When security trumps identity: Uzbekistan’s foreign policy under Islam Karimov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The death of Uzbekistan’s first president Islam Karimov in September 2016, after twenty-seven years in office, raises questions about the domestic political order and the evolution of state–society relations. It also opens space to uncertainties about the country’s foreign policy and the continuity of the path undertaken under the country’s first president. This chapter uses Uzbekistan’s reaction to the 2010 violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, to explore Tashkent’s foreign policy under Karimov. The case study demonstrates that Uzbekistan did play a role in maintaining Central Asian security and stability by refraining to support Uzbek co-ethnics abroad and more generally refraining from linking ethnic nationalism and foreign policy. Security trumped identity under Karimov’s rule. As the country moves into the post-Karimov era, the key questions are: (1) whether or not the new president will resort to ethnic nationalism in foreign policy as a way to boost legitimacy at home and (2) will Tashkent renounce its long-held policy of non-alignment, especially in relation to ties with Russia. Will the Uzbek people continue to “not be dependent on anyone,” as President Karimov himself maintained in the aftermath of the Andijan events in 2005, when a government crackdown on protesters led to hundreds deaths and thousands of people seeking refuge beyond the border.
Preserving the country’s sovereignty and independence, non-alignment, and regime security and survival defined Uzbekistan’s foreign policy under Karimov. Ethnicity hardly played any role in Uzbekistan’s relations with its neighbors. In analyzing popular reactions to Uzbekistan’s handling of the 2010 Osh violence, the chapter shows that Tashkent’s long-held position came under criticism at the time. In the post-Karimov era, as the new leader(s) seek to boost their legitimacy domestically, resorting to ethnic nationalism might be a relatively easy card to play. Should the tragic events of 2010 repeat themselves, Uzbekistan’s traditional policy of non-intervention is likely to come under stress.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstructing the Uzbek State
Subtitle of host publicationNarratives of Post-Soviet Years
EditorsMarlene Laruelle
Place of PublicationLanham
PublisherLexington Books
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781498538374
ISBN (Print)9781498538367
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Uzbekistan
  • Karimov
  • Foreign Policy
  • Irredentism
  • Uzbek minorities
  • Central Asia
  • Ethnicity
  • Osh conflict
  • Kyrgyzstan


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