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flexibility or Strategic confusion?  
foreign Policy of Uzbekistan
farkhod Tolipov
Observers tend to describe Uzbekistan’s foreign pol-
icy in terms of fluctuation, pro- and anti-biases; fur-
thermore, some have even evaluated it as flexible and 
maneuvering. However, the analysis of the Uzbek 
international behavior reveals more of a fundamen-
tal problem, namely a lack of strong understanding 
of national interests. As evidence of this, I can point 
to the considerable gap between the declared Uzbek 
policy principles and their actual implementation.
The modality of any foreign policy activity is 
predetermined by the nature and character of the in-
ternational system. At the same time, it depends to 
a significant degree on policy makers’ perceptions 
of this system. Such notions as “bipolar,” “unipolar,” 
or “multipolar” world order prevails not only with-
in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy institutions, but also 
within global academia. The swift dissolution of the 
Soviet Union and Central Asia’s advent into world 
politics has had a twofold impact on geopolitical 
thought: on the one hand, these events reinforced 
once again geopolitical narratives, contemplations, 
and speculations after a long period of relative geo-
political stability; so geopolitics became the “ultimate 
explanatory tool” in the overall analyses of the post- 
Soviet transformation. On the other hand, theoret-
ical transformation is underway within the field of 
geopolitical studies itself. These new circumstances 
have created wide spread confusion among political 
scientists dealing with Central Asia, as well as among 
local political regimes whose attempts to pursue their 
own geopolitics—micro-geopolitics of micro-heart-
lands—have also modified the macro-geopolitics of 
great powers.
In this respect, the Central Asian states’, espe-
cially Uzbekistan’s, foreign policy doctrines are pro-
nounced by negative and positive diversifications. 
Negative diversification revitalizes the classical bal-
ance of power in international relations and the ze-
ro-sum game between great powers at the expense 
of the Central Asians. Positive diversification avoids 
the zero-sum approach and is inclusive in character: 
it means not only the equal involvement of external 
powers but also, what is more important, the coordi-
nated policy of the Central Asian states themselves. 
From this perspective, Tashkent’s pendulum-like in-
ternational behavior bears rather a trait of negative 
The first concept of a Foreign Policy of the 
Republic of Uzbekistan, adopted in 1993, declared 
such principles as: non-participation in any mili-
tary-political bloc; active participation in interna-
tional organizations; de-ideologization of foreign 
policy; non-interference in internal affairs of other 
states; supremacy of international law and priori-
ty of national interests. The second Foreign Policy 
Concept was adopted in September 2012 and de-
clared, among others, 4 “no”s: no to deployment of 
foreign bases in Uzbekistan; no to the membership 
in any military bloc; no to the participation in inter-
national peace-keeping operations; and no to medi-
ation of any external power in the resolution of re-
gional conflicts in Central Asia. This policy affirms a 
“national interests first” principle, but does not make 
clear whether and why national interests dictate four 
such “no”s and what the national interests by-and-
large are. One of Tashkent’s recent foreign policy 
“innovations” is the shift to bilateralism as the key 
principle of its international and regional actions, 
which means that the country now aims to deal with 
major international and regional issues on a bilateral 
level. On the functional level, however, the foreign 
pol icy of Uzbekistan has been more convoluted and 
controversial than what is declared on the doctrinal 
level. This policy can be delineated by three sets of 
1 Director, Non-governmental Education Institution “Bilim Karvoni,” Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
2 F. Tolipov, “Micro-Geopolitics of Central Asia: An Uzbekistan Perspective,” Strategic Analysis 35, no. 4 (2011): 629-639.

Farkhod Tolipov
characteristics: achievements, uncertain ties, and 
Uzbekistan’s foreign policy in the 1990s can be eval-
uated as having had a good start: Tashkent was quite 
pro-active in the beginning. Over a period of more 
than two decades, the country has accrued vital ex-
perience on the international arena. Diplomatic rela-
tions have been established with most of the states of 
the world and Uzbekistan has gained genuine interna-
tional recognition. At an early stage the young Uzbek 
foreign policy was region-oriented, and President 
Islam Karimov was a proponent of regional integra-
tion in Central Asia, proclaiming in 1995 the con-
cept “Turkistan—our common home.” Uzbekistan’s 
international initiatives were quite remarkable. At 
the UN 48thSession of the General Assembly in 1993 
Karimov called for the establishment of a permanent 
regional conference on regional security in Central 
Asia; he initiated the establishment of the Nuclear 
Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia; and in 1998 he 
launched the so-called ‘6+2’ format of negotiations 
on Afghanistan.
However, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and U.S. 
forces being deployed in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, 
regional geopolitical processes exacerbated. In 2005 
Islam Karimov even had to state that “strategic un-
certainty remains in the region. Geostrategic inter-
ests of major world powers and our neighboring 
countries concentrate and sometime collide in this 
part of the world.” In 2008, Tashkent initiated an 
updated version of its Afghanistan initiative, the 
‘6+3’ format, but the proposal failed to gain any 
international support. Uzbekistan re-entered the 
Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization 
(CSTO) in 2006 but abandoned it in 2012. It be-
came a member of the Euro-Asian Economic 
Community (EAEC) in 2006, but left it in 2007. The 
regional structure of the Central Asian Cooperation 
Organization (CACO), created in 2001, was dis-
banded and merged with the EAEC in 2006. Today, 
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) re-
mains the only international/regional organization 
which enjoys a steady commitment on the part of 
Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s membership of the SCO 
seems quite resolute, moreover the SCO’s Regional 
Anti- Terrorist Structure (RATS) has been set up in 
With the adoption of the new Foreign Policy Concept 
in 2012 Uzbekistan has demonstrated itself as being 
more isolationist than having an active engagement 
in international and regional affairs. The current 
tense relations with two neighbors—Kyrgyzstan 
and Tajikistan—over the issue of water regulation 
and over border delimitation are accumulating po-
tential for further conflict. Tashkent has not only 
abandoned participation in such organizations as the 
CSTO, EAEC, and CACO, but has also quite isolat-
ed itself from other multilateral cooperation frame-
works such as, for example, the Istanbul Process on 
Afghanistan and the SPECA project of the United 
Nations. Uzbekistan’s foreign policy today is neither 
pro-American nor pro-Russian, neither pro-active 
nor reactive. Over a period of more than two decades, 
Uzbekistan’s foreign policy has thus undergone deep 
evolutions: from a promising start and some real 
achievements in the 1990s, through a period of un-
certainty in the early 2000s, up to isolation ism and 
stagnation today.
The ‘moneybox’ of Strategic Partnerships
Having learnt how to play geopolitical games, 
Uzbekistan has shown itself to be a master of maneu-
ver. Illustrative in this respect is Tashkent’s so-called 
‘moneybox’ of strategic partnerships. Uzbekistan 
has managed to sign several strategic partnership 
agreements and declarations with a number of great 
powers usually perceived as strategic rivals. For in-
stance, the United States- Uzbekistan Strategic 
Partnership (USUSP) Declaration was signed in 
March 2002, followed by the Russian Federation-
Uzbekistan Strategic Partnership Treaty (RFUSP) 
being signed in June 2004. The China-Uzbekistan 
Strategic Partnership (PRCUSP) Declaration was 
signed in June 2012, while the Joint Statement on 
India-Uzbekistan Strategic Partnership (IUSP) dated 
from May 2011. Recently, in June 2013, Kazakhstan 
and Uzbekistan signed a bilateral Treaty of Strategic 
Partnership (KUSP).

Flexibility or Strategic Confusion? Foreign Policy of Uzbekistan
Interestingly, Uzbekistan’s strategic partnerships 
envisage different goals. Whilst the United States-
Uzbekistan is perceived as more normative and 
comprehensive, the Russian Federation-Uzbekistan 
one is more military-driven. The China-Uzbekistan 
one does not imply having any mutual security com-
mitments of the two states as it is the case with the 
U.S.-Uzbek and Russian-Uzbek agreements, but con-
centrates on the developmental dimension of the 
strategic partnership. The India-Uzbekistan one has 
a geostrategic dimension that highlights threats to 
regional security, such as terrorism.
The United States-Uzbekistan Strategic 
Partnership was the first document of its kind that 
Uzbekistan has signed with a great power and as such 
has passed a certain test of time.
Uzbekistan-U.S. relations subsequently declined 
after 2005 after the Andijon events, and Tashkent ac-
cused American organizations and the U.S. govern-
ment for having been behind the alleged provocation 
of the ‘extremist’ uprising.
 In the current context 
of the international forces being withdrawn from 
Afghanistan, it seems that both the United States and 
Uzbekistan could actually, intentionally or not, end 
up reducing the significance and meaning of a de jure 
strategic partnership to a de facto opportunistic one. 
In other words, Washington only needs the Northern 
Distribution Network (NDN) to be operational 
while its forces and technology are being withdrawn 
from Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan is mainly inter-
ested in taking financial advantage of the NDN and 
keeping the remnants of military equipment used in 
Afghanistan. Real strategic partners are supposed 
to be able to move beyond such short-term lucra-
tive cooperation. The end of the allied operation in 
Afghanistan in 2014 is not only changing the regional 
strategic and geopolitical situation and the U.S. pos-
ture in the region, but Uzbekistan itself is expected to 
undergo changes in connection with the upcoming 
parliamentary elections in December 2014 and pres-
idential elections in March 2015.
In 2009, the United States and Uzbekistan set 
up a high-level annual bilateral consultations (ABC) 
mechanism and since then three ABCs have taken 
place in which a wide range of issues are covered 
such as trade and development, investments, energy, 
agriculture, health, parliamentary exchanges, edu-
cation, science and technology, counter-narcotics, 
border security, counter-terrorism, religious free-
dom, trafficking in persons, development of civil 
society and human rights as well as the operation in 
Afghanistan. The letters ABC have a symbolic desig-
nation, implying a new beginning, and also a setting 
of benchmarks. The ABCs and overall reset of U.S.-
Uzbekistan relations can have long-term geopolitical 
and strategic implications if indeed these relations 
finally meet the criteria of a real strategic partner-
ship. The March 2013 visit of Uzbek Foreign Minister 
Abdulaziz Kamilov to Washington was obviously an 
important step in U.S.-Uzbekistan bilateral relations, 
but whether it amounted to a crucial step in terms of 
the strategic partnership remains to be seen.
Can two states professing two different value sys-
tems become real strategic partners? Are the strate-
gic partnerships between Tashkent and Washington 
on the one hand, and Tashkent and Moscow, on the 
other, contradictory? A strategic partnership implies 
a type of relationship going far beyond the features 
of ordinary cooperation. It requires a high level of 
mutual trust along with long-term, sustainable, and 
comprehensive cooperation in the sphere of security 
interests, as well as having similar positions on major 
inter national issues. The U.S.-Uzbek sides should, for 
instance, cooperate more intimately on issues related 
to Afghanistan than what is required by NDN-driven 
strategies. Overall, the spirit and letter of a strategic 
partnership should not be obscured and should be 
addressed properly by both states, who are currently 
de jure but not yet de facto strategic partners.
A failed leader of central Asia
The 1995 proclamation “Turkistan—our common 
home” announced a strategic choice for Uzbekistan 
and a crucial geopolitical slogan. So were other con-
cepts such as “Towards globalism through regional-
ism” and “Uzbeks and Tajiks are one people speaking 
two languages.” They told of a genuine leadership 
role of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. However, these 
strategic, region-oriented concepts have so far re-
mained mostly on paper. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan, 
centrally located in the region, surrounded by all of 
the other Central Asian countries, with the largest 
population (30 million inhabitants), having the most 
developed transport infrastructure, possessing one 
of the strongest industrial potentials, and being the 
historical center of the whole region, has had ten-
3 F. Tolipov, “Uzbekistan and Russia: Alliance against a Mythic Threat,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, January 11, 2006.

Farkhod Tolipov
sions with almost all of its neighbors. This paradox 
can be explained by at least four interrelated reasons: 
Uzbekistan’s obsession with sovereignty and inde-
pendence; its perception of the world order through 
the prism of old geopolitical concepts; its preference 
for bilateralism as the main principle of its foreign 
policy; and its undemocratic and relatively closed 
political system.
Since gaining independence in 1991, the states of 
Central Asia have undergone profound shifts. The 
current “strategic uncertainty” is, in fact, an ad hoc 
geopolitical reality. Twenty-two years of indepen-
dent development has given Uzbekistan unique in-
ternational experiences and political lessons. The 
so-called “transition period” has now passed. The 
country is approaching a new turning point in its 
post-Soviet history with forthcoming parliamen-
tary and presidential elections. There is a great 
expectation among the population, its regional 
neighbors, as well as among the international com-
munity, that Uzbekistan will engage more pro-ac-
tively with the region and in the international sys-
Uzbekistan has managed to frustrate neighbor-
ing countries and failed to lead the region toward 
integration. Nevertheless, it is primarily Uzbekistan 
and its reopening to its neighbors that the success of 
the region’s cooperation, security, and development 
will ultimately depend on. As Frederick Starr noted 
as early as in 1996, a regional “arrangement, in which 
a sovereign and strong Uzbekistan would play a sig-
nificant role, best serves the interests of all countries 
involved, Russia included.”
 For this to become true, 
Tashkent should reconsider its foreign policy doc-
trine in favor of multilateral engagements, and mak-
ing regional affairs a priority.
4 S. Frederick Starr, “Making Eurasia Stable,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 1996, 92.

Uzbekistan’s National Security Strategy:  
Threat and response
richard Weitz
Since its independence two decades ago, the gov-
ernment of Uzbekistan has sought to maintain its 
national security and autonomy by avoiding dispro-
portionate political and military dependence on any 
single foreign actor. In particular, Tashkent has been 
careful to maintain correct bilateral relations with 
Moscow without allowing Russian military bases or 
other security ties that could compromise the coun-
try’s sovereignty. The Uzbekistani government has 
also sought to develop good relations with the United 
States and more recently China to help balance 
Russian preeminence, but not at the expense of na-
tional autonomy or regime stability. Unlike the other 
Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan does not border 
Russia or China, which gives Tashkent a broader ma-
neuvering room than its neighbors. Uzbekistan’s cur-
rent Foreign Policy Concept affirms that the country 
will not join politico-military blocs, and bans foreign 
military bases on its territory.
Uzbekistani leaders have faced several major 
security challenges, which they have thus far sur-
mounted or at least contained. First, Uzbekistan’s re-
lations with some of its neighbors have at times been 
strained due to diverging foreign policies, resource 
tensions, or anxieties regarding the country having 
the largest population in Central Asia, thus making 
it a potential aspirant for regional hegemony. Second, 
Russia has succeeded in developing close ties with 
some of its neighbors, resulting in Uzbekistan being 
unable to emerge as the leader of a Central Asian re-
gional bloc but instead having to choose between ei-
ther joining Moscow-led multinational institutions, 
such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization 
(CSTO) and the Customs Union, or standing aside 
in relative isolation from regional processes.
Moscow’s irritation, Tashkent has generally followed 
the latter course.
Third, from Tashkent’s perspective, the United 
States and Europe have served as a poor external bal-
ancer, pressing the government to pursue domestic 
policies that Uzbekistani officials fear could weaken 
their country’s internal stability, while limiting the 
West’s own contributions to regional security. Yet, 
with the U.S. and European military drawdown in 
the region, Uzbekistan now has to manage a resur-
gent Russia either by itself or by aligning more closely 
with China, which might also challenge its national 
autonomy in coming years.
Uzbekistan is perhaps the most important 
Central Asian country from the perspective of main-
taining regional stability. It has the largest population 
of the five Central Asian countries, and many ethnic 
Uzbeks reside in neighboring countries, making it 
likely that any internal instability would spill across 
the national boundaries. Uzbekistan’s pivotal loca-
tion—it is the only Central Asian country to border 
the other four states—means that regional econom-
ic and political integration efforts cannot succeed 
without Tashkent’s support. Uzbekistani leaders 
generally resists these schemes and have pursued a 
strongly autonomous foreign policy grounded in re-
alist principles and a prioritization of national sov-
ereignty almost since the country gained indepen-
dence in late 1991. A frustrating early experience 
trying to promote cooperation within the dysfunc-
tional Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 
reinforced Tashkent’s skepticism regarding the likely 
benefits of regional integration schemes.
1 Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute. His research includes regional security developments 
relating to Europe, Eurasia, and East Asia as well as US. foreign, defense, and homeland security policies.
2 The author would like to thank Hudson interns, Armin Tadayon and Pikria Saliashvili, for their research assistance with this paper.
3 “The main foreign policy aims and objectives of the Republic of Uzbekistan,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, http://m policy/.
4 F. Tolipov, “Uzbekistan’s New Foreign Policy Concept: No Base, No Blocks but National Interests First,” Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Analyst, 
September 5, 2012, http ://

Richard Weitz
Uzbekistan’s Assessment of regional Security 
The main transnational threats facing Uzbekistan 
include terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and other 
challenges related to the situation in Afghanistan as 
well as tensions over access to water, regional rival-
ries among the great powers, and the Iranian nuclear 
Islamist Terrorism
Uzbekistanis worry about Islamist militarism, es-
pecially the remnants of the Islamic Movement of 
Uzbekistan (IMU). Established in the 1990s by rad-
icalized Uzbekistanis in the Ferghana Valley with 
the explicit goal of overthrowing the secular gov-
ernment, the IMU received considerable support 
from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which allowed it to 
establish bases in Afghanistan in the 1990s. From 
Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, IMU guerrillas in-
filtrated Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian coun-
tries, where they conducted kidnappings and acts of 
terrorism. The IMU bombed and attacked a number 
of targets in and around Uzbekistan during the 1999-
2000 period. In February 1999, six car bombs ex-
ploded in Tashkent, killing 16 people and wounding 
more than one hundred. Although the U.S. invasion 
of Afghanistan in 2001 drove the original IMU from 
its Taliban-protected training camps, the movement’s 
offshoots and other Central Asian terrorists have 
been fighting alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda for 
years in Pakistan and elsewhere. IMU-affiliated ter-
rorists attacked Tashkent in April and July 2004 and 
twice more in 2009.
Today the terrorists hope to exploit the NATO 
military drawdown to reestablish safe havens in 
Afghanistan in order to wage jihad against the secu-
lar regimes in Central Asia more directly. Meanwhile, 
Uzbekistani security experts intend to rely on their 
powerful army and internal security forces to 
keep Islamist militants from Afghanistan out of 
Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s army is the largest in Central 
Asia. Western experts rate its elite special forces high-
ly. But Uzbekistani policy makers have thus far relied 
primarily on their internal security forces to counter 
terrorist threats even while their diplomats insist that 
the inseparability of Central Asia from Afghanistan 
require greater international exertions to end the 
conflict in that country.
Narcotics trafficking is another regional problem 
made worse by the civil war in Afghanistan. In its 
fall 2013 report, the Afghanistan government and the 
UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) calcu-
lated that the country’s 2013 harvest would amount 
to 5,500 metric tons of opium, a 49 percent increase 
over the previous year.
 The Taliban assists the nar-
cotics trade in order to earn revenue from taxing opi-
um production and providing protection for the traf-
fickers. Transnational criminal organizations then 
traffic these opiates northward through Central Asia 
and Russia and then into Europe as well as through 
Iran, Pakistan, and China. In 2011, the opiate-relat-
ed trade amounted to at least 16 percent of Afghan’s 
Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There is also a reverse flow of weapons and oth-
er contraband into Afghanistan, though most of the 
profits from regional narcotics trafficking do not re-
main in Afghanistan. Smugglers funnel heroin and 
opium from Afghanistan through the “Northern 
Route,” passing through Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, 
and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to final destina-
tions in Europe and Russia. According to the U.S. 
Embassy in Tashkent, narcotics have been discovered 
in trucks returning from delivering humanitarian aid 
to Afghanistan, and on trains from Tajikistan.
abuse and narcotics-related crime and corruption in 
Central Asia is extensive. Uzbekistani law enforce-
ment agencies have increased training and resourc-
es to help combat the drug problem, but the Afghan 
record harvests will probably impact on Central Asia 
more heavily.
Afghanistan’s Future
The Uzbek authorities see their country as a “front-
line” state regarding the war in Afghanistan. Not 
only does Uzbekistan share a 137 km-border with 
Afghanistan as a direct neighbor, but many ethnic 
Uzbeks reside in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has sought 
5 “Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013: Summary Findings,” Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, November 2013, http:// crop- monitoring/Afghanistan/Afghan_report_ Summary_Findings_2013.pdf.
6 L. Sun Wyler, “International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses,” Congressional Research Service, August 13, 2013, http://www.
7 “Uzbekistan: Summary,” Embassy of the United States in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 
February 27, 2009, http ://
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