Romney's Banal Hawkishness on Russia and Central Asia

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The leading GOP candidates says he would "reset the reset," but what does that really mean?

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Mitt Romney gestures at a campaign event / AP

The presidential campaign in the U.S. has begun in earnest, with Republicans in New Hampshire going to the polls tomorrow to choose who they want to challenge Barack Obama in November. If, as expected, Mitt Romney wins there (as he did in Iowa last week) it will come pretty close to guaranteeing that he is the Republicans' candidate. So, what do we know about what a President Romney might do in Eurasia?

Not much. The biggest clue is his rhetoric on Russia which, not surprisingly, is hostile. From his campaign's foreign policy white paper (pdf):

Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.

The two greatest impacts that the reset has has on the Caucasus and Central Asia are 1. allowing cooperation with Russia over the Northern Distribution Network to transport military materiel to Afghanistan and 2. holding Georgia at somewhat arm's length (at least compared to the enthusiastic embrace of Obama's predecessor, President Bush).

Romney suggests he'd be much less conciliatory on missile defense than Obama has been, which could put the NDN into jeopardy (Russia has frequently suggested that those two issues are linked). Would Romney risk it? One could plausibly argue that a missile shield encircling Russia would be more useful to the U.S. in the long run than a supply route to a doomed theater of war which the U.S. is supposed to start withdrawing from in 2014, anyway. But his military advisers would no doubt push him to not do anything to threaten the NDN.

A curious feature of Romney's rhetoric on Russia is the absence of Georgia. Georgia and Mikheil Saakashvili are heroes of most American Russophobes (like the Republican candidate of 2008, John McCain), but Romney's white paper, while warning of the threat of Russian "expansionist behavior," doesn't mention Georgia at all. Instead, on his website he suggests that the victim of Russian aggression would be, improbably, Central Asia. A Romney administration's policies, he writes, would:

Deter Russian ambitions to its south by enhancing diplomatic ties, increasing military training and assistance, and negotiating trade pacts and educational exchanges with Central Asian states.

On his blog, Mark Adomanis points out the contradiction inherent in Romney's embrace of partnerships with Central Asia while rebuking Russia for its "authoritarian practices." Aside from that, though, the omission of Georgia is curious. Without reading too much into a white paper that spends just four paragraphs on Russia and its neighbors, is this a sign that even among Russophobes Georgia's star is waning, and that a close embrace of Georgia and Saakashvili is a political loser? Something to think about.

This article originally appeared at EurasiaNet.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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Joshua Kucera is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. He blogs at The Bug Pit.

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