One of the major geopolitical factors affecting Central Asia has always been and still is its relation with USA. However, after the election of Donald Trump as president, the White House sharply changed its course. Since, it is still unknown what direction the new administration will chose in regards to the Central Asian region, we offer our take on future American policy towards Kazakhstan.
Let us start by explaining how and why Donald Trump became a president. This is crucial for understanding his future course of action.
Donald Trump got the White House chair due to the votes of those Americans who became victims of former political policies of Washington that were dictated by large American corporations, primarily technological ones. Due to leaps in scientific progress, vast financial opportunities and stellar employees, these corporations were able to ride on the new economic wave.
Former domestic and foreign policies of the White House, both under republican and democratic rule, were able to secure unobstructed advancing of American goods and services all over the world, on one hand and to form new global labor distribution on the other. Manufacturing jobs were outsourced to the countries where labor costs were smaller; at the same time bulk of profits were made at the final stages of the business cycle and went to monopolistic transnational companies.
Regular Americans became the victims of such policies. It was them who lost their jobs, when manufacturing jobs were outsourced. It was them who had to compete with millions of legal and illegal migrants, required for American industries to lower the cost of production. They were the ones that as representatives of small and mid-size businesses, suffered defeat in price wars with goods and services from China and other countries. They were the big losers of American policies of dominating the world that led to dramatic increases in government spending and decreases in ability of the government to support its own people.
These are the Americans, from whom Trump received most popular support, which allowed him to win the presidential election, even despite the opposition from the republican elite. Now Trump has to justify this support. This explains his harsh decisions, including withdrawal of the country from many bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that were signed during an old regime, harshening of immigration policies with Mexico and Muslim countries and many others.
Why is the president being so active in those areas? In order to restore millions of US jobs or to create million of new ones, it is necessary to increase competitiveness of domestic industries. Such a feat is almost impossible to achieve under the rules of open competition. It is much easier and faster to achieve this by protecting the domestic market via protectionist policies.
Who is the main importer of majority of everyday goods you ask? China, of course. Hence Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric that will be followed with actions as well as calls for American producers to move their manufacturing back to America.
In order for American citizens to get the jobs over legal or illegal immigrants, immigration policy has to be dramatically changed, and Trump has already started to do just that. The 20-plus billion dollar wall at the Mexican border that the president wants to erect, has to become not just a physical barrier for the millions of illegal aliens from that country, but also a symbol of the new anti-immigrant America.
In order to stimulate domestic production and lower the dependence of American economy on foreign oil, it is necessary to support domestic oil refineries, even if it harms the ecology. Trump is doing that as well.
Ino order to lower government expenditure and stop the growth of the national debt, two things that became huge as a result of America’s role of a world policeman, Trump wants to make his allies at NATO and other defense organizations increase their own expenditures. Thus, his rhetoric and his pressuring of America’s allies.
However, the president wants to continue executing his policies of a mighty America further, as he needs them to galvanize Americans and bring them on his side, which means that he won’t be able to get away without making external enemies. Among these might be such states as China, Iran and Russia. China because it will soon supplant America as the largest economy, Russia because it has a long-standing tradition of being an enemy and Iran because it survived under conditions of political and economic blockade.
Of course Trump will be trying to lower America’s reliance on Chinese goods and services, but he will need an alliance with Russia, given the difficulty of the task. Will Vladimir Putin agree to such a cooperation? Possibly. Most likely, however, Russia will be maneuvering between USA and China, since it is the most optimal solution for them.
This means that Iran is destined to become America’s number one enemy. It is doomed, simply because it is not powerful enough to be afraid of, but strong enough to be painted as a formidable foe and an object of hatred.
Naturally, given the balanced nature of American political system, even a president cannot do all the things he has in plan. This is why the policies of the White House will be consistently checked. Publicly, through Congress on a national and state level, and through judicial system, local government and various civic organizations. Privately, it will be kept in check through informal contacts, agreements and lobbying efforts. Whatever the case is, Trump is destined to fulfill his campaign promises, otherwise he will lose re-election even before his term expires.
All of this means that White House’s policy towards Kazakhstan and the entire central Asian region will depend on US’s relations with other two major world political players, namely China and Russia.
Moreover, the worse these relations will get, or the better the relationship between Beijing and Moscow will become, the more involved the new administration will be. This is explained by the geopolitical importance of our region that can turn into a bridge between Russia and China or become an obstacle between them.
With this setup, Astana is doomed for multilateral politics. And if in the area of economics, the freedoms will be limited due to high dependence of Kazakhstani economy on Chinese and Russian economies, and on the fact that EU countries are the main buyers of Kazakhstani oil, the realm of politics is open to different scenarios, with the exception of one where Kazakhstan exits Russia’s sphere of influence.
However, Kazakhstani foreign policy trajectory won’t be independent, because the main narrative will be country’s reaction to the actions of USA, China, EU and Russia – the four main actors on the political arena. In essence, the narrative will be the survival in the conditions of increased competition, both political and economic.