WASHINGTON, Feb 11—Focusing U.S. policy in the Caspian on containing Russian and Chinese influence has done little to advance U.S. security interests, and reduced its standing in the region to its lowest level in decades. The Obama administration needs a new approach that provides opportunities for local leaders to engage with the United States in economic and political development, concludes a new policy brief by Martha Brill Olcott.

Olcott recommends five building blocks for a new U.S. policy for the Caspian region:

  1. Focus on military reform and capacity rather than military alliances. U.S. operations in Afghanistan depend on cooperation with the Caspian states, but the recent Russia–Georgia crisis underscores that NATO membership should only be offered to states who control their internationally recognized borders.
  2. Support fair market pricing for energy producers and consumers to promote energy independence for the Caspian region. The United States has wasted fifteen years pressing for unrealistic oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russia.
  3. Provide technical assistance for projects that capitalize on the region’s vast renewable energy resources—biofuels, solar, and wind power. Renewable energy projects would create major economic opportunities and minimize potential conflicts between neighboring states.
  4. While the United States should continue to press hard on human rights issues, sanctions will only block U.S. assistance on critical development projects. Providing education and democracy assistance at the grassroots level is the best way to promote political development in the region.
  5. Appoint a presidential envoy for the region. Europe, Russia, and China all have senior level officials assigned to the region.

Olcott concludes:

“This new approach to the Caspian states would enhance U.S. national security. It would also help improve the lives of the people of these countries and make them more likely to embrace the political and economic values that prompt the United States to international engagement.”



  • Martha Brill Olcott is a senior associate with the Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program. Olcott specializes in the problems of transitions in Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as the security challenges in the Caspian region more generally. Her book, Central Asia’s Second Chance, examines the economic and political development of this ethnically diverse and strategically vital region in the context of the changing security threats post-9/11.
  • President Obama has inherited a tougher foreign policy inbox than any president has faced since Harry Truman; establishing priorities among dozens of conflicts and crises requires new understanding of the most critical regions, the most salient issues within them, and the issues ripest for new direction. In its series, Foreign Policy for the Next President, the Carnegie Endowment’s experts endeavor to do just that. They separate good ideas from dead ends and go beyond widely agreed goals to describe how to achieve them.
  • The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field on Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.
  • The Carnegie Moscow Center was established in 1993 and accommodates foreign and Russian researchers collaborating with Carnegie’s global network of scholars on a broad range of contemporary policy issues relevant to Russia—military, political, and economic.