THE U.S. FACTOR AND THE CRISIS OF THE TRANS-EURASIAN AREA
Alexei Fenenko, Research associate with the Voronezh State University School of International Relations (Voronezh, Russian Federation)
U.S. presence in the CIS is a landmark of the new century. In analyzing the “Eurasianization” of U.S. policy, researchers mainly focus on the changes in Washington’s strategic doctrine or on the impact that the new player has on the rules of the game in running the Caspian system.1 This approach leads them to conclude that U.S. military presence creates basically new relations in the post-Soviet area. For the first time in its history Eurasia has ceased to be an enclosed field in so far as its priorities are now to a very large extent set outside the region. And although the related restructuring of the Eurasian area has yet to receive adequate coverage in specialist literature, it arouses considerable interest in both its theoretical and “realpolitik” aspect. Revision of the old understanding of “stability” changes the status quo that evolved in the 1990s, which is fraught with new economic, military-political, and ideological conflicts.
In discussing the natural isolation of the Caspian system, it is important to note that, just like any analytical construct, this term is but relative. The history of Central Asia is a succession of the eastern empires, and it was only geographic conditions that isolated it from other regions. The enclosed character of the Eurasian area manifested itself in its gravitation toward a unicentric form of governance: Not surprisingly, in the second half of the 19th century, Russia stopped the British advance already on the Afghan border while the Entente failed to create here a cordon sanitaire, modeled on Eastern Europe. This systemic regulation pattern survived in Central Asia until the past century.
The five newly independent countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union were immediately confronted with an array of problems—from socio-ideological divide in society to the threat from Islamic radicals.2 In this situation, Eurasia quickly restored its characteristic systemic unity through common economic, political, and military structures. By the beginning of the anti-Taliban operation a hierarchy of relations had evolved in the region with Russia’s presumed economic and military leadership, political interaction between Moscow and Beijing, and cross links between the Central Asian countries. At the same time, within the existing system, real leadership did not coincide with the model of governance, this apparently paradoxical circumstance ensuring a certain measure of its stability.
Up until the beginning of the antiterrorist operation Russia remained the real center of the Caspian region. Western political scientists oftentimes used the term “hegemony based stability” to describe its functional role, meaning that the Kremlin established rules of the game in the region, regulating interstate relations.3 They believe that this model was finally institutionalized through the “military alert” in the spring of 2000 that reintegrated Tashkent and Ashghabad into the system of Russian guarantees. Of course far from all problems were dealt with: Territorial disputes between the Central Asian states and China as well as periodic raids by Islamic militants from Afghan territory remained a time bomb. Nonetheless, the Tashkent Treaty, supplemented by a Russian-Turkmen agreement, emerged as a new form of systemic unity while the statements about possible military strikes against the Taliban showed that, in the event of outbreak of hostilities, the Center was ready to take on the role as a “shield.” So even with a weakening of Russia’s positions, given the situation in the south of the FSU region, it retained its leadership in the region.
Nonetheless, Moscow’s power capacity failed to translate into organizational domination on the ground. Western support for Uzbek-Turkmen contacts, coupled with a low-intensity force projection by China, resulted in that the emerging center adopted the Tang Shiping formula whereby cooperation takes precedence over unilateralism.4 In that situation, U.S. political scientists repeatedly predicted that both powers were “doomed” for a rapprochement,5 which materialized in the Shanghai process that began in April 1996. This logic fit well into the so-called “dynamic stability” concept whereby the thrust in East Asia was shifted to promote and reinforce consolidation trends, bringing about a rapprochement between erstwhile rivals.6 Without dividing Eurasia up into spheres of influence, the Central Asian states put in place a flexible forum to discuss regional problems, lessen military tension, and harmonize regional interests.7 Thus, for the first time since the disintegration of the socialist bloc, two of the world’s political powerhouses configured a regional space without Western participation, integrating military guarantees and political discussions into a single whole.
U.S. political analysts take a different view of the essence of Eurasian relations. In contrast to the idea of the common historical fate and natural isolation of this “microcontinent,”8 Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out that the United States is too far away to dominate the region, but at the same time too powerful to allow others to dominate it.9 It is indicative that in his concept the term “Eurasia” per se acquires a different meaning, compared to that adopted in the Russian-Chinese tradition. According to Z. Brzezinski, it spans the entire Caspian basin with its natural continuation into the Caucasus, Iran, and Afghanistan, also including Tibet and even the zone of the Indian-Pakistani conflict. Over time this view also gained ground in U.S. government spheres, as evidenced by a long-term regional strategy adopted by Congress, providing for a neutralization of leadership through an expansion of business activity by U.S. oil corporations.10 Clearly, the sheer logic of U.S. presence does not entirely coincide with unicentric pattern of regulation within the Central Asian system.
Washington emerged as a regional powerhouse on a stage-by-stage basis. Originally, the United States sought to enter the existing security system, as shown by George Bush’s statements in Shanghai about the temporary character of U.S. presence and the readiness to accede to the existing regional agreements. As a result, first expeditionary forces deployed at Uzbekistan’s Tuzeley airport numbered only a few transport aircraft, which was supposed to emphasize the auxiliary role of this bridgehead in the anti-Taliban coalition.
The relatively rapid success in Afghanistan turned around the military-political situation, and U.S. bases gradually began to acquire elements of developed infrastructure. Against this backdrop, the State Department started increasingly talking about possible military-political guarantees for the Central Asian states to be provided through the NATO mechanism.11 Such support could ensure a basis for a joint struggle against various Islamic extremist groups although its cutting edge could be reoriented also toward Beijing, which has recently revived territorial disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Thus the old collective security system was confronted with a far more effective “ad-hoc coalition,” which brought about its organizational crisis. And although the U.S. presence is mainly tactical (the State Department invariably denies the presence of front aviation on Uzbek bases while the Kyrgyz base did not receive baptism of fire until 20 April, 2002), it is acquiring new elements and links that are not always in synch with the traditional structures. Ever since the Cold War era, the U.S. tradition has been oriented not toward dissolution but preservation of any mechanisms of military presence, enabling the United States to activate them at any given moment.
These conceptual shifts in Washington’s perception of its status within the Eurasian system also are consistent with the logic of U.S. presence in Europe. Here, the functional role of the White House also has moved through three stages: as an element of the European defense system, the NATO “nuclear umbrella,” and finally, an “external proponent of federalism,” prodding the Western Europeans toward political unity. Clearly, what is involved in either case is a common regional strategy envisioning a transition from an auxiliary role to direct impact on a particular area. This author will venture to suggest that its roots lie in the American traditional interpretation of “order” that is understood as either the fundamental principles of a system or as their institutionalization.12 The creation of certain norms or the consolidation of its influence through certain mechanisms, however, comes across as the “realpolitik” methods of involving the United States into particular processes. This stratagem also is borne out by Central Asian experience.
Washington’s presence per se has given the countries in the region more room to maneuver. Alongside the Russian leadership, a new system of cross links has evolved in the region, its core constituted by the U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, supplemented by emerging contacts with Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and partially Azerbaijan in the periphery. In the spirit of Miller’s “permissive” principle, the Central Asian countries got an opportunity to choose a military-political partner, which enhances their status within both the existing and the emerging bloc.
The U.S. presence also introduced a “restrictive” norm in the region. The sheer existence of an “alternative” system of relations brought about a situation where, in dealing with any regional problem, Moscow and Beijing have to reckon with Washington’s opinion, which gives the “neutralization of leadership” a long-term, strategic character.
Finally, recent months have seen the Americans’ rising aspiration to institutionalize their presence. The treaties with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia suggest that the vector of the U.S. presence is directed toward a broad based antiterrorist pact of mutual assistance. Such a pact could have a different orientation—from a simple collective security system to a full-fledged military-political bloc. In the first instance it could probably be based around the mildly worded Manila Mutual Defense Treaty while in the second, around the strong language of the Baghdad Pact. This said, however, the conceptual difference between these scenarios is not very big since the new vision of a “Eurasian” order, as proposed by Washington, is predicated on a breakthrough in the region’s geopolitical isolation and gradual elimination of its own restrictive norm, considering that within an alternative framework of relations the United States could emerge as an unquestionable leader.
The aforementioned leads to the conclusion that the beginning of this century has been marked by a radical restructuring of the entire Eurasian area. The new player has brought its own hierarchic ideas into the region, which turns the U.S. factor from a simple network of leased bases into an integrated, well organized complex of new interrelations. The U.S. presence has opened Central Asia to extra-regional forces, eroding its traditional “microcontinental” essence. As of now regional priorities are defined not by historical traditions but by the interaction of three key powers, inevitably destroying the unicentric governance pattern and putting in place basically different parameters of the Eurasian system.
In describing the new type of Eurasian relations, the majority of Western analysts highlight the resource factor, stressing that many of the regional contradictions stem from the struggle for control over the pipelines.13 The priority of the energy industry was not affected even by the antiterrorist operation while growth in U.S. infrastructure is increasingly predicated on oil.14 Nonetheless, for all the importance of economic factors, this approach leaves out one fairly significant circumstance. Along with the well developed concept of “presence,” an equally important role in the American tradition is played by the theory of “political culture,” understood as a connecting link between institutional and cultural factors.15 This conclusion brings Gabriel Almond’s followers to the need to build any political system into a certain structural model representing the entire course of evolution. Perceptive to these purely theoretical conjectures, the U.S. elite traditionally supplements the U.S. institutional presence with the formation of implicit political norms, creating a favorable political environment for Washington. The southern part of the FSU region is not an exception in this respect.
The origins of this strategy were discernible already at the time when American society was pinning its hopes in the Eurasian region on the expansive activity of its oil corporations. After the Caspian Sea was proclaimed a zone of U.S. vital interests (1997), U.S. oil majors did not confine themselves to a simple elaboration of commercial projects. Their emergence as independent players required participation in large-scale international consortiums, consolidation of their assets, involvement in developing projects, and even separate negotiations with the national governments—patterned after the well-known Tashkent-UNOCAL agreement. A high point of this strategy was the presentation of the Baku-Ceyhan oil transport project (May 2000) and formation (in October 2000) of a sponsor group with a substantial share of U.S. participation. Thus American presence in the region manifested itself through a network of nongovernmental players that possessed sufficient resources to participate in regional politics on a par with the Caspian countries.
The 9/11 events confronted the White House with a different set of tasks. The operation in Afghanistan is but a part of a worldwide, large-scale action to wipe out terrorists, General Tommy Franks, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command, said in early 2002.16 According to him, the United States should help the Central Asian countries to deal with their own radicals such as, e.g., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or Hizb ut-Tahrir. Ever since the early 19th century, the U.S. establishment has viewed security not as a favorable status quo but as an array of measures and activities to avert threats,17 which makes its presence an inconspicuous but ever present factor in Central Asian politics.
This process affected the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) the most. Discussion about the inclusion of a new player into the key regional security structure began as soon as it appeared. Review of the Treaty with Washington’s participation could make it a key partner of the Central Asian countries while an analogous decision without its involvement could lead to the break-away of antiterrorist coalition members. So the compromise wording of the St. Petersburg Declaration envisioned the SCO’s transformation as a mechanism of information sharing and of a search for common positions, which in and of itself effectively eliminated its military component. The June Summit closed the prospect of Central Asia’s creating its own security core, replacing it with an emerging system of relations around an extra-regional power.
The U.S. factor acquired an even greater importance when Congress adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Central Asia. Washington, its authors John McCain and Joseph Liberman said, is not inclined to turn a blind eye to violations of democratic rights and freedoms in the Central Asian states in exchange for loyalty on the part of their regimes.18 This approach dashed the hopes of those who saw the United States as a new prop for the semi-authoritarian ruling systems in the Caspian region. The Americans linked their presence to the spread of liberal values, thus bringing into the Central Asian world U.S. traditional foreign policy concepts.
The latter is further evidence to the effect that Washington’s new functional role is not limited to creation of a military bloc. Its essence was aptly described by the British researcher Roger McDermott, who related the crisis of the Tashkent Treaty to the emergence of extra-regional formations.19 In line with the “political action” theory, the United States is building a new political paradigm in Eurasia, impeding the restoration of a unicentric setup.
This paradigm is obvious. U.S. corporations and military bases and U.S. backed democratic movements have given the Caspian region a kind of a “stereoscopic effect,” complementing horizontal links with a vertical dimension. Its structure defies description in terms of sociocultural theories: The new strategy is based on the political doctrine of the preventive removal of unfriendly regimes. At the same time, implicitness, characteristic of this principle, prevents it from being classified as institutional. The U.S. presence in Eurasia is not territorial: The U.S. bases in the region are but little points, recalling the 19th century “flag demonstration” practice. Even so, the aggregate U.S. resource forms a qualitatively new system of relationships, preventing the creation of a single military-political organization in Eurasia. The new power is increasingly spreading its own vision of systemic prospects in the region, acquiring the necessary assets to stand up to similar aspirations on the part of Moscow and Beijing.
True, at this stage the United States does not as yet seek an independent force projection. Rephrasing Z. Brzezinski’s formula, in 2003, the United States is still too far away while its regional infrastructure is too weak to emerge as a new Eurasian leader. Nonetheless, its impact on Central Asia’s political culture is sufficient for the United States to assert its ideas about the geographic boundaries and hierarchy in the region. Under the impact of the anti-Taliban operation, Eurasia has lost its isolation, emerging as a multi-tier field where a large number of players are interacting with each other, which gives cause to describe the emerging system as “trans-Eurasian”—as a point where the correlation of forces between the leading powerhouses in the new century is determined.
At first glance, the evolution of the trans-Eurasian discourse is fully in line with the traditional “space consolidation” scheme whereby “saturation” of a regional environment limits the leader’s freedom of action while enhancing the status of other countries. Having enlarged the number of participants in the emerging system, Washington partially blocked Russian aspirations and impeded Chinese projects, which has the makings of a stalemate. Participation by extra-regional powers (the new Afghan government, Pakistan, Turkey, and even almost all of NATO member states) in the emerging structures apparently erodes hegemonistic trends while the creation of a pan-regional cooperation organization could enhance the status of former outsiders. Even so, the concept of U.S. influence per se basically differs from “consolidation” theories, which becomes obvious when set against the analogous strategies followed by Moscow and Beijing.
Researchers traditionally describe China’s Central Asian doctrine in terms of the “political stability” concept. The “Eastern colossus” has pursued the objectives of expanding its economic presence, building new pipelines, and resolving the Uighur conflict that has been smoldering since February 1997. Attainment of each of these objectives required a crisis-free situation, which predetermined Beijing’ acceptance of the Russian domination. This could be described as a low-key impact, resulting—from the perspective of Chinese politicians—in a “harmonization of interests and the sides’ adjustment to each other.” 20
Russia’s strategy hinged on a different set of priorities. Moscow, like no one else, was aware of its regional leadership and so its peacekeeping missions have always been marked by a greater readiness to use force. This model evolved back in the course of the civil war in Tajikistan while regular raids by Islamic extremists in 1999 and 2000 sharply militarized the Russian perception of the Eurasian area. The threat of conflict created there a special form of presence, spearheaded toward Afghanistan, even though, as the experience of repeated “military alerts” showed, Moscow did not cross the Rubicon of air strikes, which was dangerous for it. Quite the contrary, in the lead-up to the antiterrorist war the Russian elite created here a special “containment” system. Within its framework, the Kremlin was strong enough to set the parameters of regional politics, but at the same time, it was relatively weak, faced with the prospects of its infrastructure being encircled in the Pamir mountains.
The “static” character of the Russian concept was not changed even by the breakup of the system. Having positively appraised the U.S. victory over a common enemy, Russian experts before long voiced concern over the introduction of U.S. rules of the game which, in their opinion, threaten an even more serious confrontation compared to the Afghan conflict.21 Furthermore, at the Dushanbe Summit of the Eurasian Community, RF President V.V. Putin had his way on establishing a basically new collective security treaty organization, declaring an expansion in Russian presence. The text of the document contains indicative wording, which is a near verbatim reproduction of Art 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: a threat to one of the allies is automatically perceived as a threat to the entire organization. Thus the Kremlin once again showed the extent to which its regional positions are contingent on institutionalized military-political guarantees whereas the Anglo-Saxon tradition is essentially oriented toward more flexible forms of interrelations.
The U.S. behavioral strategy today is predicated on the fact that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the boundary between intra- and inter-state conflicts has been obliterated in the consciousness of the U.S. political establishment. The wiping out of Islamic radicals based in Eurasia was elevated to a U.S. national priority, and so this part of the world has become the first field to test the post-9/11 approach toward peace maintenance in a new setup. Having committed itself to uprooting radical Islam, the United States turned its bases into a combat asset. The use of Manas airport shows that in the future the aviation that is based there could be assigned real combat missions, contrasting with the “retaining” role of the Russian infrastructure. This strategy confronts the post-Soviet area with two basically new problems.
On the one hand, strikes against terrorist bases automatically lead to combat action against the state whose territory is being used by extremists. In this context, the Pentagon either enters a classic interstate war or becomes party to an internal conflict with far from always predictable consequences. Therefore, the specific conditions of the post-Soviet area prompt the United States to act in alliance with its new partners. This course leads the United States to gradual involvement in conflicts in the Caucasus, internal Uzbek contradictions in the Ferghana Valley, and possibly in the internal clashes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In all events, the White House becomes not so much a military-political partner of these countries as an ally of their governments which, as Georgian experience shows, oftentimes lose control of their own territory. As a result, the new partnership eventually turns Eurasia into a conglomerate of governmental, nongovernmental, and even openly extra-systemic players.
On the other hand, while acting as an ally of the post-Soviet countries, Washington does not in any way link its prospects with the existing elites. The McCain-Liberman resolution sharply increased the number of opposition congresses in the West while human rights violations by Central Asian regimes have become a high priority issue in the U.S. media. U.S. support lends greater legitimacy to such formerly weak organizations as Kazakhstan’s Democratic Choice, Ar-Namys Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Tajik Forum of Democratic Forces of Central Asia, and even the Uzbek opposition movement led by Muhammed Solikh, making them full-fledged players in regional politics. Having emerged as a Eurasian power, the United States also gave a fresh impetus to international criticism of the Niyazov regime, indicating that it could be included in the so-called “axis of evil.”22 This policy, however, gives greater weight to Islamic fundamentalists who just a few years ago put Central Asia on the verge of civil war. In the new setup, however, any revolt threatens the involvement of U.S. air force, which could extend the war against terrorism to Eurasian territory.
Paul Wolfowitz’s declaration of the U.S. “freedom of action” over the Pankisi problem became a watershed in Washington’s perception of its Eurasian role. At first glance, his statement, made on 20 September, 2002, followed on the previous line in so far as several months prior to that the sheer appearance of U.S. commandos in Georgia had been portrayed as assistance to governmental forces in combating terrorism. At the same time, the reference to terrorist bases in Georgia in the context with Yemen showed that by the fall of 2002 the post-Soviet area had finally lost its unique status in the eyes of the U.S. political elite. A week later, the aviation based in the region became one of the Pentagon’s areas of permanent responsibility23 with the White House thus putting an equals sign between the CIS territory and other spheres of its influence. Unlike the military exercises that were held here in the second half of the 1990s, reaffirming the inviolability of the established borders, at the beginning of the new century, the United States pursued independent military-political tasks in Eurasia. They may or may not coincide with the line of the present governments, and so the new Eurasian power increasingly seeks to predetermine the drift of the regional “platforms” single-handedly.
The “platforms” theory emerged from analysis of the situation in Kazakhstan, which some researchers saw as an aggregate of ethnic layers with a pronounced territorial localization.24 Following up on their observations, Kazakh political scientists developed the concept of “Afghanization”—that is to say, of division of the Central Asian countries into ethnic regions.25 The model was tested in the Caucasus where the so-called oil trail turned separatism into a form of struggle for control over the transit of hydrocarbon resources. Nonetheless, the danger of a drift of regional platforms remains in Tajikistan with its traditional contradictions between the ethnic Russian and Tajik communities as well as in the Ferghana Valley, divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Ferghana Valley was once an arena of ethnic upheavals while since the 1990 events, radical forces have repeatedly been raising the issue of creating an Islamic state there. Finally, the threat of territorial divide remains in Afghanistan, where the ethnic movements of Tajiks and Uzbeks directly affect the interests of Tashkent and Dushanbe. So, by getting involved in regional conflicts, the United States calls into question the principles of post-Soviet territorial organization.
Washington exercises increasing control over the drift of regional platforms, which distinguishes the U.S. line from the low-key force projection by China. By making do with the role of an “active observer,” the United States approaches the British concept of brinkmanship within whose framework London could only use its military-political resources in critical situations. Paradoxically enough, the methods of regulation chosen by the White House require direct impact, not a mere watching of regional processes.
U.S. politics first confronted the “platforms drifting” problem in the Balkans where over the past decade the United States has tested two scenarios: forceful (possibly even somewhat artificial) preservation of a confederative unity in Bosnia and military support for the breakaway community in Kosovo. In either case, however, Washington’s policy was marked by intrinsic consistency: Enforcement was seen as the sole objective of the whole operation. By contrast, in the FSU territory, U.S. strategy is kind of split between support of the territorial integrity of its newly acquired allies and the aspiration to replace their ruling elites. As the Wolfowitz statement shows, the United States links the maintenance of its interests to the restoration of control by allied governments over rebellious enclaves, which could require the use of commandos and air-mobile units.26 Meanwhile, “democratization” creates (even if at this stage on a purely political level) a series of relatively autonomous systems which, as the experience of the 1990s shows, could give a fresh impetus to Islamic resistance and breathe new life into ethnic separatism. So the very logic of the trans-Eurasian system contains elements that are destructive to it.
Aggravated by the drifting of “regional platforms,” this contradiction threatens to undermine the territorial integrity of FSU countries. Corporate strategy and conversion of the military into the energy resource are fraught not so much with interstate conflicts as with new dividing lines, drawn by major commercial and political blocs. Acquisition of a new unity within such a system could happen on a piecemeal basis, creating, as in the Balkans, prerequisites for the revival of archaic forms of nationalism. Rapid transformation of political regimes could reanimate the dormant conflicts, bringing them up to a supranational level. The difference from the analogous representation of FRG states will consist only in that the energy based economic model is far from conducive to integration: Within this model, neighboring players are seen as real competitors, not possible integration partners. So “regionalization” may not coincide with the existing state borders while the war against terrorist organizations threatens to aggravate this discrepancy with an element of armed conflict.
To sum up, the situation that has evolved in the region can hardly be described as “space consolidation.” Without binding itself by any general obligations, the new player impacts on other players, urging them to replace interstate relations with interaction between separate players. The new situation could be described as a “loosening” of the Eurasian area, under whose impact states in the region lose their systemic unity, converting the oversaturation of their interaction environment into a dangerous breeding ground for spontaneous conflicts.
Destruction of the Eurasian Area
The aforementioned considerations lead to the conclusion that the destruction of the Eurasian unicentric setup resulted from penetration of the region by the U.S. traditional foreign policy ideas of “leadership neutralization” and “stabilizing democracy.”27 These theories have been successfully used in Western Europe, where, after World War II, the Americans managed to prevent the recurrences of authoritarianism and armed conflicts. In the traditionally enclosed Eurasian region, however, this model is already backfiring.
It could of course be argued that Washington is not as yet strong enough in the south of the post-Soviet region to assert its own rules and effectively regulate regional relations, which is due to objective reasons. The treaty on gas transit between Moscow and Ashghabad, signed in the spring of 2003, showed once again that the complex of relations that had evolved back in the Soviet era will not allow the Central Asian countries to quickly reorient themselves toward a new partner. Nonetheless, the capacity that Washington has acquired is sufficient to destroy the prevailing ideas about the essence of Eurasian relations and the power hierarchy. Awareness of this danger is prompting politicians to look for anti-crisis alternatives.
One conceivable scenario for easing tension could be a redivision of the Eurasian system. By acquiring a measure of institutionalization, the U.S. presence perforce fits into the existing complex of relations, which in and of itself requires a clarification of the borders between the two sub-blocs—the traditional one (around Russia with the participation of China) and the new one (around the United States). This scenario was in effective considered by the April Summit of the Eurasian Economic Community, whose agenda included the issue of delegating supranational powers to its structures.28 It is noteworthy in this connection that Uzbek representatives were absent in the course of the conference (in observer capacity). A stabilization alternative envisions the formation of a rigid bipolar setup wherein Russian influence in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan will counterbalance the U.S.-Uzbek treaty; U.S.-Georgian contacts will offset Armenia’s accession to the Collective Security Treaty while the U.S. bases in Manas and Kulob will become an intermediary (buffer) zone of contacts. Creation of such a system, however, does not mean that a conflict will immediately break out between the two poles. Even so, the fact that Washington sees Eurasia as a source of threat to its stability raises the U.S. profile in the region, and so elements of rivalry are bound to affect the relations between the two sub-blocs.
It could be presumed that (unlike a Europe of the Cold War era) a divided Eurasia will be home to the so-called conflict area, indirect prerequisites for which are embedded in the Pankisi and Abkhaz crises. Creation of a military bloc around Moscow turns the U.S. presence in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into a major diplomatic problem. So institutionalization of both complexes of relations, let alone the division of the post-Soviet area between them, far from preventing the destructive processes, only consolidates disintegration as a fait accompli.
Another alternative involves the search for a mutually acceptable vector of cooperation, co-opting a new player into the existing setup. This model could be realized by admitting the United States to the SCO, signing a special treaty between Washington and a new military organization or creating a kind of a “Eurasian OSCE,” capable of harmonizing the interests of both sides. The discrepancy between the perception of the Eurasian area, however, is fraught with a “conflict potential,” generating new risks.
This refers, above all, to a general lowering of the threshold for the use of force. Unlike all previous wars, in the course of “antiterrorist operations” it is not always easy to identify the border line between peace and state of war. In the past, armed confrontation began with an official declaration of war or direct use of force. Escalation of hostilities in the post-Soviet area, however, could automatically turn the United States into a party to a regional conflict. Sure, the existence of Russian guarantees to nearly all CIS countries will limit the participation of the new player to low-key impacts: allied military personnel training or, in critical situations, limited air support. Still, the sheer fact of intervention provokes escalation wherein negative conflict trends begin to prevail over the logic of conflict resolution.
Another group of risks stems from the Pentagon’s new military practice as encapsulated in the so-called annihilation strategy.29 Within this strategy, limited impact on hostile elements is replaced with their complete elimination, requiring not demonstration strikes with cruise missiles but a large-scale use of homing bombs and tactical aviation. As a result, military operations against terrorist bases automatically turn into a high-intensity conflict, which in and of itself can trigger a strong negative reaction.
Finally, the gradual blurring and erosion of the border line between intra- and inter-state contradictions has a high danger potential. It will be recalled in this context that the conflicts, say, in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan began as a struggle between different sides within one nation, but the strategic interests of the “great powers” quickly turned them into real regional wars. Meanwhile, in the post-Soviet area there are prerequisites for such escalation. This is why analysts often disagree as to whether the U.S. factor in Eurasia will facilitate the creation of a Russian-U.S. security zone or whether it will lead to a new spiral in its militarization.
Analysis of these risks shows that destruction of the Eurasian area goes back to changes in the status quo that had evolved. In the past, Washington’s policy here was mainly that of “containment” while the war turned the United States into a military ally of FSU countries, greatly expanding the scope of U.S. tasks. Seeing new challenges and prospects in Central Asia, Washington not simply projected its military force but also sought to consolidate its positions in this promising region, bringing in its traditional ideas and concepts about ways of organizing the environment as well as about the internal structure of relations between the players. Meanwhile, the foreign policy strategies of the old players lost their integrity, emerging as purely knee-jerk reaction to a negative impact. Destruction of the Eurasian area manifests itself in the disintegration of the traditional forms of organization, the success of “preemptive impact,” as proclaimed by Washington, hinging to a very large extent on whether their fragments could acquire a positive quality.
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The “loosening” of the Eurasian area—a result of a strong external impact—has transformed one of the world’s hitherto most enclosed regions. On the conceptual level, it destroyed the old understanding of “stability,” showing the superiority of the use of force over localization of pockets of instability. On the realpolitik level, the U.S. military presence produced a new, comprehensive impact on the post-Soviet area, bringing Washington’s political concepts into the region.
Today it is too early to talk about the United States’ alternative leadership: The complex of relations that it is building has not as yet prompted the Eurasian countries to break with Russia while CIS institutional structures are not transformed yet. The antiterrorist operation has changed, above all, the conceptual part of the U.S. policy, setting a precedent for the use of force to resolve such long-standing problems as the Indian-Pakistani confrontation, the Ferghana standoff, and conflicts in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of the PRC and in Tibet. There is good reason to say that Eurasia is emerging as the first proving grounds of the new century where the key question of the next few decades is going to be tested: Will the leading powers be able to stand up to the fragmentation of the formations that have evolved?
1 See: A.D. Bogaturov, “Alians nesoglasnykh,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 22 November, 2002; L. Jonson, “Russia and Central Asia: Post-11 September, 2001,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1 (19), 2003; D. Malysheva, “The United States and Russia in the Post-Soviet East: What Is In Store?” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1 (19), 2003; “U.S. Military Transformation after 11 September,” in: Strategic Survey 2001/2002, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 69-78.
2 For more on this problem, see: G. Anderson, The International Politics of Central Asia, Manchester, New York, 1997, p. 208.
3 See, e.g.: M. Ahrari, The New Great Game in Muslim Central Asia, Washington, 1996, pp. 61-62.
4 See: Tang Shiping, “Economic Integration in Central Asia: The Russian and Chinese Relationship,” Asian Survey (Berkeley), Vol. 40, No. 2, 2000, p. 371.
5 After Empire: The Emerging Geopolitics of Central Asia , ed. by J.C. Snyder, Washington, 1995, p. 131.
6 See: A.D. Bogaturov, Velikiye derzhavy na Tikhom okeane, Moscow, 1997, p. 10.
7 See: D. Trofimov, “Shanghai Process: From the ‘Five’ to the Cooperation Organization. Summing Up the 1990s and Looking Ahead,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2 (14), 2002.
8 See: L.N. Gumilev, Ritmy Evrazii, Moscow, 1993, p. 68.
9 See: Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books, New York, p. 148.
10 See: O.V. Vinogradova, “Resursy ‘bolshogo Kaspiia’ (Ozhidaniia i vozmozhnosti v tsifrakh),” Pro et contra, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2000, pp. 103-104.
11 For more detail, see: Le monde, 1 février, 2002.
12 See: H.A. Kissinger, The White House Years, Boston, Toronto, 1979; L.H. Miller, Global Order. Values and Power in International Politics, 3rd ed. Boulder. San Francisco; Oxford, 1994.
13 See: L.M. Beddoes, “Central Asia,” The Economist (London), Vol. 346, No. 8054, 1998, pp. 1-18.
14 See, e.g.: I. Mamedov, “GUUAM: ot moria do moria,” Ekho (Baku), 8 November, 2001.
15 For more on this problem, see: R.P. Formizano, “Poniatie politicheskoy kul’tury,” Pro et contra, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2002, pp. 111-146.
16 See: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 24 January, 2002.
17 For more detail, see: A. Shlesinger, Tsikly amerikanskoy istorii, Moscow, 1992, pp. 80-81.
18 See: Kommersant-Vlast, No. 4, 2003, p. 3.
19 See: R.N. McDermott, “Russia’s Security Agenda in Central Asia,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2 (14), 2002, pp. 17-18.
20 Yu.M. Galenovich, Kitai i sentiabrskaia tragediia Ameriki, Moscow, 2002, p. 144.
21 See: Moskovskiy komsomolets, 12 January, 2002.
22 For more detail, see: “Obratnyy otschet dlia Turkmenbashi,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 10 September, 2002.
23 See: Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, No. 34, 2002.
24 See: D. Crowe, “The Kazaks and Kazakstan: The Struggle for Ethnic Identity and Nationhood,” in: “Focus on Kazakstan: History, Ethnicity and Society,” ed. by D. Crowe, Zh. Dzhunusova, and S. Sabol, Nationalities Papers (New York), Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998, p. 409.
25 See: Security Dilemmas in Russia and Eurasia, ed. by R. Allison and Ch. Bluth, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1998.
26 It is noteworthy that this trend was the most pronounced in Georgia where, in the course of the June 2001 Black Sea exercise, U.S. air support in a possible operation against separatists was rehearsed.
27 For more detail, see: P.A. Chilton, Security Metaphors: Cold War Discourse from Containment to Common House, New York, 1996.
28 See: Izvestia, 29 April, 2003, p. 3.
29 See: A. Fenenko, “Washington’s ‘Annihilation Strategy’ in the Afghan Operation,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 5 (17), 2002.