Event Summary by Matthew LaFond
On October 24, 2018, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) at the American Foreign Policy Council hosted a Forum entitled, “Can Regionalism Drive Development in Central Asia?”. Speakers included CACI Chairman Frederick Starr, Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region David M. Gould, and Rohullah Osmani of the Asian Development Bank’s North America Representative Office. CACI Senior Fellow Mamuka Tsereteli moderated the event. During the Forum, the speakers addressed a number of topics, including the history of regionalism in Central Asia, the economic benefits regionalism will bring, and how international institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are contributing to economic development.
CACI Chairman Frederick Starr began the Forum by introducing and providing perspective for common misconceptions about regionalism in Central Asia. He started by describing that the inhabitants of Central Asia are descended from two very different but interconnected ways of life: nomadic peoples and sedentary oasis-dwellers. This deep tradition of interdependence demonstrates that the diversity of the Central Asian peoples would not hamper regionalism. Another misconception he addressed was that the Central Asia region encompasses a vast number of different languages and ethnicities. He refuted this with the case of the Fergana Valley, which spreads across Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The valley’s inhabitants freely intermingle and share common cultural features despite their different languages and nationalities. Dr. Starr concluded his presentation with a history of regionalism in Central Asia. He argues that Central Asia’s modern regionalism was actually born under the Soviet Union; during the 1960s-80s, the Central Asia SSRs were intimately coordinated and managed to create a de facto autonomy. Finally, Starr demonstrates that regional elements have continued to exist since the Soviet Union’s dissolution. All five presidents have agreed on renaming the region “Central Asia” and making the region a nuclear-free zone.
World Bank representative David M. Gould gave a presentation of the recent publication, Critical Connections: Promoting Economic Growth and Resilience in Europe and Central Asia. In his presentation, Gould posited that connectivity and its relationship to economic growth should not be viewed in only one dimension (i.e. solely trade or migration), but rather multidimensionally. In other words, connectivity in one field, such as trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), migration, telecommunications, or transportation, complements connectivity in another. However, Gould also explained that if connectivity is multidimensional, then shocks in one dimension have adverse effects in other dimensions as well. Furthermore, countries that are more reliant on a single connection will be significantly more affected by these shocks. Gould identified this as a major concern for the region of Central Asia. Although connectivity is increasing, Central Asian countries are still very dependent on Russia. Gould concluded his presentation with a few recommendations: countries’ connections should be multidimensional and multinational, and a balanced connectivity profile is more important than being well connected in a single dimension. According to him, the remedy for shocks from connections is not isolation, but broadening the range of connections.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) representative Rohullah Osmani presented on the development projects that are connecting Central Asian countries. Osmani began by discussing the TAPI and TAP projects. He explicated that Central Asian countries face significant challenges that do not respect borders, such as the financial crisis, oil and gas crises, and climate change. To address these, he noted the newly launched Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) 2030 strategy, which expands CAREC’s mandate and seeks to better help CAREC’s 11 member countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement targets. To support CAREC 2030, ADB has committed $5 billion for the next 5 years. Osmani concluded his presentation by noting the results of a survey by the Asia Foundation on the impact of infrastructure on public attitudes. The survey demonstrated a positive relationship between infrastructure, employment opportunities, and public optimism.
The Forum then opened up for questions. Much of the discussion from the speakers and audience during this period revolved around the question of why regionalism in Central Asia has not already happened. Starr provided two reasons: sovereignty and a lack of committed interest by international institutions. He explicated that these countries have only just become confident enough in their individual sovereignties and opening up to their neighbors. Then he noted that international financial institutions are not embracing the region as an analytical category and producing a significant amount of data. Gould disagreed with Starr’s critique, stating that while the World Bank does adequately focus on Central Asia on a regional basis and that these countries are still very hesitant to open up internationally. Although there were a variety of viewpoints presented at the Forum, the speakers agreed that a new era of regionalism is emerging among the Central Asian countries, and if these countries embrace this greater connectivity, they are sure to be host to economic benefits and development.
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Momentous changes have taken place in Uzbekistan, at the heart of Central Asia. Reforms launched by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev have not only transformed Uzbekistan, but opened the door to a new spirit of regionalism that has swept Central Asia. This Forum marked the launch of CACI's comprehensive new study of the reforms, Uzbekistan's New Face, and provided the opportunity to hear firsthand from leading implementers of reforms from Uzbekistan.
S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute; co-editor, Uzbekistan’s New Face
H.E. Mr. Sherzod Shermatov, Minister of Public Education, Uzbekistan
Mr. Eldor Aripov, Director, Center for International Relations Studies, Tashkent
Moderator: Svante E. Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute; co-editor, Uzbekistan’s New Face
Where: The National Press Club 529, 14th Street NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC 20045
When: Thursday, Octobeer 4, 2018 from 3:00 - 4:45 pm
Event Summary by Hayden Gilmore
On September 14, 2018, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute hosted an off-the-record
roundtable discussion on U.S. Security Challenges in the South Caucasus. Speakers at the event
included Former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta, Senior Director at Penn Biden
Center for Diplomacy and International Engagement Dr. Michael Carpenter, and American
Foreign Policy Council Senior Fellow Dr. Stephen Blank. CACI Director Svante Cornell moderated
The roundtable started with a discussion on changing variables within the region. The
speakers acknowledged key issues currently affecting U.S. relationships with the states of the
Caucasus and major players outside of the region. These issues include a lack of U.S. policy
focus in the region, the loss of Turkey as a model for states in the Caucasus and Central Asia,
political leadership that is fearful of a resurgent Russia and Iran, and the influence of China’s
Belt and Road Initiative in the region. The participants agreed that the U.S. should respond now
rather than later as a loss of influence, business operations, and spreading corruption all affect
U.S. relationships with countries in the South Caucasus.
One participant argued that the U.S. needs to be more involved in the region and utilize
opportunities with countries willing to accept and welcome U.S. involvement. The example of
Georgia and its territorial defense program was mentioned in this context. It was suggested
that the U.S. should help redesign the national security of the Georgian executive branch, as
well as present new military and tactical ideas, such as using the terrain to the Georgian
advantage. The restructuring could have a major impact with minimal U.S. resources.
Another key issue discussed was the relationship with Azerbaijan. There is a potential to
improve relations with the U.S. by means of security cooperation, particularly maritime
security. The previous administration was distracted from the region, and both Azerbaijan and
Armenia now need reasons to place trust back in the U.S.
The topic of Black Sea Security was raised, and the roundtable agreed on the necessity
of increased security in the Black Sea. One participant discussed increasing NATO presence and
maritime domain presence. However, Russia could consider these actions as provocative. Still,
the importance of the Black Sea to European allies was noted, as was the close link between
European security and Caucasus security. Concerning the Black Sea, it was noted that a
Romanian port is needed as there are currently only land forces in the area and the naval base
in Rota, Spain is too distant. Maritime presence in the area would act as power projection.
Two important opportunities for the U.S. to take advantage of were noted: the first is the 2018
Armenian Revolution, and the second is the Caspian Convention. Focusing on the importance of
the Caspian Convention, the argument is that this agreement lays the groundwork for a
possible gas pipeline to Europe, enhances Azerbaijani importance to Turkey, and causes the
South Caucasus to have more strategic importance as an energy provider to Europe in the long
run. It was noted that Russia continues to play Armenia against Azerbaijan to prevent
democratic values from reaching Armenia. This will stall democracy and prevent the gas
pipeline from materializing. To prevent this scenario, the U.S. must provide support and
convince Armenia that sustaining the conflict with Azerbaijan is counterproductive to its own
interests, and the U.S. should ramp up its role in the conflict resolution process. This would
entail committing U.S. resources as incentives towards economic revitalization to encourage
During a discussion of the prospect of energy pipelines across the Caspian, a note of caution
was issued: the U.S. has been against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and for the Southern Gas
Corridor. Delays to construction through Italy though, could lead to a situation where Nord Stream 2 is built while the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, part of the SGC, falters. This would reduce U.S. credibility, and thus, before attempting to build Trans-Caspian pipelines, the U.S. should ensure the TAP pipeline is successfully constructed.
Uzbekistan has remained staunchly secular and taken a firm stand against extremist movements since independence. In recent years, however, Uzbekistan’s policies have shifted from a defensive to a more proactive approach. The recent surge of reforms has affected the religious area as well. Uzbekistan has taken major steps toward the promotion of what President Shavkat Mirziyoyev terms “Enlightened Islam” at home and on the world stage.
This Forum was part of CACI’s ongoing research on the relationship between politics and religion in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and coincided with the release of the Silk Road Paper “Religion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan”, by Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn.
Speakers: Svante E. Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council
Moderator: Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Where: Middle East Institute: 1319 18th Street NW, 20036
When: Thursday, June 7, 2018 from 4:00 - 5:30 pm
Full Recording of the Forum Below: