relationship with the ISI post-2001 but also to enable the abusive government of President Musharraf, to allow the misappropriation of aid money to buy F-16s to face down India, to ignore the blatant corrupt distribution of aid money and projects, and so on.

In Pakistan, in other words, we allowed a narrow obsession with terrorism to crowd out monitoring our aid responsibly, and that obsession is what helped along a host of other problems that are now contributing to the terrorism problem. You could argue, probably plausibly, that that isn’t the same concern we have to face in Central Asia. But you didn’t do that here.

Realist Writer May 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I agree that the US national interest is more than just fighting “terrorism”, but then what other American interests do you believe the US has in the region?

Is it trying to secure free flow of oil in the region? Gaining free trade agreements and supporting US economic growth? Countering Russian/Chinese expansion as part of the “New Great Game”? Promoting stability and security in the region in the hopes of avoiding a potentially expensive catastrophe?

Or does the US has an interest in “promoting” human rights and “micromanaging” the nation-building process of these States (under the belief that we foreigners know better than the natives who run said States)? From what you type, it seems it is the latter that appears to be what you believe US’ real national interests are, which is a defensible position, but you didn’t argue WHY “development” (of the NON-economic nature) is an important US national interest. It would be nice if you have done that.

anan May 26, 2011 at 12:40 am

“Is it trying to secure free flow of oil in the region?” No more than any other country that buys energy [Japan, India, China, EU, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea]. Perhaps you mean facilitating the export of NG to China? Every buyer of LNG in the world benefits slightly from that, since this means less Chinese imports of LNG. However, Central Asia is simply not that large a contributor to global energy supply.

“Gaining free trade agreements and supporting US economic growth” In this, US national interests are very similar to the rest of the world. However, Central Asia isn’t a large part of the global economy.

“Countering Russian/Chinese expansion as part of the “New Great Game”” Almost everyone who talks in these terms has no idea what they are talking about. US, Chinese and Indian economic interests are extremely similar. The only great game is mechanisms for the international community to work together to advance global commons.

“Promoting stability and security in the region in the hopes of avoiding a potentially expensive catastrophe” To some degree yes. But the US doesn’t care more about this than other countries.

“Or does the US has an interest in “promoting” human rights and “micromanaging” the nation-building process of these States (under the belief that we foreigners know better than the natives who run said States)?” Very nicely said. Internationals often don’t know better. Internationals should generally stick to surging the capacity of local institutions and local potential GDP. [Since relatively freer democratized systems are correlated with local capacity, “freedom” and “democracy” abstractly should generally be promoted.]

Really speaking, most countries care about Central Asia to the degree it influences global extremism [of the Takfiri salafi kind] and the Pakistani civil war. Central Asia represents too small a percentage of global GDP.

Realist, what do you think “US national interests” are?

Realist Writer May 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I don’t claim to have any knowledge about the place. But (for now) I believe that US’ national interests are essentially what the US actually pursue in the region. The US cannot go against its own national interests, since the US has decided (rationally or not) what is in its national interests. So to me, democracy promotion is not a US’ national interest, because I do NOT believe the USA cares about doing this (even if the US claims that it does aim to promote democracy). I do think energy security plays a role in American national security, only due to the proliferation of Natural Gas pipeline ideas such as Nabucco, South Caucasus, and White Stream. I suppose I may be wrong to mention oil and view it as a signal factor, but these pipeline appear to have the goal of supplying Europe, not China. As for the other factors I raised, again, I claim ignorance, which is the reason why I asked this. I was hoping to ‘cover all the bases’ for why one would view this region as being strategically important.

I do mention the “New Great Game” only to the extent that I do believe that China, the United States, and other Great Powers do compete with each other for power (and that I do believe that all States aim to increase and maximize its power, so it’s not “unique” to this area); you’re right that the USA, India, China, and Russia all share common goals, but I also do feel that these common goals do not automatically erase any distrust and tension between these Powers. In addition, if one of the Great Powers feels threatened or believe that a Great Game is occurring, then it will take actions that will force other powers to react. I’m not married to the metaphor, in fact I loathe it (because it seems to adds more “strangeness” to this region than warranted), but Joshua used it, and I wanted to use similar terms to ensure similar communication.

Realist Writer May 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Er, by “American national security”, I meant “American national interests”. And it may be true that the USA DOES promote human rights and democracy, but:
1) It doesn’t appear to me to be the case (though this may just be due to my ignorance of the region in question and my cynicism towards “the use of internal memos and private discussions to said dictators and the miniscule funding dedicated to funding dissent groups” that makes me think that democracy promotion is mostly window-dressing.)
2) The United States must weigh a host of other aspects of the “national interest” as well; it cannot solely pursue policies based on these factors lest other aspects of the “national interest” gets sacrificed. So while democracy promotion may be a part of the US’ interest, there are other parts of the national interest that conflicts with human rights, and the US choose to sacrifice human rights to pursue the rest of its national interest.

anan May 26, 2011 at 6:26 pm

“US’ national interests are essentially what the US actually pursue in the region. The US cannot go against its own national interests, since the US has decided (rationally or not) what is in its national interests.”

Completely lost you. Individuals often act in self destructive ways that harm themselves. Ditto with countries. Every large plutocracy in the world perennially pursues policies that harm the national interest to advance the interests of small minorities. [US restrictions on sugar imports, and US ethonal subsidies among them.] Plus there is an incredibly amount of intellectual laziness, inertia, failure to try to understand covariances [how different things affect each other or the difference between general equilibria and specific equilibria], lack of curiousity, and group think among policy makers of every large country.

In general, central asia occupies very little mind share among American policy makers. Since there is very little curiosity about central Asia among policy makers, they don’t know what policies advance US national interests in central Asia.

To follow KISS [keep it simple stupid], the US state department should pursue long term engagement with Central Asia. US trade/investment/business collaboration with central Asia will likely have a far greater influence than whatever the State Department does.

In my view the US should focus on business development, institution strengthening, appeasing Putin, and ever closer collaboration with China/India/EU/Japan/Korea/international community as much as possible. Also focus on Northern supply routes for Afghanistan to the degree that Pakistani trade routes become far less relevant and use Russian, Indian and Turkish influence to make this happen.

Realist Writer May 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I don’t like changing the definition of “national interests” to be more expansive than what I have it currently. Yes, people can behave stupidly, but the implication that there are “non-stupid” people who can tell these “stupid” people what they are “supposed” to do is just incredibly patronizing to me (as well as wrong, often times, we don’t know any better that the State Elites). The idea that a State can violate its own “national interests”, while possibly true, just makes “national interests” a less useful and meaningful term for me (because if the State can’t determine it, who can?).

In my view, the US does not care what is my view and will do whatever it wants to do, so I would wish to find what it wants to do. My goal is NOT to suggest ideas to the US that will promptly get ignored or subverted by a variety of interest groups with much higher stakes in the affairs of Central Asia than I do, but instead to find out what the US WILL do and then possibly to suggest how other actors should react based on these factors. Maybe this mean I should never use the word “national interest” ever again, because it interferes with what I really care about.

anan May 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Agreed that the term “national interests” should be avoided since policy for all large plural democracies seems only slightly correlated with “national interest.”

One of the problems which your formulation is that it assumes that the US and all other large countries are monoliths, rather than diverse plural plutocracies. In large plutocracies a vast array of constantly evolving, forming and disappearing special interest groups form constantly shifting coalitions. It is the interplay of these coalitions and vast number of special interest groups combined with inertia that influence policy over time rather than “national interest” or “policy makers” per say.

This is why it usually makes little sense to talk about “US policy” as a monolith most of the time. Different parts of US polity and the US establishment simultaneously pursue different policies that impact central Asia with little coordination between them or even awareness about what other parts of US polity are doing and why.

A lot of what the US has done and will do in Central Asia kind of just happens almost accidentally without thought about holistic national US interests or national US policy.

Realist Writer May 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I disagree with you here. Though a variety of actors exist within a State, these actors ultimately work TOGETHER within a coherent and unified “system” of the State, which governs which actors prevail and which actor does not. The policy that comes out of this “system” is indeed US policy. Maybe US policy towards Central Asia is arbitrary and incoherence but only because Central Asia is an arbitrary term itself to describe a region that is in-between China, Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia and just lumps together a wide variety of different States with different leaders and populations. It is constantly in threat of being redefined as well: just look at how Pakistan and Afghanistan just got added into Central Asia as well in the OP. You might be more likely to see some level of coherency and rationality at the State level rather that at the Regional level.

The idea that special interest groups have so much power that the actual “national policy” is incoherent would lead to lots of States being exempted, including that of the dictatorships we’re dealing with here. A US actor could plausibly say, “Oh the dictatorship is horrible, but the dictator is just ONE actor; we’re funding and training the dictator’s military, that’s a completely different actor who deserve no blame from the actions of the evil dictator.” I am not going to let any United States actor off the hook for exploiting confusing differences like this.

Nathan May 26, 2011 at 8:35 am

I don’t think that aid improves human rights. Engagement does. Probably. If the generally better atmosphere in Uzbekistan from 2002-2004 is any indication, I think that on-balance, the situation is less crappy when there is a higher amount of US engagement — whatever type is available — than without. And for what it’s worth, the aid levels had little to nothing to do with how Uzbekistan performed on human rights (events in Georgia and Ukraine probably had more to do with the slide).

I am curious what you mean by “smart” aid and engagement. Given the nature of Central Asian governments, I think it should mean “low expectations.” Probably the best way we can spend our money is by funding lots of person-to-person contact in the West and in the region and doing what it takes to open the doors (and keep them open) to this interaction. The next generation of leaders is where we should expect to start seeing serious improvements, and we should be investing in relationships with them.

Joshua Foust May 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I agree with both points: engagement works, and we shouldn’t expect utopia.

Alan May 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

With respect to the OSI report, the Georgian police have been undergone remarkable changes with US assistance over the last several years. What was once a widely-perceived ineffective institution has been transformed into courteous and service-oriented police force. The Georgians I’ve heard talk about it have marveled at how much the police have changed. You can watch them in action here: (in their US-style police uniforms and hats no less)


While I tend to agree with everything Nathan wrote, I do think it’s worthwhile to have this discussion about what *exactly* our interests are in Central Asia and what kind of engagement would be most effective and realistic given the cultural, political and geographic realities (which I agree with Josh are widely misunderstood).

Again I agree the US must begin paying more attention to the region in terms of what we *know* about Central Asia, because it is a breeding ground for a lot of transnational problems that will directly impact Chinese and Russian foreign policy and of course NATO operations in Afghanistan.

That said, the opportunities for the US to leverage its own policy in the region are extremely limited. The fact is, if these countries need business or foreign aid they’ll go to China. If they need weapons or security guarantees they will go to Russia. And neither one will preach to them about corruption and elections.

Business engagement from the US will continue to be limited, because as long as we have a foreign corrupt practices act US firms will not be able to compete fairly with Russian and Chinese companies. That alone is reason enough (regardless of the nightmarish banking, infrastructure and personnel problems) for sensible US companies (beyond the energy biz) to look elsewhere.

In my opinion, the most important thing the US can do is encourage the Central Asian states to maintain responsible foreign policies with their neighbors and with those countries competing for influence in the region. The danger arises (and I think Tajikistan is realizing this now with respect to China) when one becomes overly dependent on one power and the matters of your own independence and sovereignty arise. Such disruptions risk upsetting the balance of power and may force the hand of Central Asian governments to “pick China or Russia” verses being able to play one off each other as they have in the past.

doyle May 26, 2011 at 12:19 am

“…pick China or Russia”…Yes, this, but the US is getting engaged in a bid to say, why choose between China or Russia when you can have the US as a generous partner.

One only needs to look as far as the approximately 4 trillion dollars worth of Central Asian natural gas and how tight a grip that Russia keeps on the resource transit routes across the Caucasus region to get a glimpse of it’s importance to Russia, the US, and China alike.

China, for it’s part wants desperately to develop an overland route through Pakistan via an extended Karokoram down to the port they financed at Gwadar to gain direct access to the Indian Ocean and a more direct route to the resources of Africa.

The US understands the importance of the resources and the importance of the economic placement and has conveniently used the GWOT in part to justify a presence to both have a proximity and therefore influence on the resources in Central Asia as well as a method to temper the adventures of China as much as we can. This is a big part of why Pakistan has emerged as a key focal point.

Terrorism is a factor, but far from the key factor in our presence in the region. I know Joshua dislikes the “Great Game” moniker and I understand why, but it truly is a game. A very serious one.

anan May 26, 2011 at 12:45 am

Doyle, no country benefits more from the economic rise of China than the US. Generally what benefits the Chinese economy benefits the US economy. This is why the Chinese generally push to the US to advance Chinese interests and free ride.

America’s primary demands with respect to China are and should be:
-please free ride on the global commons less
-please help Pakistan transform and improve itself.
-please don’t actually invade Taiwan

What other major gripes does America have against China?

doyle May 26, 2011 at 1:23 am

Economically perhaps, but for global resources and influence, China is our number one adversary. From what little manufacturing the US has left, China’s developmental rise is simply a decimating force.

anan May 26, 2011 at 2:08 am

Don’t understand what you are trying to say. Are you familiar with Ricardian comparative advantage?

Faster Chinese technological innovation is correlated with faster US technological innovation and rising US real wages. If not for rapid Chinese economic growth, the US economy would be in worse shape than it is and US investment and R&D would be smaller than they currently are.

Chinese and US interests in global resources are extremely similar. [India, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Thailand as well.] We both benefit similarly from greater aggregate supply in natural resources.

Rising Chinese influence also “GENERALLY” benefits America because America gets to free ride on Chinese investments with positive externalities.

One example of how China benefits the US would be Iraq. China, as Iraq’s largest trading, investment and business collaboration partner has been a major contributor to Iraqi GDP growth, reduced Iraqi violence, and Iraqi success since 2006.

Why should most Americans care about the percentage of US GDP represented by “manufacturing”? And what does “manufacturing” mean in practice? As the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and US Commerce Department define “manufacturing” . . . “manufacturing” isn’t growing more slowly than the rest of the US economy. But so what?

Having said this, Russia does seem to sometimes act in ways that disrupts global GDP growth. One way Russia does this is to try to force Central Asia to sell it Natural Gas at below market prices, while disrupting Central Asian exports of NG [or potentially LNG] to the global market. Russia also tries to increase global oil prices at the expense of global GDP growth.

David May 26, 2011 at 8:26 am

HRW have some details of that ‘service-oriented’ police force in action…

To be fair, the police may have improved overall, but I don’t think that propaganda video is a good guide to reality.

Alan May 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Welllll….I never said it was. But I’ll take the words of ordinary Georgians who live and work in-country every day over one incident that HRW uses to sensationalize and beat its human rights drum over. That being said, your report does not dispute the fact that the Georgian police have undergone the most dramatic changes among the security services of the FUSSR and it’s due directly to US aid programs.

Reuben May 31, 2011 at 3:17 am


More specifics on what “smart engagement” might look like would be greatly appreciated. Lots of people critique providing military aid to unsavory characters, but all too few provide viable alternatives.

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