CENTRAL ASIA IN REGIONAL INTEGRATION PROJECTS: CERTAIN ASPECTS COMPARED
Galia Abdrakhmanova, Ph.D. candidate, Political Science Chair at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
From the very first days of their independence the post-Soviet Central Asian states rich in natural resources and ruled by elites with little (if any) experience in international affairs have been objects of close attention by external players who hastened to the Eurasian geopolitical arena to put pressure on what looked like easy prey. Today multisided integration structures have been and remain a popular lever of pressure.
Their popularity is easily explained by successful European experience. Like many others, the Central Asian states succumbed to the temptation to take part in the multisided cooperation structures set up within their geopolitical and geo-economic contexts.
Since the late 1991 the Central Asian states have been involved (successfully and otherwise) in several integration structures (mainly limited to the post-Soviet expanse): the Commonwealth of Independent States (since 1991), all sorts of sub-regional Central Asian cooperation formats (1994-2005), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (since 1999).
For the purpose of this article I have selected three multisided structures functioning in three different spheres of the Central Asian republics’ “extraregional” integration activity: the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). All of them were set up to promote economic integration among their members with the prospect of setting up free trade areas and involving the regional states in cooperation with countries outside post-Soviet Central Asia. Four of the Central Asian republics take part in all of the above structures with the exception of Uzbekistan, which left the EurAsEC in November 2008, and Turkmenistan, which has limited its involvement to the ECO.
It was not the regional states that set up the structures and they have no central roles to play in them. Still, two Eurasian giants, permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia and China), as well as several states of regional dimensions (Iran, Turkey and Pakistan), are involved in a fierce struggle for the local countries’ resources and their transit potential. In this context the Central Asian states are left with the task of maneuvering among the interests of these much stronger states.
It should be said in all justice that with fifteen years of independent foreign polices and stronger economic positions behind them the Central Asian countries have learned how to stand up for their interests and how to talk as equals with those who sponsored the regional projects in the first place.
None of the three selected structures can be described as successful even though all of them have fairly clear-cut integration aims and prerequisites for deeper interstate cooperation. (I have in mind common borders, cultural and historical factors, and the obvious need to pool efforts to develop transport and communication infrastructure together.)
I have posed myself the task of identifying the common and different features of the three structures and……………..