Farkhod Tolipov, Ph.D. (Political Science), assistant professor, University of World Economy and Diplomacy (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)


Regional integration is a symbol of the turn of the century: EU, ASEAN, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, OAU and other international structures are not merely a gigantic something in the worldwide political process. They stimulate others to a quest for integration models so that, at least, not to lag behind political and economic developments elsewhere in the world.

Today, the systemic structure of international relations rests on regional integration, a dialog between civilizations, and globalization. Collective actions of definite modalities are a conceptual and practical challenge to all countries. It is especially obvious in Central Asia where the states have recently celebrated the first ten years of their independence.

Integration: Theory

A. Koshanov and B. Khusainov have already analyzed the economic aspects of regional cooperation in Central Asia and the stumbling blocks on the road to regional integration. In their analysis they proceeded from an assumption that a shared strategy of economic cooperation and closeness of economic models were two indispensable primary conditions of successful unification. Their conclusion is of strategic importance: deepening of integrative processes is an objective necessity.1 Here I shall leave the economic dimension of Central Asian integration outside the articles scope to look at integration in a wider context using the well-known method of functionalism.

This approach postulates that successful integration in one economic or social field may stimulate further integration. From the functional point of view the problem of integration can be formulated in the following way: how can common interests be united without undue interference in the national sovereignties of each member. Since not all interests are common and not all common interests are equally important for all the only road is that of natural organic selection, binding together those interests which are common, where they are common, and to the extent to which they are common.2

I believe that integration has to overcome not only an absence of the necessary and sufficient conditions but also another fundamental obstaclethe national governments that stand between national cohesion and regional unification. The national governments have at their disposal national sovereignty and national ideology, two major instruments (a legal and a psychological one) of ensuring, justification, preservation and continuous reproduction of national self-identity. As a rule, the national governments find themselves trapped by the traditional and hackneyed ideas about the origins, role, and place of their nations.

What is national self-identity? The importance of an answer to this question for Central Asia cannot be overestimated. I am convinced that the zealous defenders of economic determinism of regional integration miss a very important point when they argue that integration of Central Asia has no firm ground and is untimely because of an absence of mutual economic complementarity among the countries. I want to say that the rationale of economic determinism of regional integration can be fully applied only to fully-fledged state formations of the pre-industrial and industrial eras. In the context of a world-wide trend toward regionalization of international relations Central Asia has not yet completed the process of political delimitation and has not resolved the problems interfering with it. (People living near frontiers frequently cross them: their national self-awareness is much wider than the boundaries imposed on them.) There is no complete understanding that delimitation is economically unprofitable: I doubt that any of our economists have calculated the cost of a fully equipped frontier, especially in the complex local terrains.

On the other hand, D. Mitrany was quite right when he said that social activity in the region, in the widest sense of the word, is cut off by state frontiers and may (or may not) be combined with similar activities beyond the boundaries with the help of uncertain and cramping political ligatures.3 What happens when social activity (which by nature can spread beyond state frontiers) is cut off at the randomly drawn boundaries is, in fact, dismemberment of national self-identification, an effort to strengthen national specificity that leads nowhere.

Egbert Yan, for example, has pointed to the spreading phenomenon of multilayered national awareness. He writes: The problem of preference of any of its components will not plunge an individual into an abyss of an internal personal conflict. A one-dimensional national self-identification is a phenomenon of a society at war. A society in peace can afford a multilayered national or multinational awareness.4 This shows that if we recognize the multilayered nature of national self-identification and its dependence, in many respects, on the political will of the subject in process of self-identification, we shall overcome an intellectual difficulty connected with an adequate idea of the role of the national governments in the process of interstate relations and their importance.

It seems that the Central Asian governments should not divide the national and regional development processes into two absolutely independent groups and look at integration as dependent on their narrow and not always adequate (that is, at variance with the specific regional political context) demands for economic rationality. Indeed, the Central Asian states are tied together by common aims: struggle against terrorism, religious extremism and transnational crime, and common tasks: rescuing the Aral Sea, rational water distribution, setting up a nuclear-free zone, and correcting trans-border social activity. These, and the already announced international economic projects demand special relationships inside the region and collective effort.

The above potential spheres of collective action should be referred to the sphere of regional security. Political developments and the existing conditions suggest that the indivisible security principle and the divided nature of Central Asia cannot exist side by side. Inevitably, the local countries will be forced to provide one common answer, rather than five separate ones, to the threats to all of them. They are to a much greater extent common to the Central Asian countries than to all CIS states.

In these conditions common actions and an idea of a collective security system for the region is a first step toward integration. Which system will the Central Asian countries select? In many respects much will depend on post-Soviet developments, and political development of the huge post-Soviet expanse will, in its turn, depend on the collective security system chosen in Central Asia.

I would like to point out that, as distinct from the amorphous structure called the CIS that probably has no future, an alliance of Central Asian countries will have much more prospects and, strange as it may seem, will be much more democratic. It will much better fit the criteria and postulates of the theory of integration. A description of integration provided by K. Deutsch seems to be especially interesting in this respect: [It is] a relationship among units in which they are mutually interdependent and jointly produce system properties which they would separately lack. Sometimes, however, the word integration is also used to describe the integrative process by which such a relationship or state of affairs among formerly separate units is attained.5

Those who study regional relationships in Central Asia quite often ignore the second part of this definition and speak about the integrative process, thus limiting themselves to mere descriptions of superficial facts. This explains why many of them are interpreting regional processes as disintegrative or conflicting ones. The problem is not limited to registering an absence or presence of integrative tendencies but to answer a strategically important question about an expediency of unification and the ways leading to the system properties equally needed by all participants. What are these system properties?

There is the following postulate/paradigm: a traditional dichotomy of the sovereignty-integration or nationalism-regionalism type placed into an historical and evolutionary Central Asian context is resolved in discussing these polarities in uniform spatial-temporal coordinates. The required system properties are a common regional identity understood as a basis of national and regional security. In practice this means that the Central Asian states should conduct a correlated regional and international policy.

From this point of view the idea that the local countries selected different foreign political strategies due to their different national interests and prefer ties outside the region to those among themselves does not hold water. It should be added that many analysts and journalists accepted the thesis varied/contradicting/different national interests of the Central Asian countries without consideration and turned the formula into a widely accepted stereotype. However, the theory of national interest points to two main contradictions: between its objective and subjective sides, and between collective and individual interests. These contradictions create one common problem: identification and adequacy of interests in politics. The system is very acute politically since, as A. Zdravomyslov put it, it is much more important to understand the interests and take account of them in practice than to understand general principles, ideas, declarations, and calls to moral awareness.6

One should always bear in mind that national interests are determined both by the nature of state and the systemic laws forming regional and international processes. There are two political realities: on the one hand, the nature and uniformity of the domestic political process, on the other, the degree to which the state is included in the system of international relations. It seems that the latter, namely, the still incomplete process of their inclusion in the international political process and the intensifying geopolitical transformation of the region caused the one-sided, superficial, and simplified approach to the question of the states national interests. In fact, the interests themselves are a product of the transformation processestime has not come to speak about the national interests as a fully-fledged shaped system of views, aims, and requirements and the final choice of the variants best suited for their nations.

The problem of their national interests requires special consideration. I shall say here that all official political statements and speculations by journalists and academics about them should take account of regionalism as an historically conditioned phenomenon and stop ignoring an objective dependence between the Central Asian states national and regional interests. Otherwise, such statements and pronouncements will lack objectivity and differ but little from prejudice, personal biases, ambitious and hypertrophied ideas.

Integration: Dynamics

I shall remind here that the Central Asian Commonwealth was a response to a purely Slavic Commonwealth of Independent States created in December 1991. The Central Asian response was based on ethnic, cultural, and religious community and territorial proximity. Observers and analysts described the December 1991 meeting of Central Asian presidents in Ashghabad as a fact of recognition and a moment of creation of regional community.7 Since that time the region, once more in its history, developed into an object of serious analytical interest and geopolitical games.

The process of unification was speeded up by common geographical territory, common roots, culture and the shared past that formed the much-needed original values. The process has already passed through several stages. The first, which lasted from July 1990 (the first meeting of the Central Asian five in Alma Ata while the Soviet Union was still alive) to May 1993, was filled with the regional leaders desire to work out a conception of an integrative model. At first, the republics tried to get more independence from the Center; after December 1991 the region tried to become included in the international political context. In January 1993 the Tashkent summit finally shaped a concerted modelCommonwealth of the Central Asian Republics. This was a contradictory process full of vacillations and nervous search for alternatives: there still existed the ruble zone and the Central Asian economies still much depended on Russia.

The second period lasted from July 1993 to December 1995 during which the regional economies and political systems became much stronger. On 10 January, 1994, when on a visit to Uzbekistan, President of Kazakhstan Nazarbaev signed an agreement on common economic expanse. Very soon, Kyrgyzstan joined them. In July 1994, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan announced in Almaty that they set up interstate structures designed to strengthen and develop their common economic expanse. President Nazarbaev went as far as stating that the presidents had reached a consensus on the prospects of political unification. President of Uzbekistan Karimov confirmed this at a briefing on 3 August, 1994. He informed the journalists that the three states had agreed on creating supra-national political structures and that the period of the euphoria of independence had passed.

An international seminar on regional security was conducted on 15-16 September, 1995 under the U.N. aegis in Tashkent. Attended by many interested states and international organizations, it became one of the signal events of the period. All five Central Asian states were represented, together with the Russian Federation, the United States, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Japan, and the U.N., OSCE, UNDP, CIS, and the Organization of Islamic Conference. E. Rakhmatullaev, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, made an interesting statement: We greet and completely support the steps made by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan designed to reach genuine economic integration and remove all artificial obstacles. I should say that a deliberate attempt to leave Tajikistan out of this process has nothing to do with the objective developments in the region and its realities.8 At that time many analysts were inclined to think that, because of its Persian roots, Tajikistan would stay apart from the Turkic republics and their efforts to unite. The above statement showed that Dushanbe wanted to be part of the regional process of integration.

The third stage of integration started on 15 December, 1995 at a meeting of the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Jambul (Kazakhstan). Certain aspects of the decision adopted there speak volumes about economic cooperation and investment policies for the period till 2000. It was decided to set up a Central Asian Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion under the U.N. aegis, a Council of Defense Ministers of the three states, and a Central Asian parliament.

The decisions were instrumental for further cooperation. It was announced that the countries had launched over 50 joint economic projects related to the regions common economic expanse. It should also be noted that at that stage the process of unification of the Central Asian republics reached the point when it was deemed necessary to introduce a symbol of Central Asia (a five-pointed plane leaf) and to publish a journal Tsentralnaia Azia: problemy integratsii.

In May 1997 five presidents declared Central Asia a nuclear-free zone and proclaimed 1998 the year of environmental protection in Central Asia under the U.N. aegis. The turning point in Central Asian integration occurred on 12 December, 1997 when the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan met in Astana and declared that they decided to set up three international consortiums in the fields of hydraulic power engineering, food production and mineral resources. It was at this meeting that Tajikistan joined common economic expanse. President of Turkmenistan Niyazov asked for the Commonwealths statutory documents. President Nazarbaev emphasized that if the CIS failed to demonstrate real equality of its members, then it would decline into something that had no right to exist.

This view was confirmed at another meeting of the five presidents on 5-6 January, 1998 in Ashghabad. They discussed the problem of oil and gas transportation routes from Central Asia across the Caspian to Europe and certain political problems. They announced, in particular, that they objected to strengthening the CIS political institutions and a joint military command within it and confirmed Tajikistans membership in common economic expanse.

This stage was expected to last until Turkmenistan joined the other countries after which it was planned to strengthen the supra-national political institutions. It is interesting to note that in one of his interviews President Nazarbaev pointed to the democratic nature of Central Asian integration. When asked about the regions possible federalization he answered that the decision belonged to the nations. In his book President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov emphasized: This integration has been and remains popular by its very nature We should say that integration of the Central Asian nations is not an idle dream or a project to be realized in future. It is a fact that needs organizational and political forms.9

The fourth stage of regional integration proved to be contradictory and far from straightforward. It seems that this was caused by stronger geopolitical processes in the region and around it: the geopolitical transformation of the entire post-Soviet expanse and its core (Central Asia) reached its peak in 1999 through 2001 and is still going on. We all know that in the recent years the threat of international terrorism has increased and spread worldwide. Our region is one of its victims. It was after 11 September, 2001 that the world community became even more fully aware of Central Asias geostrategic role. Over 150 years ago the region became an object of the Great Game of the world powers. As soon as the regional states emerged on the world arena as independent entities of international relations, the Game changed its modality. The geopolitical interdependence of Central and South Asian states became absolutely clear.

It has become abundantly clear that terrorism and the antiterrorist efforts were geopolitical phenomena. This required a revision of many provisions of international law and contributed, to a great extent, to creating a new situation in the region.10 Terrorism caused integrative and disintegrative waves in the relations between the Central Asian states. On the one hand, a growing threat of drug trafficking, terrorism and religious extremism emanating from Afghanistan urged the states to look for concerted counter-measures. In particular, an agreement On Joint Efforts to Fight Terrorism, Political and Religious Extremism, Transnational Organized Crime and Other Threats to the Sides Security and Stability was signed in Tashkent in April 2000.

On the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that much that was done by Central Asian states within the antiterrorist campaign was tinged with geopolitical colors. All of them joined the antiterrorist international coalition, yet Uzbekistans more active and efficient cooperation with the United States caused (judging by numerous speculations that appeared in the media) concerns over a possible strengthening of Uzbekistans positions in the region. Unfortunately, participation of the Central Asian states in the same antiterrorist coalition was not complemented with their cooperation among themselves in this sphere for which the agreement mentioned above had supplied a legal basis.

The year 2001 was crowned with a success: at their extraordinary meeting in Tashkent on 27-28 December the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan transformed the Central Asian Economic Commonwealth into the Central Asian Cooperation organization, thus formulating a strategy of the further improvement of the forms and mechanisms of regional economic integration, deeper mutual understanding on common security and joint actions to maintain peace and stability in the region.11 There was another thing that attracted attention: in their declaration the heads of states emphasized that it was very important to complete legal delimitation of the common frontiers according to the norms of international law and confirmed that they were united in regarding the frontiers in the region as the frontiers of peace, friendship and good-neighborly relations.

Integration: Prerequisites, Specific Features and Prospects

Murad Esenov referred to the still uncompleted process of state formation in the region and the states internal integration, and to their different sociopolitical systems when he wrote that as long as the subject of integration itself, that is the state, remains at the stage of formation an integration union cannot be completed.12

I agree with this theoretical provision that can be used as a reckoning point for an analysis of the problem of Central Asian integration as a classical approach to the discussed question. Systemic analysis of the wide-scale transformations underway in Central Asia suggests that we should postulate specific laws of integration in this part of the world of which I have written above.

German academic Heribert Dieter has written that the regions serious economic, ecological, military-political, and other problems can be regarded through the prism of regional integration: By itself, no one country in Central Asia can have realistic hopes of achieving economic success, even if some of the observers from that region find this difficult to acknowledge. Even the economies of the larger states within Central Asia, i.e. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are comparatively small. A single Central Asian economy would still not constitute a large economic bloc; from a perspective of economic relevance, it would be comparable to Iran. The only alternatives realistically available to the smaller countries, i.e. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, are progressively increasing poverty or regional integration. It is apparent that Central Asia is not in a position to choose between regional integration and integration into the world market. Successful regional integration will be the minimum requirement for any attempt at integration into the world market, if for no other reason than that none of the countries of Central Asia have direct ocean access, and the increased exchange of goods and services is, therefore, tied to building a common infrastructure within Central Asia.13

It is important to understand today that the Central Asian states, the integration entities, are living through the synchronous processes of formation and integration. These are processes of the same orderthey are not mutually exclusive.

The factor of national self-identification was a regional constant that existed side by side with a certain supra-national integrative quasipolity such as the empire of Genghis Khan and that of Tamerlane, the Bukhara Emirate, the Kokand and Khiva khanates, Turan, Turkestan, Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union with its Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and all sorts of post-Soviet formations of the Central Asian Economic Commonwealth/Central Asian Commonwealth and the CIS types. The waves of integration and disintegration come and retreat to create a complex geo-socio-cultural-political tectonics of regional development in which the line between the national and regional is barely seen.

Today, all those who analyze the regional processes can be roughly divided into two opposing schoolsthose of integrationists and disintegrationistsyet even the latter a priori recognize that the region is an indivisible whole. For example, those who are skeptical about the future of regional integration still study the processes within the geographical limits of Central Asia. Indeed, nobody speaks of any individual Central Asian state and China or South Asian states as unlikely integration partners. In all cases the region is regarded as a whole and an entity that stands apart from others even if the future of regional integration is doubted.

At the practical level this is reflected in the fact that the majority of high foreign and international officials always visit all Central Asian countries. Today, anxiety displayed by Russia, China, and Iran over increased American military and political presence in the region due to the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan confirms the fact that the phenomenon of Central Asian regionalism relies on internal logic.

One has to say that the entire system of arguments in favor of disintegration is reduced to several superficial and far from dialectical propositions: the economies are not mutually complementing; the Central Asian peoples have not yet overcome ethnic contradictions; the states have not yet settled territorial disputes; Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are claiming regional leadership; water distribution is a potential source of conflicts, etc. It should be noted, however, that the conflict-breeding factors on which the disintegrationists build up their conclusions are very specific. They are a product of geopolitical division of the regional quasipolity and cannot be resolved through the traditional (classical) approaches to similar problems.

Central Asia today is an objectively integrative unit with many aspects, free from nuclear armaments, it is a single market, a historical entity, an indivisible security system, a single ecological system, and the independent geopolitical unit (a buffer, the Heartland, a center of power). Finally, it is a center of a civilizational (intercultural) synthesis. All these descriptions reflect the regions special status: it is at one and the same time a product and a source of special interaction of the Central Asian countries that differs from their interactions outside the region.

Speaking of the latest events of the fourth stage, I would like to point to two facts of special importance for forecasting the future. On 17 December, 1999 the heads of government of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in Dushanbe to discuss the CAEC strategy for the twenty-first century. In June 2000 the CAEC Interstate Council met there to adopt two documents of signal importance: the integration strategy up to the year 2005 and a program of high-priority steps to form a single economic expanse. The participants in the Dushanbe meeting agreed that if realized the program would help overcome the present contradictions. Prime minister of Kazakhstan Tokaev said that neither Kazakhstan, nor Kyrgyzstan, nor Tajikistan, nor Uzbekistan could independently offer their economies profitable markets.14 As the first step the four countries want to turn the region into a free-trade zone; this will be followed with a customs, payments, and monetary union. Their final aim will be a common market of goods, services, and capitals.15 The CAEC has proved to be the most efficient alliance in the CIS: it has adopted over 150 documents since 1995, 90 percent of which were enacted, others are being ratified. President Nazarbaev said recently: We have already nearly introduced free trade between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and partly with Uzbekistan. We have already settled the customs problems and have adjusted all legal acts related to economy. We have started setting up large interstate consortiums to extract natural resources, hydropower resources and create infrastructure.16

Speaking about the prospects, one has to point out to fundamental distinction between integration within the CIS and that in Central Asia. They are related not only to the values and origins but also to strategy. This confirms my conclusion about an independent nature of integration within CAC and the major role geopolitics plays in the process.17

It is the geopolitical factor and its permanent nature that allow us to apply the wise warning pronounced more than two centuries ago by one of the founding fathers of America. In his speech published by the Independent Journal on 10 November, 1787 John Jay said, in particular: We must advert to the effects of that superior policy and good management which would probably distinguish the government of one above the rest, and by which their relative equality in strength and consideration would be destroyed. For it cannot be presumed that the same degree of sound policy, prudence, and foresight would uniformly be observed by each of these confederacies for a long succession of years The proposed confederacies will be distinct nations. What they wanted to say was: unity is a road to equality.


I believe that even if the local Central Asian economies were absolutely mutually complementary, that is, if the main traditional criterion of regional integration was a fact, the basic indices of interstate regional economic integration would have proven to be lower than the sum total of the indices of economic cooperation outside the region. In other words, a situational analysis of Central Asian integration confronts us with a relatively new phenomenonintegration, as the primary condition of inclusion in a wider alliance, be it in the CIS or the world community. It is an indispensable condition for overcoming our landlocked nature, provincialism, and backwardness. Strange as it may seem, integration helps the states affirm themselves in their national political, economic and cultural spheres.

Going back to the functional method, we can cite D. Mitrany once more: The purpose of peaceful change can only be to prevent disturbances; one might say indeed that its true task is to remove the need and the wish for changes of frontiers. The functional approach may be justifiably expected to do precisely that; it should help to make changes of frontiers unnecessary by making frontiers meaningless, as it would gradually overlay them with a continuous growth of common activities and interests, as of common administrative agencies.18

1 See: A. Koshanov, B. Khusainov, Integration Problems in Central Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1, 2001.

2 D. Mitrany, The Functional Theory of Politics, London School of Economics and Political Science, Martin Robertson and Co., 1975, p. 115.

3 Ibid., p. 118.

4 E. Yan, Gosudarstvennoe i etnicheskoe ponimanie natsii: protivorechia i skhodstvo, Polis, No. 1, 2000, p. 123.

5 K. Deutsch, The Analysis of International Relations, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1978, p. 198.

6 A.G. Zdravomyslov, Potrebnosti, interesy, tsennosti, Politizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1986, p. 89.

7 V.Ia. Belokrenitskiy, Tsentralnoaziatskoe edinstvomif ili realnost? Vostok, No. 5, 1996.

8 Tsentralnaia Azia: po puti bezopasnosti i sotrudnichestva. Materialy Tashkentskogo seminara po bezopasnosti i sotrudnichestvu v Tsentralnoi Azii (15-16 sentiabria 1995 g.), Uzbekistan Publishers, Tashkent, 1995, p. 46.

9 I. Karimov, Uzbekistan na poroge XXI veka: ugrozy bezopasnosti, uslovia i garantii progressa, Uzbekistan Publishers, Tashkent, 1997, p. 310.

10 See: F. Tolipov, Ispytanie geopolitiki terrorizmom i antiterrorizmom, SShA-Kanada, EPK, No. 3, 2002.

11 Tashkentskoe zaiavlenie glav gosudarstv Respubliki Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki, Respubliki Tajikistan i Respubliki Uzbekistan, Pravda Vostoka, 29 December, 2001.

12 M. Esenov, Problemy mezhgosudarstvennoi integratsii v Tsentralnoi Azii (K postanovke problemy), Rossia i musulmanskii mir, No. 12, 1998, p. 62.

13 H. Dieter, Regional Integration in Central Asia: Current Economic Position and Prospects, Central Asian Survey, No. 15, 1996.

14 Transkaspiiskiy proekt [http:/], 16 June, 2000.

15 See: Ibid.

16 BBC, 14 June, 2000.

17 See: F. Tolipov, Sravnitelniy analiz integratsii v SNG i Tsentralnoi Azii, Tsentralnaia Azia i Kavkaz, No. 5 (6), 1999.

18 D. Mitrany, op. cit., p. 120.

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