Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State, visited the University of Washington earlier this year and gave a talk to packed room of graduate students, faculty and community members, including representatives of the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association. He started his remarks by sharing the story of his own journey through a career in various roles focused on the region before launching into the United States’ role in the region and why the West should care. A podcast of DAS Rosenblum’s presentation is now available on the Ellison Center’s SoundCloud and iTunes channels.
Why Care about Central Asia?
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was great hope for the possibilities in the region, which later fell into a more realistic view that recognized change would not come so quickly nor so easily. However, the collapse offered a starting point for U.S. involvement in Central Asia with policy initiatives that supported the independent, sovereign states of the region. The U.S. felt, by the mid-1990s, that independence was an unfinished project that needed to be nurtured from promoting U.S. trade to democratic governance and free market economic systems.
The attacks on 9/11 presented a major turning point for the United States and Central Asia. The United States reached out to the countries of Central Asia about Afghanistan, encouraging them to join the effort to combat terrorism worldwide. It did not take much effort to convince Central Asia who shared a strong concern to prevent instability, fragility, and sources of terrorism in the region. Since 2001, it has been crucial for the United States to prevent failed states as they can be havens for terrorists and so its support for the independence and sovereignty of the Central Asian states has only increased.
How Does the U.S. Set about to Achieve These Goals?
First, the United States wants Central Asia to maintain their own security and helps them out by providing joint military training, by strengthening border patrol, and by working with local law enforcement. Second, economic prosperity is vital. The U.S. wants these countries to succeed because it creates better, long-term stability, focusing on issues such as internal reform and increasing connectivity to others in the region and to the world. Third, the U.S. is advocating for more accountable and transparent governments and respect for human rights. The U.S. especially stresses the third point as it is both important for long and short-term stability; a poor human rights record can be a recipe for instability in the region, something all five Central Asian governments are actively looking to avoid.
Questions Looking Ahead
As troop levels are being drawn down in Afghanistan, the governments of Central Asia have been worried about what this means for them. The U.S. has tried to stress that Central Asia still matters by having Secretary of State John Kerry visit all five countries in one trip. The issues that Secretary Kerry has stressed are security, economics, and the environment – three issues in which all Central Asian countries share a common interest, but over which relations have often been tense. Ultimately, Rosenblum believes that the U.S. will continue its 1991 policy of maintaining security and stability in the region, helping their economies function better, and encouraging transparency and good governance.