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Strategic Consequences of the Iraq War: U.S. Security Interests in Central Asia Reassessed

Authored by Dr. Elizabeth Wishnick. | May 2004

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Support for continuing operations in Afghanistan and for antiterrorism has been the driving force for the strengthening of American security cooperation with Central Asia. This monograph 1) explores the military rationale for U.S. security interests in Central Asia; 2) examines the impact of the Iraq war on the sustainability of U.S. forward basing in Central Asia; 3) evaluates the broader consequences for U.S. foreign policy of an American military presence in Central Asia; and 4) assesses the implications for the U.S. Army.
The U.S.-led war in Iraq has introduced new complications into security cooperation between the United States and Central Asia and revealed inconsistencies in the U.S. approach to regional security. The increased U.S. security focus on the region has led other regional powers--especially Russia, China, and India--to compete for influence there more overtly, and a continued American military presence is likely to create tensions in Russian-American relations in particular. Central Asian leaders concerned about the implications of the U.S. interest in ?regime change? for their own rule, now have an added incentive to overstate terrorist threats facing their countries, while justifying the persecution of any political opposition and peaceful religious activity.
By highlighting antiterrorism in U.S. security cooperation with Central Asia, the United States addresses a symptom, rather than the causes of regional security; thus it is pursuing a counterproductive strategy, contributing to the radicalization of political opposition movements and discrediting both democratization and the U.S. commitment to it. Instead, the United States should do more to address the underlying human security problems in the region, which increase its vulnerability to terrorist movements. To this end, the U.S. Army should contribute to humanitarian demining efforts and expand training in drug interdiction there.