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Regional Relations Between the Central Asian States Essay (Article)

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2022

Introduction

In the contemporary modern understanding and description, central Asian States consist of the five newly independent (early 90s) former Soviet states which are now independent Republics. They are Kazakhstan, which is the largest among the five that is in terms of territory vastness and is the most stable politically. Uzbekistan is the second republic with a population of about 27 million people, the largest in the region. The third republic is Turkmenistan, which is rich in gas and gold deposits and borders Iran. Kyrgyzstan bordering China and generally a mountainous and hilly state is the fourth state. The final state making the five is Tajikistan, which is the poorest and was engaged in civil war after seceding from Russia and the war ended five years later, that is, 1997 (Gleason 56). The regional relations of this area have taken many turns and twists but due to their common background and faced with similar challenges, the states initially were more cooperating than in present times. In the present times, cooperation is limited as every state views the other as its competitor for the limited resources. This creates a cold war in the region, making regional integration impossible.

Importance of the Region

The International Community initially saw this region as a volatile area and one that jeopardized international peace (Deutsch 198). However, more comprehension and understanding of the region has placed it as a reproductive and potential asset for the global economy due to the rich deposits it possesses in terms of oil and natural gases, whose demands are increasing every day, and the suspicion of Russia, which supplies most of Europe’s gases. Initially, Russia still had a stronghold and influence on these nations, being the chief currency supplier. However, these regions did not want to remain under the influence of Russia and they showed this when they formed the Central Asian Union in 1994 (Olcott 5). They wanted to wade off the influence of CIS- Commonwealth of Independent States as they felt it was championing for the interests of communism and might revert to the USSR, the same system they had just seceded from to gain independence (Lacomelli 89).

Efforts towards regional Integration

In the present day, the region has tried to move towards regional integration and cohesion. Their borders experience mass migration of people in the event of business ventures, work, and educational reasons. Various regional integration and cooperation blocs had been formed and institutionalized to foster and boost regional cooperation and development. Mechanisms had also been established to foresee the cooperation was mutual and beneficial to all. Such included the interstate members’ presidential and respective prime minister-level committees (Olivier 30). These executives met regularly to discuss various issues affecting them and share information on the way forward. The Central Asian Bank for Cooperation and Development had been formed for more economic engagements. This ensured economies of these countries supplemented one another. This also gave these states a bargaining platform on the world stage. The Shanghai forum, which also included their neighbors China and Russia, was formed to settle border disputes and later security concerns.

The Present Day Cooperation and failures

However, compared to other unions like the European Union, the Central Asian Union is largely a failure especially in its functionality now. The cause of the failure of the union is mainly two, the first being the non-committal nature of member states. Member states are only interested in what they could gain and not what they could offer. They are interested in individual states’ domestic affairs rather than in the union. This prompts members in times of crisis and disasters to solve individual member states’ affairs at the expense of others.

The other major reason for the failures of the nations to integrate is the interference and strong opposition from Russia. Though on paper they are independent of Russia, Russia still has an overwhelming influence on these nations. These countries are landlocked and mainly rely on Russia for contact and participation in international trade (Nichol 4). The Russian borders also are not closed to these nations enabling people from these nations to work in Russia and since they are poor countries, none can dare to directly challenge Russia, as the consequences would be grave. The different ideologies of these governments have also hampered regional development. For instance, the Uzbekistan government is more authoritarian and strict on religion. Kyrgyzstan has had political turmoil and experienced a coup in 2005. Tajikistan has had a frail government after it had experienced a civil war of five years. These internal wrangles and authoritarianism are not healthy for regional integration (Tolipov 4).

The many issues in Central Asia are regional. The threatening security of the area is a region-wide concern. Migration, extreme and radical Islam, and the illegal flourishing drug business especially from Afghanistan have also hit all the members. Instead of unity in looking for possible solutions, the members have engaged in conflicts especially in the control and use of hydroelectric power (Luong 47). Numerous efforts have been at the center of talks to try to make the nations subjugate national aspirations, ambitions, and concerns to overarching regional ones. Nevertheless, not much has been achieved or realized. On the contrary, there are many unsettled disputes and grievances from member states concerning the other, creating regional problems instead of integration.

Some of the unresolved regional problems include the rights to the scarcely distributed resources like water and energy resources (Dieter 12). The transport and cross-country infrastructures and the volatile border demarcation have been issues of controversy and disputes too. None has been solved and any efforts for engaging in dialogues have been futile as members ignore each other’s concerns and complain. The Central Asian region’s development pattern is in such a way that competition is fierce for the same resources, which are not evenly distributed and those that do exist are limited. Except for Kazakhstan, the other four countries mainly rely on agriculture so water is a coveted commodity for both irrigation activities and power generation. Some of the water sources are common mountains and instead of being a unifying factor, they become areas of controversy and conflict. Uzbekistan has been leaning more towards the US while Tajikistan has more towards the Russian Federation. Their different ideological inclinations hamper regional development.

Conclusion

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have also placed the region in a frail, crucial, and sensitive position. The NATO nations who are mainly actively engaged in the wars have established bases in some of the countries. This has resulted in conflicts with the opposing factions. The five countries’ regional coordination and integration have also been hampered by the major world powers in the region. Some countries among the five have tended to incline themselves on the US side, some on the Russian side while others on the Chinese side. This brings diversity in ideologies and economic investors, in turn creating a rift and animosity among the member states. At present, the regional cooperation in the Central Asian States is worse than in the 1990s. The nations are more concerned with internal state affairs than regional integration (Cartilidge & Clarke 23). Since these countries are landlocked, their main concern is looking for infrastructural ways to connect to the rest of the world. They engage in a kind of cold war with each other.

Works Cited

Cartilidge Cherese, and Clarke Charles. The Central Asian States. Indiana: Lucent Books, 2001.

Deutsch W. Karl. The Analysis of International Relations. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1978.

Dieter, Heribert. “Regional Integration in Central Asia: Current Economic Position and prospects,” Central Asian Survey, 1996.

Gleason, Gregory. The Central Asian States: Discovering Independence. New York: Westview Press, 1997.

Lacomelli, Aldo. Renewable Energies for Central Asia Countries: Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts. New York: Springer, 2005.

Luong J. Pauline. The Transformation of Central Asia: States and Societies from Soviet Rule to Independence. New York: Cornell University Press, 2004.

Nichol, Jim. Central Asia: Regional Development and Implications for U. S. Interests. New York: Diane Publishing, 2010.

Olcott B. Martha. Strategic Concerns in Central Asia. Disarmament Forum, 2007.

Olivier, Roy. The New Central Asia: Geopolitics and the Birth of Nations. New York: I. B Tauris, 2007.

Tolipov, Farkhod. Regional Integration in Central Asia: Theory and Practice. Tashkent, Uzbekistan: University of World Economy and Diplomacy, 2010.

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