Regional Development Cooperation Strategy

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With this strategy, USAID enters its third decade of engagement with Central Asia.

Total USAID grant assistance during the period 1993 to 2013 is estimated at over $2 billion, divided among Kazakhstan (about 30 percent), the Kyrgyz Republic (about 30 percent), Tajikistan (about 10 percent), Turkmenistan (about 5 percent), Uzbekistan (about 20 percent), and regional, non-country specific allocations (almost 5 percent). Initially, programs focused on three main "transitions," one involving an economic transition toward more market-based economies, a second supporting a political transition toward more effective, transparent and democratic governance, and a third promoting sustainable approaches toward the social sectors, especially in health and education. Twenty years later, USAID still remains vitally involved from a development standpoint in issues surrounding economic growth, good governance and social sector improvements in Central Asia.

In retrospect, USAID programming over the last 20 years has followed two over-arching themes and been largely based on two broad concerns. During the first decade, roughly starting in 1993 and ending in summer 2001, development programs sought to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet empire, promoting what was thought to be a linear movement away from centralized, control-oriented Soviet approaches to more "western" economic, political and social models of development. During the second decade, starting in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and continuing until the end of this year, events in Afghanistan played an important and at times even decisive role, at least in terms of a perceived need to engage with Central Asia to maintain stability as well as provide alternate air and road routes to land-locked Afghanistan. As one prominent American academic analyst noted at the time, this was Central Asia's "second chance " -- a chance that in the end has not materialized, at least to the extent that was initially expected or hoped.

Instead of maximizing resources and economic potential and engaging in regional approaches to regional challenges, the individual countries involved have more often rejected this organizing paradigm, looking instead at ways to emphasize their differences and advance their own perceived country-specific interests and objectives while also asserting their own individual importance and strength. Given these acute tensions, USAID programs must balance among both bilateral and regional concerns, taking into account divergent national realities, to achieve regional impact. Indeed, most citizens of Central Asia understandably view themselves first as citizens of their respective nations and perceive the regional construct as artificial and an abstraction from their day to day reality. All USAID programs must take this fact into account and use the available opportunities to intelligently build space for regional engagement and cooperation.

The period covered by this strategy now offers a third opportunity for the United States to constructively engage with Central Asia, an opportunity informed by our experiences of the past 20 years, including the perhaps premature optimism of the early period and the overarching strategic calculations of the second period, when policy concerns affecting neighboring Afghanistan necessarily played a significant role.

Over the next half decade, USAID has an opportunity to adopt a more pragmatic and possibly more modest but achievable approach, this time acknowledging the complexities of this challenging region while retaining a commitment to deal directly and creatively with them. Through a combination of country-specific and regional programs, we can offer each of the countries in the region a combination of balance as well as alternate possibilities that provide a much wider range of choices and prospective paths forward than would otherwise be available at a time of possibly momentous change.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the region remains as important as ever. Stretching from China in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west, Central Asia also shares a long border with Russia to the north and Afghanistan and Iran to the south. As recent events in Ukraine have demonstrated, Russia continues to shape the trajectory of political and economic developments in the former Soviet Union. The future direction of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains uncertain. From a US perspective, active engagement in Central Asia, and especially the goodwill and cooperation that result from well-designed and well-implemented assistance programs, can offer positive opportunities, bring international experience to bear, and promote greater stability.

It is also in these circumstances that the unique advantages of USAID’s regional approach become most apparent. Even as USAID’s individual programs and activities are typically implemented in a bilateral, country-specific context, our regional presence within our “one Mission, multiple locations” paradigm allows us to work within a broader perspective, communicate across borders with counterparts on shared interests, and prioritize and implement regional and bilateral programs that can have a collective impact. Not all the development objectives and intermediate results put forward in this Regional Development Cooperation Strategy (RDCS) will be implemented in each country, given differing funding allocations and various and unique country circumstances. The result of this customized program is that the impact of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Regional and bilateral programming have at times been misperceived as being in conflict, when, in reality, bilateral programming provides the necessary foundation for achievement of regional results. This RDCS provides the strategic rationale and focus for USAID’s response to a complex and enormously challenging set of development challenges -- namely related to trade and markets; water and energy; and governance and social services -- as well as a flexible framework to help inform development choices that USAID as well as its partners will be making in Central Asia over the next five years, all while striking the appropriate balance between regional and bilateral activities necessary to achieve results.

The RDCS incorporates several major Presidential Initiatives, including Feed the Future, Global Climate Change, PEPFAR and Global Health. In addition, the Administration’s "New Silk Road" (NSR) vision emerges in greater detail, both as a recurring theme and as an organizing principle. NSR focuses on improving connections between Central Asia and all of its neighbors further to the south.

The core goal for this RDCS for Central Asia as a whole is enhanced regional cooperation and broad-based prosperity, worked out through a set of three specific development objectives. These three Development Objectives are as follows:

DO 1: Expanded diverse and competitive trade and markets: USAID will help integrate the economies of Central Asia to be stronger and more resilient, demonstrated by significant increases in cross-border trade, including with Afghanistan and the broader South Asia region, and increased income-generating opportunities for the poor.

DO 2: Enhanced regional cooperation on shared energy and water resources: USAID will help convert the issues of water and energy to be compelling reasons for cooperation, instead of sources of conflict, resulting in more effective and equitable management of these two critical trans-boundary resources.

DO 3: More effective and inclusive governance institutions that serve the public good: USAID will support national and local government institutions of the region to be more responsive and accountable to citizens, and will support civil society to advocate for citizens’ needs, thus improving government’s ability to manage and maintain delivery of key public services in order to mitigate health threats and improve literacy.

While the Kyrgyz Republic is referred to in the RDCS in relation to some regional activities and is certainly part of the USG’s vision for the region, USAID/Kyrgyz Republic as a stand-alone Mission, presents the strategic concerns and programing imperatives of that country in a separate, stand-alone Country Development Cooperation Strategy.

Last updated: October 13, 2017

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