US diplomacy in Central Asia must adapt to a drastic shift in underlying assumptions, a leading American expert on the region contends. Two decades ago, when the five Central Asian states gained independence, regional leaders welcomed Washington’s diplomatic involvement. But today, this is not necessarily the case.
“US engagement in Central Asia is no longer a given. It's not something we can take for granted, nor is it something that is necessarily desired by the states of Central Asia – specifically, by the leadership of these countries,” said Roger Kangas, professor of Central Asian Studies at the National Defense University.
American diplomats, above all, should no longer assume that Central Asian leaders see US-style market/democracy as a development model worth emulating, Kangas indicated. “We're not going back to the 1990s, when the attitudes towards Americans were overwhelmingly positive,” Kangas said during the Nava’i-Nalle Lecture in Central Asian Studies, given at Georgetown University in late November. He emphasized during the lecture that he was expressing his personal views, and was not necessarily reflecting the thinking of the US government.
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Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.