The US Abroad: Languages And National Interest In Central Asia

My last piece asked the question “How much longer will we remain militarily engaged in Afghanistan?”. With a presidential election approaching on August 20th, there could be a decent indication in the aftermath of some goal reached within whatever parameters the US has put up if it goes well. Afghanistan though, seems to not be the only focal point in the region. People have joked about a new Great Game going on and, perusing some information on the State Department’s website, one wonders if we aren’t readying ourselves for a longer presence in Central Asia.

The US government puts a premium on learning some languages that are not as well studied in this country as others. Typically, these languages become “sexy” as the foreign policy and economic interests of the country shift to different regions. Japan was big in both government and commerce in the 80s but has dropped by the wayside. Russian was and still is valued. The government divides its language needs into two categories, Critical and Super Critical. From the State Department website, here is the selection of Super Critical Needs:

“Arabic (Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu”

I think it’s pretty obvious the needs for Arabic, Dari is spoken in parts of Afghanistan, Farsi is the language of Iran, Urdu the major language of Pakistan, and knowledge of Chinese and Hindi are set to be very important for our commercial interests in the near future, if not now. These anyone could have probably guessed.

Now let’s look at the second category, Critical Language Needs:

“Arabic (forms other than Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese), Kazakh, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Turkmen, and Uzbek”

Pashto and Punjabi are still Pakistan and Afghanistan-related and there is still a lingering presence of Chinese and other parts of Arabic but the largest portion is taken up by the native languages of Central Asian countries, with Russian being in asset in all of them as well. It would seem the critical need for us, at least in regards to the State Department, is to increase our diplomatic presence and possibly other activities in these countries. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan all have large oil and gas reserves.

The Chinese government has already been investing billions of dollars in infrastructure in the region to open markets and pave the road for further interaction in the region, most notably regarding energy exports. It would make sense, diplomatically, commercially, and in the name of energy security, to have our people in the region that can negotiate and interpret goings on for us.

The last Great Game was played out between Imperial Russia and the British Empire. This new Game would be more of a ‘resource war’ between the interests of Russia, the US, China, and even the EU. Russia and China have already been in negotiations over pipelines and gas export deals and five European countries have recently agreed to construct the Nabucco pipeline which would provide gas needs from the Caspian (namely East Turkey and Azerbaijan). The Nabucco deal is interesting in that a possible pipe laid across the Caspian would link up with the massive reserves in Turkmenistan. Alternatively, Iran would be in an excellent position to provide a transit point for gas from Turkmenistan as a cheaper route.

It is becoming more and more obvious that our interests in Central Asia will not be only contained to Afghanistan but could reach throughout the region as a whole. The Nabucco deal would cut Russian influence over gas exports and the crises that they have caused in Europe over the past few winters. The Chinese government is eager to continue expanding, which requires energy, and is much nearer to the nations geographically and could be trying to play the role of a benevolent neighbor, loaning money to aid the underdevelopment Central Asian nations in exchange for closer economic relations and better terms on energy deals. I wouldn’t doubt if our Critical Needs languages matched those needed by many other nations at this point, all competing once more in the crossroads of the world that is Central Asia.

One Comment

  1. Diane DP

    I wonder if the lies put out about health Care reform are a distraction by the republicans to allow the military to flourish and gain a stronghold in these areas.
    It makes me nervous, even with Obama in office, that we do not hear about the war every day.
    That we have become used to this way of life and see no need to change it.