Russia, China, and the United States in Central Asia: Prospects for Great Power Competition and Cooperation in the Shadow of the Georgian Crisis, by Elizabeth Wishnick. February 27, 2009, Strategic Studies Institute
Russia and China have been reacting to the pressures of changing U.S.-Central Asia policy over the past 5 years as has the United States. In response to the “color” revolutions, they achieved broad agreement on the priority of regime security and the need to limit the long-term military presence of the United States in Central Asia. These are also two key areas—defining the political path of Central Asian states and securing a strategic foothold in the region—where the United States finds itself in competition with Russia and China. The Russia-China partnership should not be seen as an anti-U.S. bloc, nor should the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) be viewed as entirely cohesive. Although there is considerable suspicion of U.S. designs on Central Asia, divergent interests within the SCO, among Central Asian states, and especially between Russia and China serve to limit any coordinated anti-U.S. activity. Despite the fissures within the SCO and the competitive tendencies within the Sino-Russian partnership, the United States will not have an easy time achieving its aims in Central Asia. The author documents how American policy goals—energy cooperation, regional security, and support for democracy and the rule of law—continue to run at cross-purposes with one another. In particular, she asserts that competition to secure basing arrangements and energy contracts only benefits authoritarian regimes at the expense of enduring regional security. She argues further that the rhetoric about a new Cold War in the aftermath of the Georgian crisis, and the more general tendency to view U.S.-Russia-China competition in the region with 19th century lenses, as some sort of “new great game,” obscures the common interests the great powers share in addressing transnational problems in Central Asia.