Since September 11, 2001, U.S. foreign policy has largely been driven by the demands of the global war on terror (GWOT). The GWOT initiated by the Bush administration has not only altered the American political landscape, it has strained U.S. relations with the rest of the world, including its allies. Domestically, many Americans complain of threat fatigue—an uncertainty about the identities and tactics of their enemies—the likely duration of the war, and the immense resources required for waging it. With a transforming domestic outlook, the international community is sanguine that shifting U.S. attitudes portend a new direction in the war, as well as U.S. foreign policy.
The Iraq War, which has never garnered enduring international support like the war in Afghanistan, has damaged the United States’ international reputation. In order to repair its image in the international community, the United States must engage in more robust public diplomacy. Regions such as Southeast and central Asia, where radical Islamic extremism is on the rise and regional counterterrorism networks have emerged to confront it, should be specifically targeted for such diplomatic action. A groundswell of support for public diplomacy has emerged in academia and Washington, as evidenced by the Council on Foreign Relations sponsorship of the Independent Task Force on Public Diplomacy. However, the call for public diplomacy has largely gone unheeded by Congress and the White House. In order to prevent the spread of terrorism or a recurrence of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan in other parts of the world, it is imperative for the United States to enhance its public diplomacy initiatives and exercise preventive diplomacy—diplomatic maneuvers that help prevent the escalation of existing disputes or the emergence of new conflicts.
This paper addresses three main concerns about the future of U.S. foreign relations in Southeast and central Asia in the context of the GWOT. First, it considers general problems with current U.S. strategy in order to demonstrate how public diplomacy and “soft power” can remedy them. Taking public diplomacy as the fundamental guideline for future U.S. foreign policy, it then examines the underpinnings of U.S. interest in fighting Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia, the “second front” in the war on terror. Lastly, it discusses the challenges that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—the Central Asian security institution—presents to U.S. foreign relations, U.S. policy options to balance the SCO’s regional influence, and prospects for strengthening U.S.SCO bilateral cooperation in the GWOT.
Public Diplomacy as Remedy: Problems with Current Strategy
Since its inception, the rhetoric of the “war on terror” has created tension between the United States and the world’s Muslim community. Although the United States targets Islamic terrorist organizations, many Muslims and their governments do not fully support the United States in this effort because they do not share the same definition of terrorism and suspect a hidden agenda behind the U.S.led campaign. The Bush Doctrine, an ambitious foreign policy agenda set forth in a number of speeches by President Bush following September 11 and outlined in the 2002 “National Security Strategy of the United States,” calls for the execution of the GWOT with a strong assertion of American hegemony and primacy. This unilateral approach was ill-received by the international community, and even many U.S. NATO allies. Furthermore, President Bush’s choice of the word “crusade” to describe the GWOT was not well received by the Muslim community. Segments of the Muslim population regard extremists’ actions as an expression of the inevitable conflict between the West and their own authoritarian rulers, and would rather remain neutral than take sides with either.
Meanwhile, intense media scrutiny of misdeeds on the part of the U.S. military, such as the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay scandals, combined with al-Qaeda propaganda, whose rhetoric intends to provoke Muslims to undertake jihad, play an important role in mustering new recruits to terrorist causes. Terrorist groups have successfully exploited modern global communications mediums, such as the internet and DVDs to disseminate their ideologies and to promote extremist narratives to audiences in affluent and underprivileged Muslim communities alike. The Qatar-based Arabic satellite television al-Jazeera is one channel through which extremists promote their radical views and influence public opinion. According to poll data, most viewers watch an average of three to four hours of al-Jazeera each day. Al-Jazeera’s notorious “field reports” that feature violent footage played over and over again, highlighting Arab defeat and humiliation, but which are not broadcasted to the average Western audience, can reach the network’s forty million viewers on a regular basis.
The rise of anti-Americanism among Muslims has been the subject of debate and analysis since the September 11 attacks. It is particularly challenging in the Arab world where the United States is heavily dependent on the support of Muslim populations to ensure the success of its state-building initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan, peace-brokering commitments in the Middle East, and its campaign to combat terrorism globally. According to public opinion polls conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia from December 2006 to February 2007, on average 74 percent of respondents in all countries support the goal of getting the United States to “remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries.” Fifty percent of all respondents also support attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. The fact that anti-Americanism is widespread in the Muslim world suggests that the United States has an inadequate appreciation of the importance of public opinion to the success of U.S. foreign policy in these countries.
The United States is ultimately engaged in a war to win the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims, and the GWOT demands responses at the level of ideas. However, the United States’ performance has been less than satisfactory even in the eyes of American officials. The current struggle against jihadist extremism is essentially a clash within the Muslim world between a minority of extremists who want to impose a radical version of Islam on others and a larger group of faithful but moderate believers who do not see Western values as being in opposition to their own. A 2003 Pew Global poll shows that a majority of respondents in Muslim countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, and Pakistan think that democracy would work in their country and that they do not oppose democratic values. Rather than continuing to exercise its military might, the United States would be wise to examine ways to invest more federal funds in its soft power in order to attract a wider Muslim audience.
Unfortunately, the United States has so far failed to develop a viable counter-narrative to that of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, and many Muslims around the world still believe that the United States is at war with Islam itself. In the same WorldPublicOpinion.org poll cited earlier, on average 79 percent of all respondents perceive that the goal of the United States is to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” Weaknesses in American public diplomacy have limited the credibility and effectiveness of other U.S. foreign policy instruments. In 2004, the State Department launched al-Hurra, a Virginia-based Arabic language satellite television station, to promote U.S. diplomatic objectives in the Middle East, as well as provide an alternative to pan-Arab news stations like al-Jazeera. However, critics charge that al-Hurra’s message was not well targeted to resonate with Muslims, and its questionable news selection, weak journalism, and uninteresting talk shows further tainted the United States’ image. With the terrorist threat evolving, the United States’ image in decline, and radical Islamism on the rise, the United States needs to recommit itself to public diplomacy as the best vehicle for forestalling recruitment of future generations of terrorists.
The main challenge in the GWOT is the struggle between the United States and radical Islam for influence over public opinion within Muslim communities. Muslim resentment of the United States and its foreign policies, if unchecked, will severely undermine prospects for building productive relationships between U.S. and Muslim governments, companies, and citizens. While the United States should not be motivated to change its policies just to win over foreign audiences, it should be cognizant that foreign attitudes and actions can affect the success of U.S. policies. The institutions and officers dedicated to public diplomacy must be equipped with the necessary resources, training, and authority in order to accomplish the job. Public diplomacy should become the central work of all U.S. ambassadors and diplomats around the world.
In terms of concrete policy steps, the United States should focus on promoting dialogue on three levels: (1) official intergovernmental relations; (2) Muslim civil society; and (3) grassroots, interpersonal contact. The United States should strengthen moderate Muslim groups and support their networks, as well as engage Muslim youth organizations through public forums. Even though the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, their voices are often drowned out by radicals, who represent only 7 percent of the Muslim population. In support of these “voices of moderation,” the United States should pay special attention to empowering young Muslims. In Muslim regions where anti-American sentiment is high, youth make up a significant portion of the population. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s 2008 World Factbook statistics show that 44.6 percent of the population in Afghanistan, 39.4 percent in Iraq, 38.2 percent in Saudi Arabia, 36.9 percent in Pakistan, 32.2 percent in Malaysia, and 28.7 percent in Indonesia are under the age of fourteen. Frustration with high unemployment combined with fundamentalist, anti-Western educational institutions, render the young likely recruits for terrorist organizations. Likewise, the United States could take advantage of the expertise provided by its multinational companies to help empower women, who make up a significant percentage of the workforce in Muslim societies. Research findings show that a substantial number of women in the Muslim world want to enter the workforce but are not permitted, including 25 percent in Saudi Arabia, 20 percent in Jordan, and 16 percent in Iran.
One of the first successes of U.S. public diplomacy initiatives took place in Southeast Asia, when the U.S. signed an agreement with Indonesia in August 2004 to provide $468 million over five years for basic education, water, and environmental protection. Subsequently, U.S. humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami in 2005 helped create a favorable image of the United States among Muslims in Indonesia, demonstrating that efforts to engage the Muslim world can indeed produce significant shifts in attitudes. Perhaps the fact that Indonesia is a terrorist target in the region, as evidenced by the suicide bomb attacks in October 2005 in Bali, made the Indonesian government more receptive to American overtures. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised the U.S. aid effort at a United States-Indonesia Society dinner in 2005 when he said: “There has been an incredibly deep emotional connection between America and Indonesia since the tsunami.”
Southeast Asia: The Second Front
Since the end of the Vietnam War, Southeast Asia has often been viewed as secondary to U.S. security interests. While the United States is currently preoccupied in the Middle East, it has good reason to be concerned about growing anti-American sentiment in Southeast Asia, and should divert more resources to protect its vital interests in the region. A majority of the world’s Muslim population, ranging from moderates to radicals, reside in this region, which encompasses the ten-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The rise of Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia has led both Islamic fundamentalists and the United States to identify the region as the “second front” in the GWOT. The United States has important economic interests in the region, with significant direct foreign investment and the presence of numerous American firms. Moreover, Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, is often seen as a successful example of bringing together Islam and a democratically elected government.
Since the inception of the GWOT, U.S. military action in the Middle East has provoked frequent debates, causing a surge in global Muslim consciousness. Indeed, Southeast Asian Muslims often base their impressions of the United States and its policies vis-à-vis the region on U.S. policies in the Middle East. This has both positive and negative implications for the United States. Immediately after the September 11 attacks, Indonesia’s then President Megawati Sukarnoputri, in a joint press statement with President Bush, became the first Muslim leader to pledge support to Washington by expressing solidarity and promising to strengthen cooperation in combating international terrorism. Since then, public opinion polls have recorded rising disapproval of the United States in the region, with the war in Iraq having a particularly damaging effect on public perception of the United States, especially among the people of Indonesia and Malaysia. According to public opinion polls, 79 percent of Indonesians had a favorable view of the United States in 1999. The figure dropped to 61 percent three years later, and following the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, only 15 percent of Indonesians viewed the United States in a positive light. In March 2003, 100,000 Indonesians joined a peaceful march to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta to protest the Iraq War.
Since September 11, the United States has often undertaken unilateral initiatives aimed at terrorists around the world, and Southeast Asian governments have largely approved of these efforts. Most governments in the region have agreed to participate in U.S.led initiatives perceived as conducive to their own national security. The Container Security Initiative introduced in 2002 to screen cargos entering the United States by container ship, and the Proliferation Security Initiative launched in 2003 to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, are two key initiatives on which Washington has pressed Southeast Asian governments to accede. In spite of heated domestic debate, most Southeast Asian governments have accepted these security measures. In August 2007, navies from the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States held a Southeast Asian cooperation against terrorism exercise in the Straits of Malacca.
The global nature of the war on terrorism makes it imperative for the United States to reach beyond the Middle East and forge closer ties with Southeast Asian countries with large Muslim populations. Since September 11, the United States has upgraded defense agreements with key ASEAN partners in the region. The United States and Thailand held the annual “Cobra Gold” joint exercise in May 2007, where over 3,000 Thai police trained with 2,000 of their American counterparts. Apart from Thailand and the Philippines, which are existing U.S. allies, security relations have strengthened with Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore participated in large naval drills with the United States and India in Malabar in the eastern Indian Ocean in September 2007. Cooperation with Malaysia has improved as well and normalization of relations with Vietnam has enabled Washington and Hanoi to begin establishing military ties. In January 2007, the U.S. Commander of the Pacific Fleet Admiral Gary Roughead visited Vietnam and announced that the U.S. and Vietnamese navies would engage in joint search and rescue exercises.
These improved relations have allowed the United States a more active role in Southeast Asian security concerns. In 2007, the United States offered a $5 million bounty for the capture of Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian terror suspect serving as a senior member of several terrorist groups in Southeast Asia with links to al-Qaeda, and wanted in connection with several bombings in the Philippines. The United States delivered nine helicopters costing an estimated $22 million to Manila in June 2007, as part of a military assistance program to be used for disaster relief and counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines. That same month, the United States awarded four Filipino informants $10 million—the largest reward to date in the campaign to rid the Philippines of al-Qaeda operatives—for information leading to the apprehension of Abu Sayyaf, chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani, and Abu Sulaiman.
Despite incremental progress in establishing a more cooperative relationship with its Southeast Asian partners, the Bush administration’s perceived Middle East priority has left many ASEAN countries and the Asian region as a whole feeling neglected. The feeling was especially pronounced following Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s decision to skip the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2007. Surin Pitsuwan, former Thai foreign minister and front runner for the next ASEAN Secretary General, said this decision sent “the wrong signal.”
In addition, during the same month the United States announced its decision to cut military and police aid to the Philippines by nearly two-thirds—from $30 million in 2007 to $11 million in 2008. This decision was reportedly based upon accusations of human rights abuses on the part of the Manilan government. A report released by U.S.based Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that more than 1,700 people have been killed or wounded in the Philippines in terror attacks in the past seven years, the highest number in Southeast Asia. While attacks were predominantly conducted by the militant groups Abu Sayyaf and Rajah Solaiman Movement, the Filipino government was harshly criticized for its failure to prosecute those responsible for the attacks.
Early in 2007, the Philippines House of Representatives passed the Human Security Act, a controversial counterterrorism bill intended to help the government fight militant groups. The bill was eventually revised after politicians and civil groups criticized it as a potential threat to human rights and privacy. Advocates protested that the bill contained an overly broad definition of terrorism, permitted the Philippine security forces to detain terrorism suspects for up to severty-two hours without adequate procedural protections, and allowed the Philippine authorities to access bank accounts suspected to be involved in money laundering or financing terrorist activities. Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at HRW, further commented that the vague language of the Act “invites the government to misuse it.” Given U.S. experience with enacting counterterrorism legislation, the Filipino government could greatly benefit from U.S. assistance in institutionalizing national security strategies and enhancing law enforcement, intelligence, and military capabilities to combat terrorism.
In its relationship with ASEAN states, the United States must acknowledge the growing Muslim identity and consciousness in Southeast Asia and should actively increase the application of public diplomacy there and throughout the Muslim world. The U.S. government could increase interactions with its ASEAN counterparts through expanded exchange programs, comprehensive aid packages, and capacity-building projects. U.S. assistance to Indonesia in the aftermath of the tsunami discussed in the previous section is a successful example of this type of endeavor. Tracktwo initiatives such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) are also effective channels for members to share differing perspectives, and jointly explore solutions to regional issues.
In order to counter impressions in Southeast Asia of a U.S. policy singularly focused on terrorism stemming from the Middle East, the United States should invest more in counterterrorism efforts, as well as provide aid in order to solve the region’s myriad sociopolitical problems, ranging from the need for greater government accountability to alleviating the strain placed on educational systems by growing youth populations. Programs that promote economic expansion and self-sufficiency can help reduce the opportunities for extremists to exploit economic hardships in the Muslim world. In Malaysia, for example, although counterterrorism cooperation with the United States remains a priority, an increasingly negative internal discourse on racial issues has affected Kuala Lumpur’s ability to take full advantage of its partnership with the United States. The United States should use bilateral dialogues with Southeast Asian countries to address each state’s unique domestic issues and to explore how these problems hinder effective cooperation in the GWOT.
Finally, in addition to offering public diplomacy packages, the United States could improve its image by promoting linkages between American and Southeast Asian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The United States needs to look beyond traditional policy instruments, such as increasing intelligence sharing and military defense agreements, and develop a more effective long-term soft power strategy for building and maintaining mutual trust between Americans and Muslims worldwide. It is vital for the United States to understand local sentiments and societal movements in Southeast Asian Muslim countries. Consequently, the United States should further cultivate interpersonal ties with Muslim states through increased exchange initiatives in institutions of education and research, cultural forums, think tanks, NGOs, and the private sector. The State Department’s Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program in Central Asian states, which is discussed in the next section, is a successful example of this type of policy initiative that the United States could apply to Southeast Asian countries.
Regional Counterbalance: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization
An interesting byproduct of the GWOT is that the United States has been driven to collaborate with non-allies in order to fight a common enemy. The GWOT has required the United States to institute tightened security measures, such as the Passenger Name Record system, and changes to its visa waiver program with a number of traditional European partners. Furthermore, the United States has actually expanded collaboration with its historical rivals, such as Russia and China, under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The SCO, founded in 2001, is comprised of six full members, including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Iran, India, Pakistan, and Mongolia as formal observers. The SCO is an intergovernmental organization designed to serve as a platform for counterterrorism cooperation and to encourage greater economic ties between its member states. Additionally, all of its members have experienced Islamic extremism or terrorism to some degree.
In recent years, as Western influence in Central Asia has declined, Russian and Chinese influence has grown. In Russia, there are two distinct groups competing for influence in shaping Russian strategic policy. While the relatively smaller and weaker group is composed of “Westernizers,” who advocate a strategic partnership with the United States, the majority is comprised of “Putinists,” armed with a more pragmatic and conservative outlook on foreign policy issues. The Putinists, who remain wary of positioning Russia too close to the United States, advocate cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism initiatives only when such cooperation serves Russia’s strategic interests. Over the course of the past decade, Russia has in fact started to favor a geopolitical shift toward closer relations with Asian countries, in an effort to balance U.S. influence in the region. In his 2008 New Year greeting to Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked: “RussianChinese relations provide a vivid example of friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation, based on longterm, strategic interests. . . . Strong interaction between our two countries in the world arena is an important factor of building a just world order.”
Both Russia and China view the SCO as a mechanism for reducing their strategic rivalry, and share the hope that the SCO can help to prevent “color revolutions” and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, both in the region and within their respective borders. Some Chinese leaders also see the SCO as a vehicle to expand China’s influence in Central Asia without causing undue alarm. By 2006, China had allocated substantial funds for project financing in economic areas identified by the SCO and had given $900 million in subsidized loans to support commodity production in Central Asian states. At the same time, the SCO offers an opportunity for Central Asian states to stimulate economic growth, as it provides their landlocked countries access to major international transport corridors through cooperation with neighboring China and Russia.
Both Russia and China are important strategic cooperative partners for the United States. While the United States has primarily focused on bilateral relations with these two countries, it should strive to promote a U.S.SCO dialogue to help reinforce positive regional relations, especially as both Moscow and Beijing consider the SCO a top foreign policy priority. Through cooperation with the SCO, the United States could help stabilize Central Asia, by improving its own energy security and strengthening the collaborative effort in the GWOT. Furthermore, since the SCO includes two of the largest global energy producers outside of OPEC (Russia and Kazakhstan), as well as two of the largest consumers (China and India), the SCO will become increasingly relevant for U.S. energy security in the future.
Since its inception, the SCO has played a very important role in enhancing regional counterterrorism cooperation and promoting bilateral and multilateral economic and political ties. As early as 2004, counterterrorism collaboration between the SCO’s six members was agreed upon at a meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Then, in early 2007, the SCO’s regional counterterrorism agency established a classified communications network and commenced training its own officers.
The GWOT has required the presence of American, coalition, and NATO forces in Central Asian territory which has presented strategic concerns to the SCO, resulting in member states strengthening military cooperation within the SCO framework. In August 2007, SCO member countries held a joint counterterrorism drill, “Peace Mission 2007,” in Russia’s Ural Mountains and Urumqi, China. The drill involved over 500 military vehicles and 4,000 personnel, mostly from Russia and China, with other SCO members observing. It was aimed at increasing joint preparedness to combat terrorism, separatism, extremism, and drugs and arms trafficking. That same month, China and Russia scheduled another joint counterterrorism drill, “Cooperation 2007,” which was the first international counterterrorism exercise for China’s armed police outside of the country.
Central Asian states in general support the U.S.led GWOT. Uzbekistan became a key ally for the United States in the GWOT in 2001 when Tashkent allowed U.S. forces to use the Khanabad air base for military operations in Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has offered the coalition in Afghanistan the use of a Kazakh airport for emergency landings and refueling and also deployed about 30 peacekeeping troops to Iraq in 2004 to help with demining and restoring water supplies.
Nevertheless, the SCO members are generally worried that the United States may use its military presence in Central Asia not only to combat international terrorism, but also to promote its own national interests at the expense of regional states. It is out of this concern that the SCO hopes to create a rapid reaction force that could take over full responsibility for regional security matters.
Taking into account these concerns in Central Asia, the U.S. Marines conducted a counterterrorism training exercise in early 2007 with Tajikistan’s Special Forces and border guards. It was the first such coordination between the two sides, although Tajikistan is currently home to approximately 200 French troops and several aircraft that are being used in NATO operations in Afghanistan. The United States also promised $14 million in military aid to help strengthen Tajikistan’s border security and anti-narcotics capabilities. U.S. assistance to Kyrgyzstan has also increased as a result of Bishkek’s acquiescence to Washington’s use of an air base in the region. In spring 2007, the United States announced its decision to give the Kyrgyzstan Air Force a Mig8 helicopter, purchased from Kazakhstan, as part of its assistance plan. In 2006, the United States supplied the latter with the Mig8 helicopter and four Russian-built An2 aircraft.
Although the presence of Russian and Chinese troops also triggered fear in some corners of Central Asia, they are generally perceived quite differently than U.S. troops. Given its long, unsecured border with Central Asia, Russia has a strong interest in keeping the region stable and free of radical elements. As Central Asia borders China’s western provinces, where Uyghur separatists have been challenging national sovereignty, minimizing external disturbances to domestic order has become a geopolitical concern for the Chinese leadership as well. Since China adheres to the regional political status quo with Russia and insists on its longstanding policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries, Russian and Chinese peacekeeping forces have been welcomed by the authoritarian leaders of other SCO member states. This policy of noninterference has also been enshrined in various SCO summit declarations. The 2005 Declaration of Heads of Member States of the SCO states that “multilateral cooperation, which is based on the principles of equal rights and mutual respect, [and] nonintervention in internal affairs of sovereign states . . . contributes to overall peace and security” in the region. A further SCO achievement has been the promotion of economic integration in the region. Given the developing status of member countries and their aspirations for greater economic development, closer ties and cooperation within the SCO framework could serve to knit the region ever tighter in the future. In fact, member states have already expressed on several occasions their interest in expanding the region’s trading infrastructure, as well as engaging in joint efforts to develop energy export routes.
Considering the nature and characteristics of the SCO, the United States should aim to push forward a series of confidence-building measures with SCO member states to generate further Central Asian support for the GWOT in the form of joint statements, official cooperation plans, or bilateral counterterrorism training exercises. In addition to the continued provision of economic, governmental, and legislative reform assistance to Central Asian states, the United States should express a desire to participate in SCO joint military counterterrorism exercises. In order to allay the fears of Central Asian states, the exercises do not necessarily have to take place within the Central Asian states themselves. The United States should also work on counterterrorism intelligence sharing with the SCO in order to gain the trust of member governments.
Since economic cooperation is a key component of the United States’ broader Central Asian policy, the American business community could play a pivotal role in promoting economic partnerships with Central Asian states. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Evan A. Feigenbaum, remarked in March 2007 at a meeting with the U.S.Kazakhstan Business Association and the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce that the United States is trying to integrate Central Asian states into the global economy through the promotion of trade liberalization. As Feigenbaum points out, American business in the region is expanding and is no longer focused exclusively on oil. In Kazakhstan, for example, General Electric is building a factory to manufacture locomotives for the regional market, FedEx is opening a new hub in the commercial capital of Almaty, and the power company AES has invested over $200 million into power generation in the country. Although it cannot offer state-backed loans or elaborate project credits as China does, the United States supports WTO membership for all five Central Asian countries, and has established a U.S.Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. Additionally, the United States and its Central Asian partners should strengthen cooperation in identifying impediments to the free and mutual exchange of goods and services, and jointly address these barriers through technical measures and conferences.
At the grassroots interpersonal level, the United States should continue to promote civilian programs, such as Congress’s Global Undergraduate Exchange program in Eurasia and Central Asia and the State Department’s Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, to help shape public perception in Central Asian states, especially among youths. FLEX was established in 1992 to provide an opportunity for high school students from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to experience life in a democratic society in order to promote democratic values and institutions in Eurasia. Over the course of the program, 14,000 high school students from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine have spent one academic year attending schools and living with host families throughout the United States. Since the beginning of the GWOT, the United States has made a special effort to accept larger numbers of FLEX participants from Central Asian states, in the hope of forging better bilateral ties. According to one young participant from Tajikistan, FLEX offered him a great opportunity to gain firsthand experience and understanding of the American way of life, as well as Western values; he is confident that his generation, if given the chance, can “help bring about a better future for U.S.Tajikistan relations.”
Over the course of the GWOT, the Bush administration has devoted tremendous military, financial, and human resources to the Middle East in an effort to stabilize the region, as well as to help countries rebuild. Nonetheless, the United States has still experienced decreased credibility both in the region and around the world. As the GWOT is ultimately a war of ideas and competition for public opinion, it requires proactive policy responses at the level of ideas. Furthermore, these ideas should appeal to Muslim youths worldwide to discourage recruitment of future generations of terrorists.
The GWOT has reshaped U.S. foreign policy not only in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the world, particularly Southeast and Central Asia, which is of important political and economic interest to the United States. Given that domestic situations can often hinder a state’s cooperation with the United States in the GWOT, the United States should carefully exercise preventive diplomacy in order to avoid exacerbating the current situation in Southeast Asian countries.
Meanwhile in Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization represents a new challenge to U.S. foreign policy. Successful cooperation with the SCO in the GWOT requires diplomatic finesse on the part of the United States, especially regarding the region’s two major powers, Russia and China. How the United States handles this delicate power balance both bilaterally and multilaterally will have a significant impact on future U.S. interests in the region.
No matter the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November 2008, one fact is certain, the United States must develop more progressive relationships with its international partners. With a reorientation of U.S. foreign policy priorities backed by more widespread public support developed through more extensive use of public diplomacy, the next U.S. administration has the opportunity to do a better job managing the GWOT and eventually realize victory in the battle of winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim population worldwide.
Peng Claire Bai is a MA candidate in security policy studies at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, and serves as a graduate research fellow at the university’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.