The U.S. Needs to Develop a Strategy for Engagement with Caspian Region
Nov 14, 2016
The Trump administration will inherit an “In” tray on the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk piled up with foreign policy challenges. Eight years of the Obama administration have left the world more unstable and less predictable. America’s adversaries have been appeased; allies have felt abandoned, and certain regions outright ignored. One of these ignored regions is the Caspian Sea. Though often overlooked, this region is important in regard to many of the challenges the U.S. faces around the world, such as a resurgent Russia, an emboldened Iran, wavering allies, a growing China, and the rise of Islamic extremism. The region is a crucial geographical and cultural crossroads linking Europe and Asia and has proved strategically important for military and economic reasons for centuries. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. seemed eager to engage with the region. This was especially true in light of the energy opportunities emerging from the region. But by the late 1990s, the U.S. had lost much of its enthusiasm for engagement. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. sought to reengage with the region to secure transit and basing rights in the Caucasus and Central Asia for operations in Afghanistan. While the countries in the region were looking for a long-term relationship with Washington, D.C., once the Afghan drawdown began and the U.S. pulled back from the region, it became clear that the U.S. was interested only in transactional—not enduring—relations. The Obama Administration’s preference for a transactional relationship was shortsighted for two reasons: First, it created the perception among countries in the region that, as soon as the U.S. got what it wanted, it would move on. Second, it has diminished any good will that the U.S. created in the region, which will make regaining trust in the region even more difficult. Considering how important the region is to a broader Eurasia strategy dealing with Russia and Iran, this will have negative consequences for U.S. policy. Unless another unforeseen, game-changing event occurs—like 9/11—nothing suggests that the U.S. will reengage with the region at the level it should. Today, the U.S. interests in the Caspian region derive primarily from its security commitment to Europe’s NATO members, the war against transnational terrorism, and the desire to check Russian and Iranian influence in the region. Going forward the U.S. should have four primary goals in the Caspian region:
- assisting the Caspian in becoming a stable and secure transit and production zone for energy resources;
- checking Russian and Iranian meddling in the region so the countries in the region are stable, sovereign, and self-governing;
- keeping radical Islam out, and
- resolving the frozen conflicts in the region, because Moscow exerts most of its influence through these conflicts.