STRUCTURING CENTRAL ASIA’S NEW GEOPOLITICAL SPACE: REGIONAL CHARACTERISTICS AND PROSPECTS

Talgat ISMAGAMBETOV


Talgat Ismagambetov, Director of the Russia and China Institute, Ph.D. (Political Science) (Almaty, Kazakhstan)


Structuring geopolitical space implies establishing the external and internal borders of a specific political-geographical territory.

According to the apt remark of Dutch scientist Gertjan Dijkink, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a geopolitical shift in Central Asia and its dropping out of the integrated Soviet political space.1 After 1991, former Soviet Middle Asia, which had been an integral part of a great nation, became (according to Zbigniew Brzezinski) part of the world’s “arch of instability,” which stretches from Xinjiang to the Balkans. This transformation is giving rise to attempts to modulate possible geopolitical situations, taking into account geography (political, economic, physical, social), culture, and the political (political-geographic and geopolitical) ideas of political entities, including the local elite.2

Integration Problems

At the beginning of the 1990s, disintegration factors in the region proved less significant than integration processes. But in 1998, the Central Asian Union was renamed the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC), which implied a drop in the level and anticipated yield from this union. Finally, at the end of December 2001, the heads of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan came to an agreement to create an equally amorphous Forum of Central Asian Cooperation instead of the CAEC.

The failure of the integration attempts at the beginning of the 1990s confirmed an old axiom: personal contacts among heads of state are not a substitute for relations among political and social institutions. As a result, instead of coordinating the national interests of these countries, sectoral and departmental problems came to the fore. Incidentally, on the initiative of the leaders of these states, the region which was called the “republics of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan” during Soviet times, became “Central Asia,” beginning in 1993. But it is easier to change a name than carry out integration plans.

The geopolitical integrity of Central Asia is being torn asunder by such problems as the distribution of water resources, gas supply, and migration. They complicate and are superimposed on topical delimitation issues which arise as the former administrative borders between union republics become the state borders of the new independent states.

The failures in implementing regional integration initiatives are accompanied by a high level of activity in equally ineffective interstate unions with countries beyond the region. The Central Asian republics, with the exception of Turkmenistan, are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and participate in NATO’s programs. In 1998, Kyrgyzstan joined the World Trade Organization, and in 1996, it was one of the founders of the Customs Union, which was transformed in October 2000 into the Eurasian Economic Community. Kazakhstan participates in the competitive Tengiz-Novorossiisk and Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline projects, the main lobbyists of which are Russia and the U.S., respectively. This policy—retaining and evolving friendly relations with influential foreign partners—makes it possible for the Central Asian countries to maneuver between the interests of the world nations, but not to resolve the problems of regional and national security.

Of course, it cannot be denied that these republics have different foreign political inclinations. For example, Turkmenistan’s neutrality essentially means that it refuses to coordinate its policy with its neighbors; Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan participate in the CST (Collective Security Treaty—a union of several CIS countries, including Russia), and, vice versa, Uzbekistan withdrew (in 1999) from this treaty and joined GUUAM (a union of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, and Moldova). All of this means that the region is incapable of being an integrated geopolitical entity. The geopolitical changes which began after 1991 “mostly affected the Central Asian and Caucasian states and nations, and in some cases hit them directly.”3

What is more, during recent months it has become obvious that the numerous structures uniting the states of this region and the countries which have interests in but do not belong geographically to this region are incapable of reacting quickly to events. These structures include the Collective Security Treaty among several CIS republics and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

It is presumed that after the terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001, people will take a fresh look at the idea that all the participants in the great geopolitical game in Central Asia will have to define their positions in the near future: “What is most important—producing energy resources with the threat of instability, or stability and security in the region as a necessary condition for delivering energy sources to the world market?”4

The main geopolitical players in the region are still the U.S. and Russia. At its current rates of economic development, the role of continental China is growing. On the one hand, during the anti-Taliban campaign, Uzbekistan became the U.S.’s genuine partner, and Kazakhstan, despite its agreement with America on strategic partnership (1997), ended up being relegated into the background, which is largely explained by Ukbekistan’s advantageous geopolitical location on the route to the Middle East and South Asia. On the other hand, Russia will retain its presence to one degree or another in the region. Under the impact of the events of September—October 2001, China once more turned to the oil pipeline construction project which has been on hold since 1997, Western Kazakhstan—Western China.

In this context, we cannot ignore the conflict potential in this region. Fertile irrigated land is at a premium, redistribution of energy and water resources has not been resolved, and a dramatic demographic explosion is taking its toll (the average population density in the Ferghana Valley reaches 500-600 people per one sq. km in places, which compares with similar indices in the south of China and Bangladesh). Since the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, conflicts in the region began taking open form (the most well-known and bloodiest of them occurred in the town of Osh between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz) and were accompanied by “political mobilization on the grounds of ethnic solidarity.” Another key factor in the conflict potential is the differentiation in the status of ethnic groups, which is related to the notorious “fifth item” (repression of some peoples due to nationality in Soviet times) and the special features of the administration and state power systems. And in July-August 2001, the threat of violence between Iran and Azerbaijan in the fight to gain control over the oil-bearing sections of the Caspian region was added to these problems.

Will this high conflict potential lead to a geopolitical split, which implies a prolonged and wearying struggle among the states of the region? This question has been raised more than once during discussions among Central Asian political scientists. And in order not to fall into the old trap of showing ignorance and turning a deaf ear to the special features of this immense region’s political geography, which have been manifesting themselves for centuries, new approaches to its current geopolitical factors are required.

The Geopolitical Characteristics of Central Asia: Discovering the Forgotten Past

As early as fifteen years ago, official Soviet science mechanically called geopolitics “an aspect of bourgeois political thought based on the extreme exaggeration of the role of geographic factors in social life” and “an ideological justification of the aggressive foreign policy of imperialism.” Not until the Soviet Union ceased to exist did geopolitics become fashionable.5 The events of 11 September, 2001 turned discussions about geopolitical changes in the region into a standing topic at the rather frequent scientific conferences, which is quite understandable. A little more than ten years ago, a great nation, which occupied the heartland of an enormous continent, disappeared from the political map of Europe and Asia. (A meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus ended in the signing of the Belovezhie Agreements of 8 December, 1991.) This gave rise to many changes, including Middle Asia’s place in world politics. For more than one hundred years, until 1992, it was part of the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union. After 1991, Central Asia became one of the key regions on the planet in the geopolitical sense, which is largely due to its oil and gas prospects.

But the geography of international trade communication is not enough to understand the geopolitical changes. Knowledge of the laws governing the formation of the region’s geopolitical space in the past makes it possible to define the characteristics of the geopolitical breakdown that has occurred. It is extremely important to determine the extent to which the special features of Central Asia’s geopolitical space formed during the second half of the 19th century can be applied to the realities of the beginning of the 21st century.

One of the main lessons of the 19th century is that the Central Asian geopolitical space is not a static, but a dynamic concept. The dynamism of this space is closely tied to other features of the region: its permeability by external political influences and its anisotropy (the dependence of a medium’s properties on the direction in which they are measured). The vast distances between the region’s main residential centers make this geographic medium amorphous, permeable, and dependent on the conqueror’s skillfully selected activity and direction of action. Immediately after the Akhalteke oasis (Ashkhabad and the neighboring region) was conquered, Russian General Borkh noted the key aspects of military strategy and tactics in Central Asia in his report to main headquarters (1881): “1) the importance of any military victory gained; 2) it is best to act and strike the enemy in the field, in an open space; 3) the main emphasis should be placed on military order and discipline if the enemy has numerical supremacy.”6

First Genghis Khan, then the Russian generals of the 19th century, and today the American strategists of the beginning of the 21st century have shown their understanding of the amorphousness of the political-geographic space under review, and the state of erosion of its service lines (hence the importance of high troop mobility, the need to unite them into large groups, and the danger of dispersion).

On the other hand, Russian researcher Marat Cheshkov noted that we should analyze the traditionalization, peripherization, and globalization of post-Soviet Central Asia.7 In so doing, traditionalization (the revival of pre-Soviet traditions) is combined with peripherization (inclusion into world labor distribution as a raw material source, entry into world economic relations as periphery countries doomed to dependence on the world market, particularly on transnational capital), and globalization (drawing into the structure of the global human, political, and economic community).

It should be noted with respect to the current geopolitical situation that the renascent signs of amorphousness and permeability in the Central Asian geopolitical space are combined with a dominant peripherization trend in the region within the framework of globalization.

Historical-Geographical Principles of Forming States and Central Asia’s Current Political Geography

Geography dictates foreign policy—the axiom of political geography and geopolitics is manifested in the post-Soviet space: the former administrative borders between the union republics are becoming state-political borders. As a result, the newly independent countries are experiencing all the shortcomings of this political division of a single physical-, political-, and economic-geographic space. Is it not ridiculous for a civilized state to have Islamic militants (in 1999 and 2000) go through Kyrgyzstan to reach Uzbekistan from Tajikistan? The Uzbek air bombs aimed at the militants fell not only on them in 1999, but also on the civilians of the “transit” country. At that time, Uzbekistan essentially preferred to watch how neighboring Kyrgyzstan would repel attacks not aimed at the Bishkek regime. We, the Central Asians, have our own specifics. The militants chose the most convenient route for themselves, and they were aided by the fact that the demarcation of Middle Asia conducted in 1924-1925 led to the Ferghana Valley being divvied up among then Soviet Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Two centuries ago, a contender for power would have met the entire might of the single Kokand khanate in his path, to which the whole of this valley belonged. Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Tajiks lived in different countries at that time (Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand), whereby the geographic principle predominated—the state centers were formed in large oases: the Khiva khanate in the Khorezm oasis, the Bukhara emirate in the basin of the Zeravshan River, and the Kokand khanate in the Ferghana Valley. Ethnic-, physical-, and political-geographic borders did not always coincide and the law of superimposition and overlapping was in effect. History and political geography differed from the European principle of state formation customary to us: ethnicity yielded to geography. In Western Europe, on the other hand, state borders on the whole coincide and correspond both to ethnic settlement and geography. It is enough to take a look at the map to see that the political borders of France and Germany coincide with the natural border along the River Rhein, and the border between France and Spain passes through the Pyrenees Mountains.

Dividing up the single geographic space of Middle Asia led to interstate and ethnic conflicts, and an increase in tension among the region’s states, which resulted in redistribution of land and water resources.

The current borders of Kazakhstan are also the result of the 1924-1925 demarcation. History and geography show that the country is made up of two regions in this respect: since the early Middle Ages, the south and southeast belonged to the territory of the Middle Asian states which replaced each other. And the north, center and west of Kazakhstan belonged to Dasht-i-Qipchaq, an area of free tribes, the expansion of which was aimed at the Eastern European Valley and Middle Asia itself. Geographically, the south of the republic is part of the Turan Valley, which belongs to Middle Asia; the southeast consists of the mountains and foothills of Tien Shan and the adjacent valley of Balkhash area; the west is an extension of the Eastern European Valley. The Kazakhstan section of the border between Europe and Asia passes through the Mugodzhary Highland, which is the southern continuation of the Ural mountains, and on along the River Emba to the Caspian (another alternative is along the Ural River). At one time, Genghis Khan (in complete harmony with the canons of political geography) wisely gave the west and north of Kazakhstan to his eldest son, Juchi, the south and south-east, along with a large part of Middle Asia and Kashgaria to his second son, Chagatai, and the east (Rudniy Altai), which is geographically part of the Altai, along with Western Mongolia, to his youngest son, Tului.

The political-geographic situation in the region began to change rapidly after 7 October, the date the U.S. began its campaign against the Taliban. The appearance of an American military airbase close to Karshi (the Kashkadaria Region in Southern Uzbekistan), the airports offered by Tajikistan, and the agreement executed to create a U.S. airbase close to the Bishkek airport show that the superpower, in full keeping with the historical canons of Middle Asian geopolitics, primarily took the south of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (and then Kyrgyzstan) under its control. Under the new conditions, Tajikistan was able to change the status of the 201st Russian motor rifle division. Since 1 January, 2002, it is considered a military base, and now Russia is obliged to pay for its presence in this country. There was nothing else for the Russian officials, in particular State Duma Chairman Gennadi Seleznev, who arrived in Almaty on 9 January, 2002, to do but prevent Kazakhstan from becoming too friendly with the U.S.

The Heartland and Periphery of the Region

Pakistan and India, brandishing nuclear arms, the difficulty of settling the Afghan situation, and problems of improving interrelations with neighboring countries are factors which require skillful maneuvering from the regional elite in order “to forestall.”

History supplements geography here: from the mid-19th century, that is, during the Russian-British rivalry, Afghanistan and the south of the territory between Syr Darya and Amu Darya (the south of Maverannahr) became the heartland of Central Asia. Rivalry between the two great nations of this era led to the geopolitical picture being turned upside down: India and all of Central Asia became the geopolitical appendage of Afghanistan.

During the previous centuries, the breakdown in the traditional geopolitical space was different: Maverannahr was considered the region’s heartland and control over it opened the way to the north of Afghanistan. This essentially meant the conquering of all of Central Asia, which historically and geographically included the northern regions of this country. The passage through Hindu Kush, that is, to the other, eastern and southeastern part of current Afghanistan, was the prologue to conquering India. Success in India was fraught with becoming embroiled in the affairs of the South Asian subcontinent and gradual isolation from Middle Asia. In the olden days, only the Kushan Empire managed to unite the north of India and a significant part of Middle Asia into a single state. And Babur (16th century) had to understand that for him, the conqueror of northern India, Middle Asia was lost. In the region’s many-centuries history, not all of its states turned their sights to India.

Impressive armed forces were activated in the antiterrorist Operation Enduring Freedom. But the geopolitical structure of Central Asia does not only boil down to settling the conflict in Afghanistan. The region, with its mounting conflict potential, including the problem of whom the Caspian Sea oil deposits belong to, has perhaps the only alternative for resolving the contradictions: structuring the geopolitical space based on its historical features, as well as the inherent potential of stability and sustainable development.

Resolving Environmental Problems—the Way to Geopolitical Integrity

Integrating water resources is particularly important, but not the top priority in the national security of the region’s states. Water is its medium-forming factor. It is enough to look at the geographical map to understand that the prosperity of the whole of Central Asia depends on the state of the two “great sisters”—the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers. As historians and religious researchers know, even in antiquity Zoroastrians were aware of this at the subconscious level, and the substance of success and happiness—Hvarna—was in their view in the Sea of Vourukasha, the poetic description of which in Avesta surmises the contours of the Aral Sea.

At present, the region is one of those parts of the planet where nature is taking its revenge. The most well-known example is the disaster and death of the Aral Sea as a geographical entity and living biological system. In recent years, the region’s water resources became the new “bone of contention” among its countries.8

There is no doubt that the future of Central Asia largely depends on whether its leaders can find a non-standard solution to the set of growing environmental problems. It should be noted that all the current construction projects for new hydraulic engineering facilities are very expensive and postpone the necessary and repeatedly declared integration of several of the region’s states.

According to some data, in Kazakhstan alone, the losses incurred from environmental deterioration and the growing environmental threats amounts to 20% of the republic’s GDP. At the moment, we can only state that the attitude toward biological inheritance leaves much to be desired. As we know, migrating animals do not recognize the state borders established by man. But the new independent states are dividing not only water according to state affiliation, but also seasonally migrating hoofed animals.

Several sciences, for example geography, have lost the unity between nature and society. The inability of science’s set of tools to tackle the complex regional tasks facing mankind has its own roots and reasons. In the 1930s, “Soviet geography was split into physical and economic halves. It was prohibited to ‘mix’ natural and social governing laws.” During the specialization process, the negative aspects of this were also manifested: “Academician A.A. Grigoriev rejected the geography of man, and Academician L.S. Berg slowly excluded people from the landscape.”9 That is, the split and fragmentation within geographic science itself preceded the current state of affairs: the dying of the Aral Sea, the degradation of many types of unique fauna and flora, and the destruction of the region’s geopolitical integrity.

There is another important fact: in the West, the importance of the problems of environmental safety has already been expressed in the urgency of creating an environmental state. In other words, the path to a legal and social state is becoming obsolete for our countries even before these types of state are formed.

On the whole, the formation of geopolitical ideas, a vital element in structuring geopolitical space, is hindered by the fragmentation of geographic science, as well as its use for ad hoc purposes. Therefore, the words of Russian Oriental Studies classicist A.E. Snesarev are particularly appropriate now when he says that a country’s geographical resources are transmuted into the nation’s historical energy and the state’s political work; and over time, the resource of the past (including, cultural-historical.—T. I.) gives rise to the energy of the present and work for the future.10

The Cultural-Civilizational Factor as a Geopolitical Constant in Central Asia

Despite all the differences between nomads and farmers, Turkic-speaking tribes and Iranian-speaking Tajiks, historically, before the British-Russian rivalry during the second half of the 19th century, the region was a single geopolitical whole, despite the periods of its fragmentation.

Communality of culture was important for our ancestors, which was expressed in concentrated form in religion. It is no accident that as early as the 10th century, the predecessors of today’s Tajiks did not put up active resistance to the Turkish dynasty of the Karakhanids, since the latter were already Muslim, and the war was a struggle between two dynasties (ruled by the Samanids and subsequently by the Karakhanids, who took power away from them).

The specifics of the region were also that it was impossible to precisely divide particular epic tales according to their affiliation to a particular ethos. Korkut, Edige (in the Russian chronicles Edigei), Koblandy, Alpamish, and Ker Olgy were characters from the heroic epic of the nomads, the Kyrgyz hero Manas was well known not only to the Kyrgyz; the creativity of medieval Persian and Tajik poetry is difficult to divide and its best examples were known to the educated representatives of the Turkic ethnic groups. There were tales known only to some ethnic peoples, which did not spread to others, for example, the Uzbek epic about Muhammad Sheibani. At the same time, this communality of epic tales did not mean that legends were spread to all the regions where a particular ethnic group settled. In particular, in 1927, Mukhtar Auezov noted the heroic epic about Edige, which many nations are familiar with even beyond Kazakhstan, while the Kazakhs of southeastern Kazakhstan do not know it.11 In other words, the law of superimposition and overlapping of geographical borders was in effect in geoculture.

In this respect, attempts to determine the ethnic affiliation of a particular great politician, or scientific or cultural figure (al-Farabi, Yusuf Balasaguni, Makhmud Kashgari, and others) mean imitating the principles of cultural ethnicity formed in another geopolitical and geocultural space.

Both in the East and in the West, scholars today are arguing about how and to what extent the U.S.’s strategy of action in the region has been calculated. But those participating in the discussions on the future of Central Asia essentially never ask what the significant cultural, economic, social, and political difference is between the former Soviet republics of Middle Asia and Afghanistan. After all, during the 20th century, the region, with the exception of the same Afghanistan, was open to the “West,” that is, to Russia and Europe, in the sense of assimilating cultural and civilizational innovations. Afghanistan was and remains a country of the East and the mujaheddin’s resistance to the accelerated socioeconomic and political transformations. The country’s geopolitical diversity is also well known—in terms of its physical and geographical features, common history, and ethnic composition, its north belongs to Central Asia, and its south and east are identical to the neighboring regions of Pakistan.

Central Asia is not the Near East, where order can be realistically maintained under conditions of authoritarianism, and where Islamic fundamentalism rather than democracy is the alternative to the official regimes. In Central Asia, on the contrary, the suppression of democracy intensifies Islamic sentiments. The presence of a diaspora, natives from Eastern Europe, and a high educational and cultural level of the population are signs which show the region’s (without Afghanistan) rapprochement to Russia and other countries of Eastern, as well as Central Europe. In addition, the states of Central Asia have become members of the OSCE. So is this the East, or is it something different—the East which has assimilated many achievements of the West? If the latter is true, what place does the region occupy in the geopolitical and geocultural changes? There are more questions than answers here.

Before the 19th-20th centuries, it was largely open to the south, that is, to the Middle East. In certain eras, for example, in the 7th-8th centuries, when the Tang dynasty ruled in China, a large role was played by the region’s interrelationship with the East, and to be more precise, with the Celestial Empire. Now it is as though all these trends have come back to life and are complicating the picture of foreign political influence on Central Asia. There is no doubt that its security and cultural dialog are senseless without taking into account the multitude of internal and external factors. On the other hand, it is obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is challenging the secular nature of the region’s states, and their inclination toward political modernization, as well as the elements of Europeanization introduced into culture and art during the last two centuries.

“Forward to Europe?!”

During the past two centuries, Central Asia has been feeling the effects of Europe’s geocultural expansion, and to be more precise, the expansion of the Russian and Anglo-American culture. In response to this, the region’s ethnic groups (after its annexation to Russia) “developed a protective civilizational film, epidermis, which separated them and at the same time allowed such diverse cultures to coexist.” On the other hand, structuring geopolitical space is pointless without clarifying the cultural-civilizational orientation. “Any geopolitical space is based on a certain cultural (intercivilizational) foundation, on which its stability and longevity essentially depend… Structuring geopolitical space changes the attitude toward a territory, region, and borders.”12 In this respect, Islamic fundamentalists are more consistent than the supporters of Eurasianism and “diversity.” In the final analysis, in order to integrate the physical, economic, and social geography of the region’s states into the geopolitical space, the local population and elite should have corresponding political-geographic and geopolitical ideas.

Will the West’s geocultural expansion be the affair of the West itself within the framework of notorious globalization? At the moment, Central Asia’s geopolitical space is being structured to a great extent by the demarcation of internal (interstate) borders, and to a lesser extent under the influence of the cultural and civilizational foundation and inter-regional geoeconomic factors. Or will it become the affair of the Central Asians themselves, who will be able to create “filters” for assimilating Europe’s achievements, on the basis of recognizing geopolitical integrity? There is a well-known precedent: in the 1920s-1930s, Ataturk turned Turkey toward assimilating European achievements, after first heading the patriots in their opposition of the Entente states. In this way, the Asia Minor Turks became Europeans.

By the way, “the very name ‘Europe’ in the political (and not strictly geographical) sense arose from the spirit of resistance that had been growing over the centuries to the increasingly reactionary and corrupted clergy.”13

Referring to the views of F. Ratzel, a specialist in political geography, Gertjan Dinjkink noted that the source of geopolitical ideas forming geopolitical reality is “…an almost perfect reflection of the blend of expansive liberal thinking, economic self-satisfaction and distress rooted in the European political geography that characterized the mood of German society at the end of the 19th century.”14 The Central Asian nations have a more difficult task. They have to determine the degree of self-satisfaction of the new states and on this basis clarify the level of geopolitical, geocultural, and geoeconomic integrity in the region.

Restoring the geopolitical integrity of Central Asia, in our opinion, is the only way to prevent its instability. This problem can be resolved according to the principle of the creation (in 1952) of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which preceded the formation of the European Economic Community. The most important thing in Europe’s experience is precision in developing mechanisms and procedures, and on this basis, the ability to turn the previous conflicts over metal and coal from a source of interstate tension and one of the reasons for both world wars which began in Europe into a foundation of the integration process. This is seen as a propitious way to structure the new geopolitical space on the basis of “movement toward Europe,” which in this case is a political and cultural concept. Based on common interests and precise procedures and mechanisms for adopting and executing decisions, it was possible to combine national interests with the creation of supranational structures, which represented the geopolitical integrity of Western Europe. The initiative to create the ECSC relied on forming supranational institutions responsible for managing the steel and coal industry—branches which were the fulcrum of Western Europe’s military might.

We cannot forget that just a few years before this, the Europeans destroyed each other during World War II. After the ECSC was created, the successful, but in no way problem-free process of European integration began. Democracy with its necessary conditions—precision of procedures and coordinated development of these procedures and integration mechanisms—became the foundation of these processes, which institutionally unified the West European states within the framework of West European geopolitical integrity. This example may be interesting and beneficial to the Central Asian countries: former conflicts are becoming the basis for integration; the presence of a single geopolitical space is intensifying the democratization of authoritarian regimes (such as existed in Spain, Portugal, and Greece before the mid-1970s). So, in our opinion, the continued democratization of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan could become a factor promoting integration, despite the current problems.

It was at the peak of the Cold War, on 9 May, 1950, that French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman read the representatives of the international press a declaration calling on his country, West Germany, and other West European states to unite their coal industries and steel production as “the first specific foundation of a European federation.”15 The main conditions necessary for implementing this experience in Central Asia is taking into account its geopolitical features, as well as cultural interrelations among the region’s nations. Only who will be “Robert Schuman” if relations among its states begin to cool?

Conclusions

The region can indeed become stable and safe if the constants of its geopolitical integrity are taken into account. Otherwise, it will remain under the burden of ethnic and interstate tension and the conflicts ensuing from this.

History, geography, and the cultural-civilizational factor are key elements in developing the geopolitical processes in the region. And on the basis of the trends revealed in structuring Central Asia’s geopolitical space, two development alternatives are taking shape. The first is retaining the status quo, including leaving the region’s countries on the periphery, and parallel to this—the conflict potential, which could sporadically aggravate interstate relations over water, migration, economic and trade contacts, as well as participation as satellites in peacekeeping and other campaigns in the region. The second alternative involves restoring geopolitical integrity and integrating the Central Asian countries on this basis. This path entails assimilating the experience and achievements of Europe in creating supranational integration institutions. Within this framework, it is important to keep in mind the features of the geopolitical space which existed before the 19th century, including the law of superimposition and overlapping of geographic borders. It is presumed that as a result of this combination of the past and present, the region’s countries will be transformed from passive participants in the great geopolitical game into a consolidated and impressive actor, an ally of the western democracies.


1 See: G. Dijkink, National Identity and Geopolitical Visions, Routledge, London, 1996, p. 105.

2 See: D.N. Zamiatin, “Modelirovanie geopoliticheskikh situatsii (na primere Tsentral’noi Azii vo vtoroi polovine XIX v.),” Polis, No. 2, 1998, pp. 64-66.

3 V. Maksimenko, “Central Asia and the Caucasus: Geopolitical Entity Explained,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 3, 2000, p. 56.

4 These alternatives were presented in a slightly different form as early as the spring of 2001 by Italian author Fabrizio Vielmini (see: F. Vielmini, “Novaia iuzhnaia strategia,” Kontinent (Almaty), No. 12, 23 May-15 June, 2001, pp. 32-35.)

5 See: Kratkiy politicheskiy slovar, Moscow, 1989, p. 111; P.A. Tsygankov, “Geopolitika—poslednee pribezhishche razuma, Voprosy filosofii, No. 7-8, 1994, pp. 59-71.

6 Rossia i Turkmenia. K vkhozhdeniiu Turkmenii v sostav Rossii, Ashkhabad, 1946, p. 194; D.N. Zamiatin, op. cit., p. 71.

7 See: M.A. Cheshkov, “Postsovetskaia Tsentral’naia Azia v trekh izmereniakh: traditsionalizatsia, periferizatsia, globalizatsia,” Tsentralnaia Azia, No. 1 (13), 1998, p. 6.

8 On the question of water payment, see: T. Usubaliev, “K voprosy o vodnykh resursakh Kyrgyzstana,” Tsentral’naia Azia, No. 1 (13), 1998, pp. 84-92.

9 B.B. Rodoman, “Uroki geografii,” Voprosy filosofii, No. 4, 1990, pp. 44-45.

10 See: O.V. Zotov, “Trud Chokana Valikhanova o Sindziane kak primer nauchnoi geopolitiki,” in: Obshchestvo i gosudarstvo v Kitae. Tridtsataia nauchnaia konferentsia, Publishing Company Vostochnaia literatura, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 2000, pp. 94-95.

11 For more on the differences in genres and their ideological content in different regions of Kazakhstan, see: M.O. Auezov, “Kazakhskoe poeticheskoe tvorchestvo i ego poeticheskaia sreda,” in: Tamyr: Almanakh, Issue 1 (3): iskusstvo, kultura, filosophia, CREDO Publishers, Almaty, 2001, pp. 68-71.

12 D. Zamiatin, op. cit., pp. 74, 73, 70.

13 N.A. Kosolapov, “Tema 1. ‘Vvedenia v teoriiu mirovoi politiki i mezhdunarodnykh otnoshenii:’ Teoreticheskie issledovania mezhdunarodnykh otnoshenii (istoriko-intellektual’niy fon i etapy stanovlenia nauki),” Mirovaia ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia, No. 1, 1998, p. 84.

14 G. Dijkink, op. cit., p. 20.

15 Preface to the monograph Evropeiskiy soiuz na rubezhe vekov, Russian Academy of Sciences. INION; Center of Scientific Information Research of Global and Regional Problems, Moscow, 2000, p. 8.


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