The Caspian Basin: Why It Matters In Great Power Competition
U.S. strategists and policy makers should increase their focus on the South Caucasus and Central Asian States. These countries on both sides of the Caspian Sea, all former Soviet republics that Vladimir Putin claims as Russia’s “special sphere of influence,” represent strategic opportunities for the United States to gain substantial advantages over Russia and China as America’s primary security threats. These opportunities ought to be pursued to secure and protect U.S. interests and effectively compete with the regional powers below the level of armed conflict.
There is a larger strategic perspective to consider in the discussion of why the Caspian Basin should figure prominently into the incoming U.S. administration’s South Caucasus and Central Asia policies. The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) states:
“…the revisionist powers of China and Russia…are actively competing against the United States and our allies and partners. Although differing in nature and magnitude, these rivals compete across political, economic, and military arenas, and use technology and information to accelerate these contests in order to shift regional balances of power in their favor. These are fundament-tally political contests between those who favor repressive systems and those who favor free societies.
China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders.”
Thus, “great power competition” (GPC) short of armed conflict has emerged as the central theme explaining the threats and situation in which America finds itself in the current era, with Russia and China as the primary adversaries as “near-peer” competitors and threats. Further, the NSS made clear that the United States is currently engaged in global struggles for influence and dominance against these two international powers. This condition will endure and persist across multiple U.S. presidential administrations.
Specifically, the United States is engaged with friendly states in a cooperative pursuit to advance and protect their own national interests. We are also in competition against Russia and China for influence, leverage, and advantage to advance our own national interests. The strategic effort to expand and strengthen influence, leverage, and advantages against Russia and China can be aggressive and push the boundaries of statecraft yet remain below the threshold of armed conflict.