By Svante E. Cornell

in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Published in Staff Publications

 

Uzbekistan’s New Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity under New Leadership

 

Uzbekistan’s foreign policy has undergone significant changes since the transition that brought Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the Presidency. Most notable has been the country’s outreach to Uzbekistan’s neighbors, including Afghanistan, which has a transformative potential for Central Asia as a whole. Uzbekistan has also reached out to the international community beyond Central Asia, while maintaining the country’s long-standing policy of eschewing membership in Russian-led integrative structures.

The Forum event, moderated by CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr, featured a summary of a new Silk Road Paper authored by Richard Weitz on the subject, and provided opportunity for discussion.

Speakers:
Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Military-Political Analysis, Hudson Institute

John Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council, Ambassador (Ret.)

Moderator: Fred Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

The event took place on January 22, at 1319 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, from 11:00 to 12:30 pm.

Published in Forums & Events
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 19:02

S. Frederick Starr Interviewed by Sayasat

CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr was interviewed by Sayasat.org about America in Central Asia.

Click here to read the interview.

Published in News

 Secular Governance in Central Asia: the Case of Kazakhstan

Event Summary by Sarah Martin

On Tuesday, December 12, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) hosted an off-the-record roundtable discussion at the American Foreign Policy Institute on Kazakhstan’s unique form of secular governance among its Central Asian and compared to its Western counterparts. The event was a continuation of CACI’s research on the models of secularism in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The previous discussion unpacked practices of secularism as found in Azerbaijan. This event also follows the release of a Silk Road Paper on Kazakhstan’s relationship with Europe.

As CACI tracks and evaluates the government models in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, the intent is to build a larger, more comprehensive image of secularism as experienced and practiced in the entire Central Asian region. Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular have the potential to be an important partner to the United States and Europe in their fight against radical Salafi-jihadism and their defense against Russian aggression. However, Dr. Cornell noted that an understanding between the US and Central Asian states is critical. As of yet, there is a jarring disconnect between Washington and Astana, and that disconnect lies on either country’s understanding of the relationship between politics, religion and their society’s tolerance for extremism.

The mixing of religion and politics in the Islamic world has led to unpleasant and costly experiences, Dr. Cornell said, though it is not for lack of trying. Turkey is one such example. The West once heralded Turkey’s secular model as a prime example of modernization done correctly in the Middle East. Later, this approach changed to a sense that secularism was unnatural and counter-democratic; instead, “moderate Islam” enjoyed American and European support. However, Turkey’s recent rejection of democracy, its embracing of authoritarianism charged with a resurgence of conservative Islamic rhetoric, has left much room for skepticism regarding the relationship between religion and politics. Some even suggest that a moderate model of religious-leaning forms of government in the Middle East is unfeasible, considering that within Muslim-majority states, sharia law is widely supported, according to a Pew study. In any case, the record of “moderate Islamism” is not encouraging and there is a growing realization of this – but not of what western powers should support instead. In this regard, a growing interest in secular governance should not be excluded. Some developments, such as Saudi Arabia’s recent shift, may indicate that change is on the horizon. “There is an appetite for new ideas,” Dr. Cornell said. The challenge is that within the Middle East and North Africa, there are little to no examples of enduring, secular governments. Dr. Cornell suggest that as scholars and policymakers, organizations and governments ought to look further east to the former Soviet sphere of Central Asia for these examples.

It is widely assumed that “secularism” in Central Asia is a form of light atheism, vestigial limbs of the Soviet period. This is not the case, Dr. Cornell points out, and it is this base assumption that erroneously shades the West from fully appreciating the experiment in governance that Kazakhstan, for instance, is attempting to do. Indeed, during the early 1990s, the governments of the Central Asian republics engaged in lively conversation and rigorous debate regarding what type of government they were to pursue in their newfound independence. Overwhelmingly, the consensus was towards a government that kept an arm’s length distance to religion and matters of faith. This was an active decision made by the people who lived and considered Kazakhstan home.

Independence from the Soviet Union meant more than simply a reclaiming of political autonomy. It meant opening up to the broader world of Islam for the first time in decades. Kazakhstan is a  multi-confessional state, in that more faiths than just Islam call the country home. After 1991, missionaries from many directions including Saudi Arabia and South Asia, came to spread their particular interpretation of Islam. Christian missionaries from Europe, America, and South Korea also entered the fray. However, this onslaught of foreign missionaries  led to anxiety from government officials, in particular as well-funded radical groups from the Gulf established a presence in the country. In 2011 and 2016, a series of terror attacks caused Astana to reconsider their approach to religious affairs.

Kazakhstan sought to temper the influence of Salafi-jihadism by actively promoting “indigenous” faiths – Hanafi Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy – and by regulating practices of religion by requiring religious communities to register with the state. It is not the local and old faiths that post a threat to the state, Dr. Cornell said, it is the new wave of new faiths and interpretations, and that is what Astana is trying to stem the tide and influence of.

Actions such as these have drawn ire from organizations and government agencies like the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which deride Kazakhstan and other states for not creating an open environment of religious freedom. There is a linguistic challenge in describing exactly what Kazakhstan seeks to do, Dr. Cornell explains. The challenge stems from the assumption that secular governance equals the freedom of religion established with the U.S. constitution. But the French model of secular government, laïcité, aims not to create a public space of different religions, but to stem the influence of a dominant religious tradition over public life. There is no English equivalent to the term, and many in the anglophone world conflate French laïcité with their own understanding of secularism.

Dr. Cornell suggested that because of this fundamental difference, Western and Central Asian governments tend to talk over and by one another. He also said that what is needed before anything is an honest dialogue trying to understand and accept the premises of Kazakhstan’s model of secularism and what they are attempting to accomplish.

The questions asked and points raised by members of the audience were thought provoking and facilitated a lively conversation. One member of the audience inquired about the nature of Islam and its relationship with democracy, as is often a point of discussion. Dr. Cornell answered that there is nothing unnatural or un-Islamic about what is happening in Central Asia, and that there is no reason to assume the Muslim world is and should be more akin to Saudi Arabia or even Iran than to Kazakhstan.

Another member of the audience raised the issue of state-building. It was asked what measures Kazakhstan could take to encourage a sense of “state” rather than driving out all of the Salafi-jihadists. Dr. Cornell responded that there must be means and ways of creating a positive content of secularism, strengthening the sense of Kazakhstani identity and filling it with meaning, rather than focusing only on excluding all the elements considered untoward. 

 

Published in Forums & Events

 Read at The Hill

 By Mamuka Tsereteli

Since the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, the United States has been involved in protecting trade routes while advancing a policy of open trade and shared access to resources. Free access to global commodities like oil, grains and metals remains an important goal of the U.S. national interest, guaranteeing global economic and political stability.

Published in Staff Publications

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News

  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
     
    Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
     
    But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
     
    Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
     
    To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
     
    Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
     
    Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
     
    Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
     
    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
     
    By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
     
    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
     
    Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
     
    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
     
    Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
     
    Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
     
    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 
     

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...