The North Caucasus region has been a source of instability for the past several centuries. Most recently, Chechen aspirations to achieve full independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union led to two disastrous wars. While the active phase of the Chechen conflict ended in 2000 – more than a decade ago—the underlying social, economic, and political issues of the region remain. A low-level insurgency continues to persist in the North Caucasus region, with occasional terrorist attacks in the Russian heartland. There are few reasons to expect any substantial improvement in the situation for years to come. Chechnya functions as a de facto independent entity; Islamist influence in Dagestan is growing, terror attacks continue, and the rest of the North Caucasus requires massive presence of Russian security services to keep the situation under control. Preventing the North Caucasus from slipping back into greater instability requires tackling corruption, cronyism, discrimination, and unemployment—something the Kremlin has so far not been very willing to do. “Small wars” in the Caucasus resonated as far away as Boston, MA, and more international attention and cooperation is necessary to prevent the region from blowing up.
Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, since its independence, has successfully avoided favoring any one country based on what Astana styles as a “multi-vectored” approach to foreign policy. Yet, in terms of its conduct of defense and security policies, this paradigm simply does not fit with how the regime makes policy in its most sensitive areas of security cooperation. Indeed, its closest defense ties are still with Russia, which have deepened and intensified at a bilateral level, as well as through multilateral initiatives in the context of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Washington’s military assistance programs have therefore often run into geopolitical issues, such as the limiting effect on its objectives emanating from Kazakhstan’s political and defense relationship with Russia, or sensitivities to its close proximity to China, as well as internal issues surrounding Astana’s military reform agenda. Defense spending in Kazakhstan will also be subject in the short to medium term depending on how the government handles its unfolding financial crisis and continued exposure to the global financial crisis, coupled with the sliding price of oil on the world markets. These issues, sharply refocused by the Russian military exposure of weaknesses within Georgia’s armed forces despite several years of time-phased U.S. training and equipment programs, serve to question the aims, scope, and utility of American defense assistance programs calibrated to enhance Kazakhstan’s military capabilities. While Astana grapples with these internal issues and remains politically sensitive to the anxieties of Moscow as it perceives U.S. training and aid to the Kazakhstani armed forces, success will be modest. New, deeper and more closely monitored programs are needed and, combined with multilateral cooperative initiatives, should be a matter of urgent priority, otherwise, such programs will underperform and languish in the repetition of the misjudgements of the past.
The United States is witnessing a transformation of Central Asia—a critical yet highly understudied and misunderstood area of the world, which is seeing growing influence of China, India, and Russia. The agendas of these actors, as well as the United States, Japan, the EU, Turkey, and Iran, among others, have enabled Central and South Asian countries to shrink their connectivity gaps dramatically in the last 2 decades, aiding the U.S. grand strategy of advancing global connectivity. However, they could also potentially undermine a multidirectional connectivity and limit development choices for the Central Asian states, generating challenges and opportunities for the United States, whose global influence is receding. The U.S. future global and regional role and capabilities will depend on how well Washington adjusts its grand strategy in response to current and projected economic and geopolitical trends in the era of rising powers. As the United States calibrates its ends and means, its assessment of the importance of Central and South Asia for its strategy will in large part hinge on security trends unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether Central Asia will become a major pillar of the U.S. grand strategy, given the rise of China and India and the resurgence of Russia, remains unclear. But its goals of supporting sovereignty, democratization, and inter-regional links in Central and South Asia offer some hope that Washington will continue to support the region’s global connectivity, preferably by pursuing an engaged, long-term, and substantive regional strategy.
India’s impressive economic growth over the last two and a half decades has brought India’s role and interests to the forefront of global politics and statecraft. Importantly, it has put India into a comparative perspective with China, another aspiring Asian great power poised to stiffen competition for resources and influence worldwide. Both are resource-hungry and rapidly emerging powers seeking a new place and role in the global and regional orders. Both are also strategic rivals and consider their immediate neighborhood of Central Asia of growing strategic importance to their grand strategies. For now, China has outperformed India in Central Asia on all counts, securing the region as a key resource base and platform for power projection. India launched the “Connect Central Asia” policy in 2012 to shore up its presence, but the policy has not yet secured for it even a remotely comparable stake in the region due to aspects of India’s strategic culture and geopolitical constraints. Meanwhile, the U.S. strategic presence in the region leaves much to be desired. The United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan without major political or military gains from the conflict that has cost it and its partners a fortune in lives and money. The future of its military infrastructure and relationships with countries in Central-South Asia is a big unknown, with regional partners equating the U.S. military pullout with its waning commitment to support the regional economic and security order. To help unlock their strategic potentials, Delhi and Washington should join forces and cultivate a strategic partnership that makes Central Asia its major pillar. Until then, neither Delhi, nor Washington is likely to succeed.
The wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were lost before they began, not on the battlefields, where the United States won every tactical engagement, but at the strategic level of war. In each case, the U.S. Government attempted to create a Western-style democracy in countries which were decades at least away from being nations with the sociopolitical capital necessary to sustain democracy and, most importantly, accept it as a legitimate source of governance. The expensive indigenous armies created in the image of the U.S. Army lacked both the motivation to fight for illegitimate governments in Saigon, Baghdad, and Kabul and a cause that they believed was worth dying for, while their enemies in the field clearly did not. This book examines the Afghan National Security Forces in historical and political contexts, explains why they will fail at the tactical, operational and strategic levels of war, why they cannot and will not succeed in holding the southern half of the country, and what will happen in Afghanistan year-by-year from 2015 to 2019. Finally, it examines what the critical lessons unlearned of these conflicts are for U.S. military leaders, why these fundamental political lessons seem to remain unlearned, and how the strategic mistakes of the past can be avoided in the future.