|the strong geopolitical case against Irak...|
<<U.S. Plants Footprint in Shaky Central Asia
A 'Great Game' Renewed
Central Asia has a long history as a venue for geopolitical intrigue. This was the site for the 19th-century test of strength and influence between Russia and Britain that Rudyard Kipling immortalized as "the great game." Then the area was the buffer zone between an eastward- expanding Russian empire and a nervous Britain that feared the Russians had designs on British India. Russian armies conquered most of Central Asia during the 19th century, stopping only at the Pamir Mountains and the Afghan border.
In the first years of the 21st century, the collapse of Russian imperialism, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the world's ever-increasing thirst for oil, have all contributed to a new kind of strategic significance for Central Asia. Geography is still critical. The five former Soviet republics and Afghanistan together constitute a zone of weak states in the middle of a neighborhood that includes Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran and China, whose western-most province, Xinjiang, borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In this setting, what happens in Central Asia can have wide repercussions.
During the 1990s the United States began to quietly build influence in the area. Washington established significant military-to-military relationships with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Soldiers from those countries have been trained by Americans. Uzbekistan alone will receive $43 million in U.S. military aid this year. The militaries of all three have an ongoing relationship with the National Guard of a U.S. state -- Kazakhstan with Arizona, Kyrgyzstan with Montana, Uzbekistan with Louisiana. The countries also participated in NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
"We wanted to extend our influence in the region, and promote American values, too," said Jeffrey Starr, a Pentagon official who was responsible for these relationships during the second Clinton administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Oil and gas have enhanced the region's strategic value. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan sit atop vast quantities of both. Geologists keep raising their estimates of Kazakh oil reserves as more becomes known about the oil fields beneath the Caspian Sea. The Energy Department now says Kazakhstan may have as many as 95 billion barrels of oil, or nearly four times Mexico's proven reserves. Chevron, a U.S. company, was the first to make a major commitment to the development of Kazakh oil, and the company -- now Chevron Texaco -- is investing billions of dollars in Kazakhstan.
"We have an enormous economic and energy stake in this country," said a senior U.S. official in Kazakhstan. "It's part of our national energy strategy." By 2015 Kazakhstan and its Caspian neighbors could make up one of the world's most important sources of oil, the official said.>>