Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Government



After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States recognized the independence of all the former Central Asian republics, supported their admission into Western organizations, and elicited Turkish support to counter Iranian influence in the region. Congress was at the forefront in urging the formation of coherent U.S. policies for aiding these and other Eurasian states of the former Soviet Union.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian states offered overflight and other support to coalition anti-terrorist efforts in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan endorsed coalition military action in Iraq, and Kazakhstan provided about two dozen troops for rebuilding. After September 11, U.S. policy emphasized bolstering the security of the Central Asian states to help them combat terrorism, proliferation, and arms trafficking. Other strategic U.S. objectives include promoting democratization, free markets, human rights, and energy development. Administration policy also aims to integrate these states into the international community so that they follow responsible security and other policies, and to discourage the growth of xenophobic, fundamentalist, and anti-Western orientations that threaten peace and stability.

The Administration's diverse goals in Central Asia reflect the differing characteristics of these states. U.S. interests in Kazakhstan include securing and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear and biological weapons materials and facilities. In Tajikistan, U.S. aid focuses on economic reconstruction. U.S. energy firms have invested in oil and natural gas development in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Economic development, democratization, and border security have been among U.S. concerns in Kyrgyzstan. U.S. relations with Uzbekistan suffered following the Uzbek government's violent crackdown on armed and unarmed protesters in the city of Andijon in May 2005.

Some observers call for different emphases or levels of U.S. involvement in the region. There are differing views on whether to strengthen or weaken conditions linking aid to progress in improving human rights and making adequate progress in democratization and the creation of free markets. There is debate regarding the importance of energy resources in the region to U.S. national security and about whether the risks posed by civil and ethnic tensions in the region outweigh the benefits of U.S. involvement. There are questions about whether U.S. military access will be needed after Afghanistan becomes more stable. Heightened congressional interest in Central Asian (and South Caucasian) states was reflected in passage of "Silk Road" language in 1999 (P.L. 106-113) authorizing enhanced U.S. policy attention and aid to support conflict amelioration, humanitarian needs, economic development, transport (including energy pipelines) and communications, border controls, democracy, and the creation of civil societies in these countries. This CRS report replaces CRS Issue Brief IB93108, Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, by Jim Nichol.