Amidst the pomp and spectacle of the U.S. Republican Party’s formal nominating of Donald Trump for the presidency, a separate milestone during the lead-up to the November presidential election went largely unnoticed. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has earned its own section within a major party’s platform document.
Interestingly, Central Asia’s appearance as a separate, identifiable entity within a party plank doesn’t come in the Democratic document, whose draft text, like all of those over the past quarter-century, doesn’t mention the region. Rather, the section comes within the Republican Party’s platform, which will be buoying Trump in the lead-up to the vote.
This isn’t the first time “Central Asia,” as a phrase outright, has appeared in a party plank; that honor goes to the 2004 Republican platform, which gave a brief nod to “strengthening NATO’s partnership with … neighbors in the Caucasus and Central Asia.” (That platform was followed a few months later by Uzbekistan summarily booting American forces in the fallout from the 2005 Andijan massacre.) However, this year’s mention goes well beyond that 2004 cameo — and is worth quoting in full:
We urge greater attention in U.S. diplomacy, trade, and strategic planning, to the nations of Eurasia, formerly parts of the Soviet Empire. Caught between their two authoritarian neighbors, their path toward democratic institutions has been uncertain. We urge our government and our allies to work toward the integration of the Central Asian republics into the global economy through foreign investment, which can bring with it market and political reforms and a firmer establishment of the rule of law. Those developments will not only improve the living conditions throughout that vast area but are likely to reduce the lure of the radical ideologies that already threaten the region.
This paragraph devoted to Central Asia, which comes attached to the GOP’s broader position on European security, isn’t surprising solely for its mere existence. Rather, in a party that has seen its voters elect a nominee who has termed Mexican immigrants “rapists” and has threatened to ban Muslims from entering the United States, the plank’s discussion on Central Asia appears oddly anodyne. The recommendations — integrating Central Asia “into the global economy through foreign investment” — fit largely within Washington’s diplomatic approach to the region, including the comatose New Silk Road Initiative. If anything, it’s something of a throwback to U.S. policy under the Obama administration’s first term, which saw a wane from the Bush-era emphasis on securitized relations.
Of course, platforms are widely panned in the United States for their general lack of importance, and for their focus solely on base topics and tactics. Moreover, there’s little likelihood someone like Trump–with his penchant for policies that are closer to Central Asia’s dictatorial model than any prior major presidential candidate–would heed the platform’s calls to stick to economic investment. If anything, there’s every reason to believe the current tack toward re-securitizing Washington’s relationship with the region would accelerate.
Trump, after all, has praised Putin’s authoritarian tactics and, by extent, those post-Soviet autocrats of a similar vein. He has hired as his campaign chair a former lobbyist for Ukraine’s evicted strongman. The Republican nominee not only said this week that he would not automatically honor NATO agreements in the Baltics, but has further surrounded himself with advisers who are outspoken in their praise for the region’s decades-long authoritarian entrenchment. Adviser Michael Flynn, who spoke on the first evening of the Republican National Convention, was spotted giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a standing ovation a few months ago at a black-tie gala for a Kremlin-funded propaganda outlet, a channel on which Flynn often appears. And one of Trump’s unofficial advisers, Carter Page, recently slammed the United States’ “often-hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.” Page had also claimed that Washington“instigated revolution” in Ukraine and, bizarrely, that “the entirety of Ukraine” was “annex[ed]…by a few officials in Washington which started that region’s current disorder in the first place.”
While Clinton oversaw the New Silk Road Initiative’s thundering flop, her policy prescriptions will likely hew far closer to what the GOP platform lays out than what Trump would ever bring. That said, the Republican Party receives due credit for laying out a relatively straightforward, and even-keeled, approach to Central Asia. Indeed, the GOP approach may pay dividends at some point in the future — so long as Trump’s delegates stop shoving Moscow-friendly language into the Republican platform, at least.