This issue of Russian Politics and Law examines security issues in Central Asia. The main focus is on the interaction between Central Asian states and regional powers, particularly in the context of the upcoming NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The articles include a variety of perspectives from both Russian and Central Asian scholars.
Sergei Dorofeev’s article on “Russian and American Interests in Central Asia: Prospects of Possible Cooperation” opens the issue. In this article, Dorofeev argues that Russia’s primary interests in the region include maintaining sociopolitical stability and regional security, which comprises issues as varied as the fight against Islamist extremism and the drug threat, nuclear nonproliferation, and border control. Secondary interests include maintaining influence over the region’s energy sector and transportation infrastructure, promoting Russian language and culture and helping Russian-speaking residents of Central Asia, and encouraging regional integration initiatives such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC).
Dorofeev sees U.S. interests as focused on promoting American values such as democracy and human rights while making sure that no other power acquires controlling influence in the region. In addition, the United States is committed to preventing the destabilization of the region and wants to ensure continued international access to Central Asian energy supplies. The author argues that Russian and American interests coincide most closely in the areas of maintaining regional stability and ensuring energy exports. On the security side, he calls for the management of risk through the establishment of a creative partnership between the CSTO and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which could improve the management of security risks in the region and thereby benefit both sides.
The second article in this issue is actually the transcript of a discussion on “Central Asia Viewed in the Context of the Afghan Situation,” held in December 2010 at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The speakers at this session included such prominent scholars as Georgii Mirskii and Aleksei Arbatov.
The keynote lecture at the session was given by Dina Malysheva, who argued that Central Asia has in recent years come to receive more attention from the international community because of its energy resources and because of its proximity to Afghanistan. As NATO and the United States begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, Malysheva believes that Russia may have a short-term opportunity to increase its influence in the region. The subsequent discussion addressed the possible long-term impact of the withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan on the Central Asian region. The speakers found that increased drug trafficking, political instability, and the threat of Islamism pose significant challenges that the Central Asian states and Russia are as yet unprepared to meet.
Fatima Kukeeva’s article, “The U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan and Regional Security in Central Asia,” explores in greater detail the potential impact of U.S. withdrawal on stability in the region. While most analysts limit themselves to examining the interests of global and regional powers, she discusses the positions of the Central Asian states themselves, especially regarding their relations with Afghanistan. Although the five states of Central Asia, Russia, the United States, and Europe would all like to see an economically and politically stable Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal of troops in 2014—not least to maintain regional security—each party brings to the table its own cost–benefit analysis, causing some disagreement over how to achieve a workable settlement. Most of the parties involved agree that regional cooperation is the best route forward, but they disagree on whether this cooperation should take place through increased interaction between security organizations (such as NATO and the CSTO) or through economic initiatives such as the New Silk Road.
In “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Role in Countering Threats and Challenges to Central Asian Regional Security,” Kuralai Baizakova describes the origin and history of another regional organization, one with a focus broader than security issues. In its decade of existence, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has become a significant regional player promoting military, political, economic, and security cooperation in Central Asia. As such, it has the potential to grow into an institution representing most of Eurasia, including Russia and China.
Regarding regional stability, Baizakova argues that the SCO has the potential to serve a unique role in promoting security, because it is the only organization that ties the two major regional powers—China and Russia—into a cooperative framework with the states that comprise Central Asia. She furthermore makes the case for the potential benefits of close cooperation between the SCO, on the one hand, and NATO and the United States, on the other, in ensuring stability in the region during and after the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. She concludes that the best way to ensure regional stability is through the linkage of all major regional political actors in a cooperative organization; for her, the SCO is the only organization that can serve this purpose.
The last two articles in this issue focus on Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Kazakhstan is arguably the most powerful country in the region, both in terms of economic and military power. Galiia Movkebaeva, in “Energy Cooperation Among Kazakhstan, Russia, and China Within the SCO,” focuses on the economic side. She shows that China, Kazakhstan, and Russia are making progress in energy cooperation, but so far largely on the basis of bilateral agreements. She argues that the SCO Energy Club, established in late 2011, offers opportunities to expand that cooperation in a way that benefits all the organization’s members and observer states. Regional energy coordination would make it easier to develop multinational infrastructure projects, allow the member-states to coordinate their extraction and export/import policies, and develop joint measures to ensure mutual energy security.
The last article in this issue, by Kuralai Baizakova, is titled “Regional Security Cooperation Between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the European Union.” It addresses the security aspects of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Baizakova argues that Kazakhstan stands to gain a great deal in terms of both economic development and improved security from enhancing its partnership with the European Union (EU). Kazakhstan’s chief interest is to ensure the security of energy exports, an area that is also of critical importance to the EU. The two sides also share an interest in improving border security in order to reduce the flow of narcotics through the region.
The author believes that Kazakhstan can benefit even more from positioning itself within the transatlantic relationship between the European Union and the United States, using the experience of this bilateral and multilateral cooperation to develop its economy and establish a stable democracy in which human rights are respected.
While I am less certain about the priority placed by any of the Central Asian governments on establishing stable democracies and promoting human rights, it seems clear from the articles in this issue that both Central Asian and Russian scholars see the integration of Central Asian states into regional and international institutions as the best, and possibly only, way to ensure their long-term political stability and economic development. The departure of the United States and NATO from the region over the next few years will undoubtedly lead to a number of challenges for these states’ security and internal stability. Regional organizations such as the CSTO and the SCO are likely to be required to step up to fill the resulting gaps.