Foreign policy and defense
According to abbreviationfinder, Uzbekistan is a nation in Central Asia. Its capital city is Tashkent. Uzbekistan’s foreign policy is characterized by a desire to maintain stability and not become unilaterally dependent on a single partner. The country is claiming a leadership role in Central Asia, but the quest to develop regional cooperation has not always been so successful.
The countries that cooperated with the Karimov regime (1991–2016) in Uzbekistan often ignored its lack of respect for democracy and human rights as long as stability could be maintained in an otherwise troubled region. Uzbekistan’s strategic location and the country’s assets in the form of natural gas, cotton and gold also contributed to this attitude.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Uzbekistan for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
When the Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were formed in the 1920s, the Fergana Valley was cut into a maze of complicated borders. The area is politically charged with ethnic enclaves, unresolved border disputes and conflicts over water and energy between the countries. The Karimov regime opposed Kyrgyzstan’s and Tajikistan’s plans to build hydroelectric power stations in the Amu and Syrian Darja rivers – plants that would curtail the flow of water to Uzbekistan.
Following President Mirzijojev’s accession in 2016, a gradual approach has taken place between Uzbekistan and the other former Soviet republics in Central Asia. In 2017, air travel between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan resumed, and in January 2018, ten border crossings opened, closed since 2001. When Mirzijev visited Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon in neighboring capital Dushanbe in March 2018, the two leaders agreed to abolish the visa requirement since 2000 travel between countries.
Unlike Karimov, Mirziajev and Tajikistan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s plans not to expand hydropower upstream from Uzbekistan do not oppose.
Border disputes with Kazakhstan were partially resolved in an agreement of 2001. However, problems remained and in 2005 Uzbekistan accused the neighboring country of hosting Uzbek armed hostile groups. Through an agreement in 2013, relations were strengthened in both trade and security matters. When Mirzijoev visited Kazakhstan in 2017, further cooperation agreements were signed.
There is disagreement with Turkmenistan about the water resources in the Amu-Darja border.
Fight against militant Islamism
The threat from the Islamic guerrilla Uzbekistan’s Islamic movement (IMU; see also Political system) played a central role in foreign policy for several years. During the 1990s, the regime sought help from Russia to guard its border with Afghanistan. The IMU had bases in neighboring countries and received support from the Taliban and terrorist leader Usama bin Laden to make raids into Uzbekistan and its neighboring countries. The guerrillas financed their activities through, among other things, drug smuggling and aimed to overthrow the Uzbek regime and establish an Islamic state in the Fergana Valley.
Around the turn of the millennium, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan joined forces militarily to stop the IMU. Russia, China, the United States and the EU supported military cooperation. Also, unrest in connection with the US-led war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 forced Uzbekistan and Tajikistan closer cooperation. In addition, Uzbek and Kyrgyz security forces have made joint raids against radical Islamists in the Fergana Valley.
In 2001, Uzbekistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a counter-terrorism cooperation organization, which also includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Relations with Russia and China
Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia have at times been strained, but Russia has remained the most important defense and trade partner. After Uzbekistan was criticized by the western countries for the Andizyan massacre in 2005 (see Modern History), President Karimov and his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin came closer. In 2017, the first joint military exercise was held with Russia since 2005, in southeastern Uzbekistan. In March 2018, an agreement was also reached on the purchase of new Russian-made combat helicopters.
China has also shown a growing interest in Uzbekistan in recent years. Both Russia and China have increased cooperation with Uzbekistan through trade, investment and a joint fight against radical Islamism. In May 2017, Mirzijojev visited Beijing and the same month began a Sino-Uzbek collaboration to develop gas fields in Uzbek Karakul.
Relations with the western world
Uzbekistan’s relations with the United States were strengthened when the countries signed an agreement on defense cooperation in 1995. Uzbekistan joined the NATO Partnership for Peace (PFF) in 1994. Military exercises with American participation were organized in the Fergana Valley, where armed Islamists were active. The EU also tried to develop relations with Uzbekistan and in 1996 signed a so-called partnership and cooperation agreement. However, both EU and US enthusiasm cooled as the lack of democracy and respect for human rights in Uzbekistan became increasingly evident.
Following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, Uzbekistan abandoned its territory for the US-led military alliance that expelled the Taliban regime from Afghanistan. Many of the IMU guerrillas are believed to have been killed in the fighting there. The US had to deploy combat aircraft and military personnel at the former Soviet air base Karshi-Khanabad. As a thank you, more than $ 150 million in financial and military aid was paid to Uzbekistan.
Relations with the United States deteriorated markedly in 2005, when the US, like the EU, criticized the massacre of the Uzbek military of about 500 unarmed protesters in Andizan. Karimov’s regime then terminated the agreement on the Karshi-Khanabad air base.
However, the US need for allies in the region was so great that criticism of the Karimov regime soon faded. In 2008, the United States was granted the right to use an air base in southern Uzbekistan with certain restrictions and the following year the US was allowed to transport non-military supplies through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan.
At a meeting between President Mirzijoev and US President Donald Trump in May 2018, Uzbekistan gave its “full support” to the US strategy in Afghanistan. The US government said that Uzbekistan has made “tremendous progress” in social, economic and political reforms since President Mirzijojev took office in 2016.
The EU imposed some trade and travel sanctions on Uzbekistan in 2005 because of the regime’s refusal to allow an international investigation into the shooting deaths in Andhizan. But even for the EU, Uzbekistan’s strategic importance is too great for the country to be isolated. Although political repression had rapidly increased, the EU gradually lifted all sanctions until 2009. Karimov visited Brussels in 2011 and met the EU and NATO leaders for the first time in almost six years. Among other things, an agreement was signed on energy cooperation with the EU.
At independence in 1991, Uzbekistan took over Soviet military facilities in the country. Citizens in military service abroad were called home and Uzbekistan built its own defense with army and air force. One year of military service applies.
There are also semi-military forces in the country of 20,000 men: 1,000 men are included in the National Guard, who are under the Ministry of Defense and 19,000 are under the Ministry of the Interior. The oversized police force was named during the Karimov regime as one of the world’s most corrupt and its brutality was a witness. Reforms of security forces and police are reported to be ongoing, but corruption and abuse are still widespread.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 24 500 men (2017)
The air Force: 7,500 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 0.5 percent (2003)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 1.6 percent (2003)