Uzbekistan Turns Into American Ally in Central Asia

Wikistrat analyzes the costs and benefits of American efforts to boost ties with Uzbekistan as it moves away from Moscow.

Two successful visits from State Secretary Hillary Clinton and a visit of the Uzbek parliamentary delegation to the United States point to an establishment of increasingly close ties between the two states.

The United States seek to cement their relationship with Uzbekistan, a valuable strategic ally in the region, in order to reopen a transit point on Uzbek territory. The United States aim to keep some military personnel and equipment in Central Asia after the anticipated withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and, as such, Washington is conducting bilateral talks with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All three are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, with headquarters in Moscow. The United States’ bilateral strategic cooperation with either of these states would require the consent of the CSTO.

Analysis

The United States State Department is extending relations with Uzbekistan now that it has left the CSTO.

The Pentagon has worked to strengthen its relationship with Uzbekistan as a geostrategic partner during the withdrawl of troops from Afghanistan. As Central Asia struggles to forge regional bonds, the United States have offered Tashkent the opportunity to develop beyond the Russian influence. The starting point will be the use of military bases in 2014.

This, however, will likely prove to be a sticking point for Russia which will not look kindly on Uzbekistan’s exit from the CSTO only to open bases for NATO. For hawks in Moscow, this translates into an ever expanding ring of containment around Russia and the degradation of their own security organization meant to oppose NATO expansion into the former Soviet space.

For its part, Russian fears of NATO encirclement will have to be allayed if the United States hope to create stability in Central Asia. Russia is seeks stability but on its term and not to the advantage of the the West.

Uzbekistan is not stable and among the world’s worst in terms of democratic freedoms and human rights.

The United States have recently eased restrictions on military assistance to Uzbekistan and adopted a policy of engagement with the regime. If governance and the human rights situation do not improve, the United States could find themselves tied to an endangered state facing civil unrest and international approbation. America does not need to be seen as again partnering with an unpopular, nondemocratic regime to achieve its strategic goals.

Furthermore, if Russia is not co-opted within some sort of regional security framework, the authoritarian regime in Tashkent could easily play the great powers against each other, all the while consolidating its domestic position. Russia itself could easily manipulate and destabilize conditions in Uzbekistan, making the American position even more difficult.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

The United States could secure an important regional ally that could quarter a quick reaction force should things go awry in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal. Uzbekistan could benefit from economic development assistance and possibly forestall Islamic radicalism.

Risks

The United States risk another unpopular foreign entanglement with a despotic regime while antagonizing Russia, possibly to the extent of losing access to its Northern Distribution Network.

Dependencies

How committed is the Uzbek regime to democratic liberalization?

How will the Russians react to Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the CSTO?

Is partnership with the United States really in Uzbekistan’s long-term interests?

How will domestic political factions respond to American entrenchment in Uzbekistan?

Michael Breen, Ruben Gzirian, Patrick Hall, Gunel Malikova and Michael Moreland contributed to this analysis.