Interview with Kazakhstani Weekly, EpokhaEvan A. Feigenbaum , Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
September 22, 2006
Question: The main values of U.S. foreign policy are national security, free trade and growth, which are all preconditioned by viable democracy. How would you estimate Kazakhstan's progress in meeting the standards of democracy? Do you think that it may be sometimes possible to reach political sustainability and coherent economic growth without democratic institutions?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: Economic liberalization can—and has—produced rapid economic growth in many countries. South Korea and Taiwan began this process in the 1960s. China has quadrupled its economy in less than thirty years through its own process of economic adjustment. Structural reforms generate growth because they unleash people's innate entrepreneurial talents, expand economic activity, rationalize the allocation of resources, and make society more pluralistic. But ultimately, as South Korea and Taiwan discovered, growth and prosperity lead inexorably to demands by citizens for greater inclusion in the political process. In turn, political pluralism can accelerate growth and broaden wealth. Just look at China: it has only one official labor union but nonetheless has seen waves of strikes and worker unrest; its ruling party came to power in a peasant revolution but now confronts rural protests; and its government has extraordinary police powers but has failed to beat back crime simply by meting out harsh punishments in the absence of social justice. Indeed, we have seen this pattern again and again in countries on every continent and among peoples of every culture and religion. In the diverse societies that have guaranteed individual rights and brought citizens into the political process—South Korea in East Asia, Brazil in Latin America, Botswana in Africa—leaders who seek to sustain growth have realized that good governance, a vibrant civil society, and ultimately democracy are prerequisites for lasting stability and prosperity.
Question: You are a newcomer at the South and Central Asia section of the State Department, but you most likely share the transformational diplomacy approach to democratization, promoted by Secretary Rice. What are your thoughts regarding acceleration and improvement of the democracy agenda, particularly in Kazakhstan?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: In our approach to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, we seek to work in multiple areas simultaneously: to assure security, promote economic change, including the advancement of regional integration and cooperation, and to promote democratic reform. Thus in addition to our encouragement of continued economic and commercial reforms, we look to Kazakhstan to make concomitant political reforms that will establish the democratic institutions fundamental to stability and the orderly transfer of power when President Nazarbayev completes his current term in 2013. Kazakhstan is one of the premier performers in the former Soviet Union on macroeconomic reform, security and energy. We recognize those achievements but believe it also needs to move forward on its democratic reform plans. After all, Kazakhstan today stands as a model of religious tolerance. Interethnic conflict is largely absent. Rapid economic growth has erased most of the ground lost over the past 15 years. And the country is on the cusp of immense prosperity with the onset of oil production at Kashagan in the next three to four years. The great challenge ahead is to manage that growth. And to ensure that its benefits accrue to all of Kazakhstan's citizens. We believe the best guarantor of Kazakhstan's future is a prosperous, stable, and democratic society where all citizens have a stake in the political system. In short, we believe Kazakhstan's leadership recognizes that economic and political modernization depend on continued political reform if—as we also hope—it is to join the world's fifty most competitive countries over the next decade. The United States firmly supports this goal.
Question: Some think that countries like Kazakhstan bargain energy and security issues in exchange to get approval for their autocratic bias, and U.S. is believed to follow their tastes. Moreover, the regime is quick to broadcast any praiseful statement of the U.S. officials as “recognition.” Don't you think that officials should be more fastidious to avoid accusations of double standards and disillusionment of peoples of the Third World with the U.S.?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: As I said, the United States does not have a one-dimensional approach to Kazakhstan or any other nation. We take a multidimensional approach, working on security, economics, energy, and democracy simultaneously but working, too, across the seams of these issues: promoting the rule of law is not simply a matter of better governance and democratic development but of a more attractive economic and investment climate; no company will invest where the rule of law is lacking, where contracts are not sacred, and where a firm has uncertain means of legal redress in the event of a contractual dispute. In short, we can—and do—pursue more than one interest at the same time. We can promote democracy even as we fulfill our mutual interests in expanding energy supply to the world market and ensuring security in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the world.
Question: Many local analysts were very critical concerning the decision to shift Kazakhstan from Eurasia to South Asia section, especially taking into account high level of economic development, low level of religiousness and strong European sympathies in the society. How do you think, is Kazakhstan closer to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, or is it closer to Caucasus, Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe? How this shift corresponds to Kazakhstan's bid to chair OSCE in 2009? And if earlier Kazakhstan was perceived as having a European model of development, what example is set to it now?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: Frankly, Kazakhstan should seek to forge economic and political connections in every direction. The shift in our bureaucracy at the Department of State reflects our effort to help Kazakhstan and its neighbors capture unprecedented economic opportunities. For a decade, Central Asia too often was treated as a sub-set of our policy toward Russia. No longer. Now, we seek to put Kazakhstan and Central Asia at the very center of our policy. As your question implies, it is true that Kazakhstan and its neighbors have been oriented for over a century to the north and west. But you now lie astride the world's most dynamic economic regions to your east and south. Kazakhstan and its neighbors are poised to seize unprecedented economic opportunities that for centuries made this region a crossroads but which, for much of the 20th century, lay beyond reach. Our goal, then, is to work with Kazakhstan and its neighbors to assure multiple options and new opportunities in every direction on the compass: east, west, north, and south. Our policy is not focused in any single direction to the exclusion of any other. Rather, it is to give impetus to a “corridor of reform” extending southward to Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean, even as the region's ties expand eastward to China, Japan, Korea, and the Pacific Rim. And while looking for these new opportunities to the south, the United States firmly supports maintaining and expanding Central Asia's robust ties to the Euro-Atlantic community, not least through institutions such as NATO and the OSCE. We share an interest in the free movement of energy, people, goods, and information from the Kazakh steppes to the sea, including the seaports of the Indian Ocean. I disagree that there is a “European,” or for that matter an “Asian,” model of development. Both regions are diverse. Kazakhstan's experience is not identical to every nation in Central and South Asia. But neither is Japan's experience identical to every nation in East Asia. No-one argues that Japan is identical in recent experience and orientation to Laos, Burma, and East Timor, and yet they all are part of our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Geography does matter.
Question: You are a well-known expert in China. It can be assumed that your task on this post it to prevent excessive bias in the Central Asian politics toward China—and possibly Russia—which are both restrictive authoritarian states. According to the human rights bodies, Kazakhstan also has autocratic trends. They create serious misbalance in the political system, generating potential instability risk. Don't you think the best way to counter Russian and Chinese expansion is to be more decisive and consistent in pursuing your democracy agenda?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: We are not seeking to “counter” anyone; rather we seek an open region. We are not “anti” anyone; rather, we are anti-monopoly. The point is that we do not view our relations with Central Asia—or with Russia and China —in zero-sum terms. Much like Kazakhstan, with its “multivector” foreign policy, we seek strong and productive relations with all of them. Of course, we aren't naïve: in Central Asia, as in other regions, there always will be some elements of competition. But we view Kazakhstan —and other strong, sovereign, independent republics—as our primary partners. In short, Kazakhstan and Central Asia are not the object of our struggles with others but are the very focus of our policy. There is no “Great Game.” And in any case, we maintain productive relations with both China and Russia. We try not to allow our differences to preclude cooperation when we share interests. And we do share interests with China and Russia on matters ranging from trade and non-proliferation to countering the spread of illegal narcotics and infectious disease.
Question: The Bush Administration propagates reducing consumption of oil, developing new energy sources and other measures aimed on elimination of America's vulnerability to “oil autocracies,” “regimes with other principles and values.” Earlier this month, Washington launched a broad campaign to fight kleptocracy and corrupt autocrats. Taking this into consideration, do you think that the U.S. policy towards Kazakhstan can be modified in short-, mid-, or long-term perspective?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: We have—and will continue to have—a robust and multi-dimensional approach to Kazakhstan. At the same time, we are determined to fight corruption globally. Over the years, the United States has led the effort to form an international regime and action plan to fight corruption. In 1977, we made it illegal for U.S. citizens to bribe foreign officials. We believe every country on earth should take similar actions and have such laws in place. In the past two years, we have taken sixteen enforcement actions under this law. There is no contradiction between this agenda and our effort to maintain productive relations with all countries with which we share interests.