The US interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia

The forces of the United States and the Western countries should pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. How will things develop there and in Central Asia then? We can assume that the United States and NATO will continue providing limited military support to the current Afghan regime, and negotiations with the moderate Taliban will also continue.


After all, the experts, including Afghan experts, say that Afghanistan’s armed forces are not as strong or as well equipped, motivated and trained as they were following the departure of the Soviet Army in the late 1980s. The modern Afghan army is made up of people from the various clans and ethnic groups that have problems getting along with each other. Even if the the Afghan armed forces receive enough weapons by 2014, it is difficult to be sure that any government will continue.


After foreign forces withdraw, therefore, we should expect war in Afghanistan to continue and instability to develop throughout the region as a result of that war. And this time Afghanistan will become so unstable and volatile that no one will want to deal with it. That will again transform the country into a safe haven where the armed enemies of the United States and the West will concentrate their forces.


Therefore, many countries will likely continue assisting Afghanistan, and prior to the complete withdrawal of foreign forces there will be attempts at creating conditions conducive to getting the Afghans to agree on establishing a regime acceptable to all parties.


Some analysts in the United States believe that before troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan the country needs to develop a plan under which all nations of the world, especially countries in the region and Afghanistan’s neighbors, would recognize the Afghanistan’s neutrality. They believe the United States should closely monitor observance of that neutrality, and any country which intervenes in Afghanistan’s affairs should be subjected to economic sanctions by the international community.


There is another very important point to be made concerning the withdrawal mainly of US troops from Afghanistan: the US national debt. In 2010 alone $105 billion went to Afghanistan, and in 2011 the figure was $117 billion.


Senator Richard Lugar spoke his mind about the interests of the United States and NATO in Central Asia during visits he made to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in 2008. He confirmed that it is in the US interest to establish a multilateral and effective system in the Caspian and Central Asian regions for supplying oil and gas to Europe and other markets in order to reduce the dependence of European and Central Asian countries on the Russian energy monopoly.


From the standpoint of geo-economics, it is also important for Washington to redirect Central Asian oil from China to a market controlled by the stock exchanges in New York, London, Tokyo and Singapore and find ways to transport Caspian Sea resources without going through Iranian territory, despite the fact the route with access to the Persian Gulf is more cost-effective. That was the reason for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which transports Kazakh oil.


In addition, the United States has been very unhappy with the construction of the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that started operating in the fall of 2009.


Along with its economic interests and security concerns, the United States will also continue striving to resolve geopolitical problems in Central Asia — in order to neutralize Russia’s traditional presence and the growing influence of China, which the United States sees as its main strategic rival.


The US military presence in Central Asia allows the Americans to monitor the activities of China and Russia in the region and maintain a military foothold there, so they keep trying to recover their bases in Uzbekistan and increase their usage of Kazakhstan’s airfield network to support military operations by coalition forces in Afghanistan.


As many military experts have noted, American interests in the region for the near- and midterm and the resulting US goals for Central Asian countries include keeping the region’s countries engaged in American regional and global strategies by means of economic, military, political, ideological, cultural and humanitarian influences. Since Washington’s strategy is based solely on its national political and economic priorities, it would be highly undesirable for other countries in the region that are not US allies to grow stronger.


The basic missions that Washington will seek to accomplish in the military-political sphere include increasing its military presence in Central Asia and establishing a springboard for possibly intervening in Iran’s affairs, containing China militarily, and putting pressure on Russia and, in the future, on India, as well; and ensuring it is capable of reacting quickly to actions by international terrorists and Islamic radicals in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other South Asian countries and, to a lesser extent, controlling drug trafficking.


Its missions in the economic sphere include gaining access to the energy resources of Central Asia and surrounding areas; controlling supply routes to world markets; creating conditions for organizing a raw materials embargo of China and India, as required; and ensuring control over strategic reserves of uranium ore.


Cultural goals include the dominance of American culture and lifestyles and the spread of American values.


Thus, it can be said that the United States and the Western countries are very interested in strengthening their political, economic and cultural influence both in Afghanistan and in the Central Asian countries and will seek to be a major force in the distribution and consumption of energy and other natural resources in the region.

Leonid Gusev is a Senior Fellow at the Analytical Center of the Institute of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (University) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This article was written expressly for New Eastern Outlook.

Originally published in New Eastern Outlook

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