In Defining Geopolitics and Strategy in Central Asia the question, ‘Do geopolitical theories help explain the US foreign policy decisions concerning Central Asia?’ was asked in order to better understand what affect the last century’s geopolitical theories have had on the current alignment of power in Central Asia. In order to continue the examination of U.S. relations in the region this paper will seek to view American foreign policy through the “4 P’s” as defined by Bruce W. Jentleson. (342) In American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century, Jentleson described the balancing of national interests as the “4 P’s” : Power, Peace, Prosperity, and Principles. Each one of these elements poses a set of questions that features “tough choices” for U.S. foreign policy strategy.


What is the scope of American power? What are its limits? How can the

United States best shape, sustain, and use that power?

The scope of American power in Central Asia is that of the leading world power or hegemon operating in a region of strategic interest which is a great distance from its base. The U.S. does not operate unabated and has seen its own designs disrupted in the past by both Russia and China. (Kucera 2012; Wines 2009) The U.S. utilizes its broad influence in both security and economic issues in this region in order to advance its own logistical purposes as well as to hedge against Russian and Chinese advancement. The Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is the primary interest for U.S. logistical and supply efforts in Afghanistan. That it is also in direct conflict with Chinese economic expansion is symbolic of the scope of American powers that have the ability and desire to contain a rising world power.

There are, however, limits to U.S. power in the region. This is evidenced by the planned closure of the transit center at Manas, the failure to secure top resource and energy contract bids, and the inability to procure a military base in Central Asia for operations after the 2014 military withdrawal from Afghanistan. If there is a way for the U.S. to maintain what appears to be a diminishing role in the region it will be dependent on creative use of triangular diplomacy and ability to ingratiate itself with the five republics. (Kucera Dec 4 2012) There must be more cooperation with Russia and China in order to prevent the type of competition that could turn into conflict. Relations with Russia are tied with operations in Afghanistan and the opium production that has a severe effect on Russia’s demographic crisis. Cooperation with China is more problematic since there seem to be little, if any, mutual interests in the region with the exception of security issues that have the potential to disrupt the flow of resources.


What are the prospects for integrating the other major powers, especially China, into international institutions that are key to system stability? Are new or significantly changed institutions needed?

Russia’s concerns have been integrated into U.S. plans in Central Asia through the use of Russian land and air space for the NDN as well as their shared interests in Afghan security for the purpose of limiting opium production and trade. China, on the other hand, has no tangible shared interests with the U.S. in the region and although it does have security concerns for its resources it is well equipped to defend its own interests. (Wines 2009)

Cooperation within regional organizations appears to be the best option for increasing stability but options are limited. Unfortunately when the U.S. attempted to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2005 it was formally rejected. While it seems that some sort of trade organization would suit the need of a platform for U.S. involvement, ulterior motives have been seen to dominate such recent propositions. The U.S. made its opposition known concerning the formation of a Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union when Hillary Clinton identified it as an attempt to “Re-Sovietize the region.” (U.S. News 2012) American influence through institutions may have to be reliant on mutual interests rather than U.S. objectives and some creativity may be needed in order for that to happen.


What weight should be given to, and what policies should be pursued, on trade and other economic issues in relations with the other major powers?

In Defining Geopolitics it was identified that the U.S.’s concerns in the region were more strategic with regards to Russia and with China, concerns were with its ever increasing need for resources to fuel its economic expansion. Not that trade with Russia is non-existent but the U.S. role in the region recently seems to be more inclined to facilitate trade with the Central Asian republics, which would reduce their dependence on Russia. (U.S. Trade Representative 2011) Given the recent report from the National Intelligence Council that suggested China’s economy would become the world’s largest by 2030, countering China’s economic development is the paramount issue for the U.S. in Central Asia. (Global Trends 2012)

While the value of Chinese trade in Central Asia almost hit $17 billion last year (2011) most of the investment is in mineral resource extraction and transportation. The U.S. is much better equipped to foster trade growth through on the ground, ‘grass roots’ style development featured by organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development. Cooperation between the U.S. and China on trade and infrastructure development initiatives aimed at bilateral cooperation through a Central Asian-led customs union would seem to offer the greatest opportunity for sustainable growth.


What priority should be given to the advocacy of democracy and human rights in relations with Russia and China?

With regards to Central Asia, Russian and Chinese human rights and democracy have little bearing on the U.S. role in the region although any sort of bilateral or trilateral agreements would require a standard level of each in order for mutually agreed upon development. Worker’s rights in developmental projects would be necessary for U.S. support and American interests would be deterred from situations that lack at least the semblance of democracy.

Lack of democracy and human rights concerns are real issues in Central Asia and nowhere is this more apparent than in Tajikistan where a number of issues have been raised. Due to issues of human rights and democracy the republic received the least amount of economic benefit from the NDN. (Kucera Dec 3 2012) In a 2012 report, Tajikistan: Recent developments and U.S. Interests for the Congressional Research Service, Russian and Eurasian specialist Jim Nichol identified a number of concerns:

“According to the State Department’s latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the most significant human rights problems in 2011 included torture and abuse of detainees and other persons by security forces, harassment of journalists, and repression of faith groups. Other problems included arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to a fair trial, and trafficking in persons. Corruption, nepotism, and regional hiring bias were pervasive at all levels of government, and high-level officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.” (9)

Each Central Asian republic falls short of ideal conditions in either category and if regional integration is to proceed with the help of the U.S. then efforts will need to be made towards some sort of reform. Whether or not this is likely will determine the level of U.S. involvement in such a plan for Central Asia.

The “4 P’s” as defined by Jentleson are indeed elements of geopolitics in need of balance in U.S. foreign policy. Central Asia offers a chance for the U.S. to improve in all of these areas. Triangle diplomacy could preserve what appears to be a diminishing role in the region with regional trade integration and economic development having a positive impact on both peace and prosperity. Each of these could be used as leverage in soft power attempts to improve the level of human rights and democracy in Central Asia and would help to regain the trust of the Central Asian republics.

What remains a question among those following the American foreign policy process is how much of a driving force will maintaining the position as the world’s sole hegemon be for the U.S. Will the position of the U.S. in Central Asia be in order to ensure a sort of “Command of the Commons” (Posen 2003) via unilateral strategy that exploits its military advantage, or will it strive for regional cooperation through institutions that seek multilateral ties to foster growth? The former approach seems more likely at the moment since there are various amounts of state competition in the region and the ideological differences between the U.S. and the regional powers, Russia and China, are currently and apparently irreconcilable.


Cohen, Ariel. 2006. “What to Do About the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Rising Influence” 20 September.

Jentleson, Bruce W. 2010. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century. New York: W&W Norton and Company.

Kucera, Joshua. 2012. “Central Asia: Washington Must Adapt to Diminished Role in Central Asia – Expert”, 4 December.

Kucera, Josh. 2012. “”Bakiyev Can Be Bought”: U.S. Embassy Tied Rent for Kyrgyz Air Base To President’s Reelection”, 5 January.

Klapper, Bradley. 2012. “Clinton fears efforts to ‘re-Sovietize’ in Europe” U.S. News & World Report. 6 December.

Nichol, Jim. 2012. “Tajikistan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests.” Congressional Research Service, 31 August: p. 9.

Office of the United States Trade Representative. 2011. United States and Kazakhstan Sign Bilateral Agreement that will Open Markets, Support American Jobs. Washington, D.C.

Posen, Barry. 2003. “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of US Hegemony” International Security, Vol. 28, No. 1. The MIT Press.

Wines, Michael. 2012. “China Willing to Spend Big on Afghan Commerce.” New York Times, 29 December.