When most United States’ combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, it will symbolize the end of a war that has dramatically changed the geopolitical landscape in Central Asia. In particular it will highlight the demise of Western influence over the region, and the rise of Asian players, especially The People’s Republic of China. In this paper we will analyse the main geostrategic shifts that are visible in the area, and how the main global protagonists, namely the United States and China, are likely to adapt to them. Even though the situation clearly requires major changes in policy with respect to Central Asia in both capitals, there are internal obstacles in both countries that will likely weaken their respective positions. Other local players such as Russia, Iran and India are likely to benefit from a failure by the two global rivals to adequately react to the changing circumstances.
The ability, or lack thereof, of China and the U.S. to find and accept this new balance of powers between them will decide the future of the region. Cooperation, rather than confrontation, would benefit both powers as well as enhance local stability. If there is a resurgence of the “Great Game”, with geopolitical competition manifesting itself in Afghanistan and its surroundings, China and the U.S. are both likely to lose terrain to other regional actors. Therefore, their main challenge will be to overcome internal obstacles to clear the way for an effective power balance in the region.
This paper was published in Panorama 2012, and written by Balder Hageraats and Carmen Alonso Villaseñor.