U.S. Influence in Central Asia: Causes of its Decline, and Tools through which to Understand it

The following paper assesses the United States’ diminishing influence in Central Asia, contrasted with the recent history of successful Russian and Chinese engagement in the region. It argues that one of the United States’ key failings is its use of overly-ideological foreign policy, designed primarily to win favor with the domestic American public, rather than for its chances of success ‘on the ground’ in Central Asia. The paper examines the dismal prospects for the United States’ “New Silk Road” initiative, and the causes of underperformance in past U.S. projects in the region. It also examines case studies of Russia’s effective use of hard power, and effective commercial engagement with regional actors by China. In conclusion, it suggests that Western observers should employ better analogues when analyzing corrupt, patronage-based and centralized Central Asian power structures, in order to more effectively gauge a policy’s chances of success prior to implementation. It discusses the merits of comparison between Central Asian elites and the 20 th century Italian-American mafia for this purpose.

Authors: Graham Lee