In January 1996, the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a conference on “Asian Security to the Year 2000.” One focus of the conferees was the growing relevance of events in Central Asia. Perhaps nowhere on the continent was the Cold War transformation in the security environment more dramatic than in Central Asia. There the sudden retraction of Soviet power and decline in superpower competition was rapidly followed by the creation of new states, whose prospects for legitimacy, development, and independent survival were, at best, uncertain. The half-decade that has followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union has not been sufficient time for any of the vast challenges facing Central Asia to have been addressed definitively. Nor can we be confident that a stable regional “system” has coalesced. Yet, the past 5 years have produced an emerging pattern of relations amenable to tentative analysis.
Lieutenant Colonel Dianne Smith of SSI details the complex problems facing the region and then turns her attention to Central Asia’s evolving security structure. By involving the “Great Game” analogy, she takes the perspective that, for this part of the continent, it is the nations surrounding the region that will play the primary role in shaping its future (although the new Central Asian nations are participants, not pawns, in this struggle for influence). Colonel Smith’s analysis focuses on the interests and actions of five of those surrounding nations: Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia, and China. Each has significant interests in Central Asia, and each, thus far, has tempered, to some degree, its actions to advance those interests in recognition of the competing objectives of the others. For the United States, a power vacuum in Central Asia seems a remote concern at first blush.