Islamist Militant Threats in Eurasia

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats and Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade
Washington, DC
February 27, 2013

Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much, Chairman Rohrabacher and Chairman Poe, and thanks as well to the ranking members and members of the subcommittee for inviting me here today. I have a longer statement that with your permission I will submit for the record.

Chairman Rohrabacher, let me begin by thanking you for taking the time to visit Uzbekistan last week. Your visit was well received and helped advance our objectives.

I’m pleased to testify today as we enter an especially critical and dynamic phase of our relations with Central Asia. Despite the real gains in stability in Afghanistan, our planned drawdown in Afghanistan and continued use of the Northern Distribution Network has raised anxiety levels among our Central Asian partners about the increased potential for instability and extremism, especially beyond 2014.

I’ll let my colleague from the Bureau of Counterterrorism expand more on the specifics of the Islamist militant threat, but will start by saying we do not assess that there is an imminent Islamist militant threat to Central Asian states.

Nonetheless, this is no time for complacency. Our foreign assistance programs seek to build the capacity of Central Asian countries to address transnational threats – such as those posed by Islamist militant groups – while promoting regional economic integration and development.

We also use our engagement as a mechanism to tackle issues related to human rights, rule of law and corruption and promote economic growth, as failure to address these could contribute to militancy.

To achieve these objectives, we are using a combination of diplomatic engagement and bilateral and multilateral assistance. On the diplomatic front, the United States holds annual bilateral consultations with each of the five Central Asian countries. These consultations, which I chair with the Foreign Ministers or Deputy Foreign Ministers of each country, form the cornerstone of our bilateral relationships.

Through these, we convey a consistent message that democratic reform, respect for freedom of expression and religion, and an active civil society all contribute to stability, while cracking down on dissent and driving it underground may create more favorable conditions for radicalism.

Our public diplomacy and assistance programs also reinforce our objective of strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Our bilateral security assistance is helping build the Central Asian states’ capacity to counter a broad range of threats, including terrorism. In 2012, the United States provided approximately $215 million of security assistance to the countries of Central Asia. The bulk of this assistance focused on building capacity of law enforcement agencies to address transnational threats, including terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

We recognize that our interest in combating terrorism and other cross-border threats are shared by others, so we are engaging with other countries that are active in Central Asia in a cooperative approach to regional security and stability. I have made it a personal priority to expand significantly our consultations with Russia, China, the EU and others on Central Asia and we have seen successful cooperation in a number of key initiatives that are outlined in my written testimony.

I know you have questions, so let me conclude by reiterating that we do not assess that there is an imminent Islamist militant threat to Central Asian states. Our efforts and assistance commitments are based on a comprehensive and proactive approach to strengthening the capacity of Central Asian states to address a range of transnational threats.

The limited threat currently posed by Islamist militants to Central Asia, however, is no reason for complacency or retreat. The Central Asian states face a broad range of challenges that, as in many other societies, could fuel radicalism in the long run and threaten the security and interests of the United States and our allies. Addressing those challenges demands our continued vigilance and engagement in this region.

I’m happy to take your questions. Thank you again.