|Deputy Secretary Talbott
Address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
July 21, 1997
A Farewell to Flashman: American Policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia
Thank you very much, Fred [Starr], and thanks to you, too, Paul [Wolfowitz]. I've followed the Institute's work since it opened up shop 10 months ago. In that short time, it has become a major source of scholarship and public education. You have already made an important contribution to the American national interest in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
That region is opening up and reaching out to us and to the other established democracies. Let me illustrate that point with an image from a scene I witnessed almost exactly two weeks ago. It was in Madrid, at a meeting of the 44 countries that make up the new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. President Clinton found himself seated between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, and directly across from the Foreign Minister of Armenia and the President of Azerbaijan. The protocol may have been an accident of the alphabet, but it was symbolically appropriate nonetheless.
The Euro-Atlantic community is evolving and expanding. It stretches to the west side of the Atlantic and to the east side of the Urals. The emergence of such a community represents a profound break with the past for all the peoples involved, but for none more than those of the Caucasus and Central Asia, who have, for so much of their history, been subjected to foreign domination.
Today, they have the chance to put behind them forever the experience of being pawns on a chess board as big powers vie for wealth and influence at their expense. For them, genuine independence, prosperity, and security are mutually reinforcing goals.
The United States has a stake in their success. If reform in the nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia continues and ultimately succeeds, it will encourage similar progress in the other New Independent States of the former Soviet Union, including in Russia and Ukraine. It will contribute to stability in a strategically vital region that borders China, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan and that has growing economic and social ties with Pakistan and India. The consolidation of free societies, at peace with themselves and with each other, stretching from the Black Sea to the Pamir mountains, will open up a valuable trade and transport corridor along the old Silk Road between Europe with Asia.
The ominous converse is also true. If economic and political reform in the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia does not succeed -- if internal and cross-border conflicts simmer and flare -- the region could become a breeding ground of terrorism, a hotbed of religious and political extremism, and a battleground for outright war.
It would matter profoundly to the United States if that were to happen in an area that sits on as much as 200 billion barrels of oil. That is yet another reason why conflict-resolution must be Job One for U.S. policy in the region: It is both the prerequisite for and an accompaniment to energy development.
Let me review very briefly what has happened in the five-and-a-half years since the hammer-and-sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin -- and over government buildings throughout the former U.S.S.R. Thanks to the prompt and far-sighted response of the Bush Administration, we were the first country to open embassies in every capital. We airlifted essential humanitarian assistance to these countries in their first winters of independence.
By the way, it was at Paul Wolfowitz's insistence, when he was at the Pentagon, that the U.S. established Defense Attaché offices at these embassies; and it was at his behest that the first military-to-military contacts took place.
In the four-and-a-half years since the Clinton Administration came into office, our message to the states of the region has been simple: As long as they move in the direction of political and economic freedom, of national and international reconciliation, we will be with them. That is what President Clinton told Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia last Friday. It is what Vice President Gore told Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan earlier in the week. It is what President Clinton will tell President Aliyev next week. And it is the message that the First Lady will carry directly to the peoples and governments of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan this fall.
Our support has four dimensions -- the promotion of democracy, the creation of free market economies, the sponsorship of peace and cooperation within and among the countries of the region, and their integration with the larger international community.
Over the course of the past year, we have broadened and deepened our engagement with the region in each of these areas. Let me take them one at a time.
First is democracy. The requisite institutions and attitudes -- rule of law, civilian control and parliamentary oversight of the military, and respect for human rights -- are not, to put it mildly, deeply rooted in the region. The very newness of democracy is itself a major obstacle to the process of democratization. After at least seven decades of being ruled from Russia -- and in some cases much longer than that -- these states were, when they gained their independence overnight on Christmas Day 1991, ill prepared for the challenge of modern statehood. Many observers asserted that of the 12 New Independent States that emerged from the U.S.S.R., the eight of Central Asia and the Caucasus would be the least likely to survive.
President Shevardnadze has been particularly courageous in proving that pessimism wrong -- and in warning us, during his two visits to Washington, to make sure it is not self-fulfilling. The Georgian elections in 1995 were the first in the region that international observers judged to be free and fair.
Elsewhere, the picture is mixed. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state to have held an open, multi-candidate presidential election, but the government has launched criminal proceedings against some of its critics. Other states have committed serious violations of their citizens' human rights.
For our part, the United States has worked with international organizations like the OSCE, as well as with non-governmental organizations like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute to provide training and assistance to nascent political parties. We have also supported a wide range of home-grown NGOs, such as an association for the defense of women's rights in Azerbaijan, a Young Lawyers' Association in Georgia and the Association of Youth Leaders in Kazakstan.
All the while, we have spoken out publicly about human rights abuses and flaws in the democratic process, such as the shortcomings in the elections in Azerbaijan two years ago and in Armenia last fall.
In promoting democracy, we make the case that it is a condition for lasting economic progress. Only if the citizenry and the growing private sectors in these states have a say in the policies of the government will reform have the necessary backing; and only if these countries develop the rule of law will they attract the foreign investment they so desperately need.
As in politics, some states have proceeded more rapidly than others in the economic realm. Armenia and Georgia deserve a lot of credit, literally and figuratively. Both lack mineral wealth and have been caught up in serious regional conflicts. Yet they have been pace-setters in fiscal stabilization, privatization and progress toward real growth.
In Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan reached that last milestone - real growth - in 1996. Other countries, however, have yet to take the most difficult steps toward building a market economy.
Our goal is to help them in that direction. Since 1992, the U.S. has obligated more than $2.2 billion in overall assistance to the eight states of the Caucasus and Central Asian region. Initially much of this aid was directed at pressing humanitarian needs. We have also been a major donor to refugee programs throughout the area.
But we are now shifting our focus in the region from humanitarian to development assistance. That is the priority in the plan we have submitted to Congress for expanded assistance programs within the NIS in FY 1998. We are asking Congress to increase our assistance by 34%, to $900 million. These additional resources will allow us to increase our support for democratic and economic reform in Central Asia and the Caucasus by more than 40%. Even in straitened budgetary times, that is a prudent investment in our nation's future.
But there are obviously limits to what we can do ourselves. That is why, in our support for reform in the Caucasus and Central Asia, we have been close partners with the major international financial institutions (IFIs). Working through the IFIs allows us to leverage our scarce aid dollars with those of the international community.
American assistance has helped Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan implement one of the most modern and transparent tax reform laws in the NIS, and we have helped Kazakstan and Armenia with ambitious privatization programs. We have also aided Kyrgyzstan in establishing a stock market. Throughout the region, we're encouraging the states there to establish ties with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and other international financial and political institutions. We hope to welcome Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan into the World Trade Organization, on the commercial terms generally applied to new members, before the end of 1998. We have supported the efforts by states in the region to develop a Eurasian transportation corridor, to eliminate trade barriers among them, and to create a region-wide market through the Central Asian Free Economic Zone.
Meanwhile, we are also providing funding and technical advice to help the nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia overcome another grim legacy of Soviet rule -- environmental degradation, such as the disaster that has befallen the Aral Sea. This summer, we will open a regional environmental office in Tashkent to coordinate our environmental efforts in Central Asia. We are advocating similar regional approaches to transnational issues like weapons proliferation, drug trafficking, and organized crime.
Let me turn now to the security dimension of our engagement in the Caucasus and Central Asia. This September, the Central Asian Peacekeeping Battalion, made up of armed forces from Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, will host troops from the United States, Russia, Turkey and other nations in a joint peacekeeping exercise. These units will practice together their skills in minesweeping and distributing humanitarian aid. The image of American, Russian, and Turkish troops participating together -- very much on the same side -- in combating threats to the stability and security of the region is worth keeping in mind when listening to conventional wisdom about how the region is heading back to the future.
For the last several years, it has been fashionable to proclaim, or at least to predict, a replay of the "Great Game" in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The implication, of course, is that the driving dynamic of the region, fueled and lubricated by oil, will be the competition of the great powers to the disadvantage of the people who live there.
Our goal is to avoid and actively to discourage that atavistic outcome. In pondering and practicing the geopolitics of oil, let's make sure that we are thinking in terms appropriate to the 21st century and not the 19th. Let's leave Rudyard Kipling and George McDonald Fraser where they belong -- on the shelves of historical fiction. The Great Game which starred Kipling's Kim and Fraser's Flashman was very much of the zero-sum variety. What we want help bring about is just the opposite: We want to see all responsible players in the Caucasus and Central Asia be winners.
An essential step in that direction is the resolution of conflicts within and between countries and peoples in the region. In the last century, internal instability and division provided a pretext for foreign intervention and adventurism. In the last decade, since the breakup of the U.S.S.R., several such conflicts have erupted again. Let me touch on three and on what the United States and the international community are doing to help resolve them.
The first is the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Even though the guns are, for the moment, silent, the fighting of the past decade has displaced nearly 800,000 Azeris. That's over 10% of the population of Azerbaijan. While the cease-fire is welcome, it is also precarious, and the absence of real peace has hurt both Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The United States, through its involvement in the OSCE, is determined to help find a solution in Nagorno-Karabakh -- a solution that, by definition, will require difficult compromises on all sides. This is an effort in which I've been personally involved for over four years, particularly in recent months.
Along with Russia and France, the United States is conducting an OSCE initiative under the auspices of the so-called Minsk Conference. I traveled to the region at the end of May, and Lynn Pascoe, our special envoy, has been back there in the last several days.
The U.S., Russian, and French co-chairs have achieved an extraordinary degree of harmony. That solidarity seems to have induced some flexibility among the three parties to the conflict.
But there are still plenty of obstacles to further progress. One of those is domestic -- we have inflicted it on ourselves. I am referring to Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which limits our ability to provide assistance to the Government of Azerbaijan. This legislation, written in 1992, was intended to help Armenia overcome an Azerbaijani embargo. But it has had the negative effect of limiting our leverage with Baku and complicating our ability to be as effective as we could otherwise be as an honest broker. It has also made it impossible for us to provide the Azerbaijanis with assistance on elections, economic reform, energy development, and in other areas where it is in our national interest to do so -- hence our opposition to Section 907. I suspect you'll be hearing more on the subject when President Aliyev arrives here next week.
There is, of course, another conflict in the Caucasus, about which we heard a great deal from President Shevardnadze last week. This is the one in Abkhazia. President Clinton told President Shevardnadze that the United States is prepared to intensify its diplomatic efforts on behalf of a United Nations-backed settlement.
As for the five-year-old civil war in Tajikistan, that situation remains fragile and dangerous. We have provided funding for the UN-brokered peace process, and we welcomed the signing last month of a comprehensive peace accord in Moscow. We are prepared to provide aid for demobilization, start-up assistance for political parties, and preparation for new elections. The difficulties in implementation are sobering, but the recent accord offers a real opportunity for reconciliation not only within Tajikistan but with benefits for the surrounding countries as well.
That is the more general point to which I would like now to turn: The big states that border the eight nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia have much to gain from regional peace and much to lose from regional conflict. Some would say that is self-evident, but others would say it is "ahistorical" in that it disregards the inevitable and irresistible temptation of the Great Powers to replay the Great Game for the prize of oil and gas from the Caspian Basin.
Overcoming old prejudices and predispositions from the era of Lieutenant Harry Flashman needs to be a constant theme in our own diplomacy in the region, and we are using our good offices to that end. On all my trips to or from the Caucasus, I've made a point of stopping in Ankara. The Turks are making major investments in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, and are developing trading relationships with the entire region.
Turkey's increased attention and activism has been a source of solace and support to those who rightly worry about the projection of Iranian influence. But many Russians see the Turkish role differently. They worry that Turkey's growing involvement in the region might cut them off from the former Soviet republics.
Russia, of course, is the target of concern itself for reasons rooted in history - including very recent history. Under Czars and commissars alike, Russia's leaders in the past seemed capable of feeling strong, secure, and proud only if others felt weak, insecure, and humiliated.
Today there are still plenty of questions -- and, among Russia's neighbors, plenty of anxieties -- about how Moscow will handle its relations with the other members of the CIS. Whether that grouping of states survives will depend in large measure on whether it evolves in a way that vindicates its name -- that is, whether it develops as a genuine commonwealth of genuinely independent states. If it goes in another direction - if its largest member tries to make "commonwealth" into a euphemism for domination of its neighbors - then the CIS will deserve to join that other set of initials, U.S.S.R., on the ash heap of history.
President Clinton has addressed this question frequently over the past four years: "How will Russia define its role as a great power?" he asks. "In yesterday's terms, or tomorrow's?" Russia, he has said, has ". . . a chance to show that a great power can promote patriotism without expansionism; that a great power can promote national pride without national prejudice . . . the measure of Russia's greatness in the future will be whether the big neighbor can be the good neighbor."
One of the watchwords of our dialogue with Russia is integration -- the right kind of integration. Integration means that the doors -- and benefits -- of international institutions will be open to Russia as long as Russia stays on a path of reform, including in the way it conducts its relations with its neighbors, and that means the way it defines integration in the context of the CIS.
As I indicated at the outset, that is consonant with the message we are conveying to all the New Independent States, notably including those of the Caucasus and Central Asia. We believe that our presence and influence in the region can itself be a force for the right kind of integration.
Let me close by stressing that support for reform, democracy, economic development, and integration in that vitally important region is not just a task for the U.S. Government, or even for governments in general. Ultimate success will also depend upon the efforts of non-governmental organizations and businesses like those represented by many of you here today.
And it will require the kind of clear thinking, new ideas -- and constructive criticism -- that that this Institute has generated in its first year of existence -- some of which I look forward to hearing from you right now.
Thank you very much.
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