THE U.S.-WESTERN EUROPE-RUSSIA TRIANGLE AND CENTRAL ASIA
Sevara Sharapova, Ph.D. (Political Science), assistant professor, Political Science and Law Department, Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
Interests of the major (if not all) players involved in international relations are concentrated in Central Asia. In the wake of the terrorist acts in the United States this has become even more obvious. The U.S. that has allied with European countries is one of such players. On the one hand, these key allies strengthen Washington’s positions, on the other, they prevent it from going to extremes.
The latest events worldwide have confirmed this. Numerous publications in the European and American press show that there are two dominating trends in the relations between the United States and Western Europe. On the one hand, the European allies are embarrassed by a lack of former interest from the United States that crops up in criticism of Washington’s position and its one-sided approach. At the same time, the Europeans are doing their best to rivet American attention to the humanitarian, human rights and the related issues in the relations between the United States and its new allies. Despite a certain share of coolness, the European countries still preserved their importance for the U.S. amply demonstrated by the events around the U.N. resolution on Iraq.
This ambiguity is fully displayed in Central Asia, a specific and even unique region. An analysis of the U.S. allied relations there reveals the faults that should be corrected in the course of time and that make it possible to predict the future of this cooperation. At the same time, Russia that spent much time trying to identify itself as a Western or Eastern country has stepped up its activeness in Central Asia. Before that, during the Kosovo crisis, Moscow and the West found themselves on the opposite sides of the barricade. Today, Washington has discovered that as an ally in Central Asia Moscow outweighs its traditional European allies, therefore a careful observer of what was going on in Central Asia can detect future changes in the Western camp and symptoms of new relationships between Russia, Europe, and the United States. To a certain extent the sides of the triangle are competing among themselves, yet they present a united front to the outside world. This is what I mean by Central Asian specifics, this is what attracts researchers: the situation hints at certain conclusions about the prospects of relationships among the Western forces. They are facing changes in which Russia will play a definite role.
How the U.S.-Western Europe Alliance Was Taking Shape
The allied relations between the United States and Western Europe took shape during the Cold War. Before World War II the United States preferred to avoid any involvement in world politics. They wanted “full participation in free international trade and access to world markets while avoiding foreign conflicts.”1 The end of the war, beginning of large-scale American financial aid to Europe, and the first signs of the Cold War altered American attitude to European states. Having left behind its isolationist policy and having opted for a role of a “patron of freedom and democracy,” the United States acquired reliable and loyal partners among the West European states that totally depended on it.
On the world scene the Western countries acted all together, they shared opinions on the majority of global problems. This did not mean, however, that this unity would last forever: at time opinions differed, yet on the whole the united front prevailed, therefore one can say that Western policies stood on European geopolitics.
Historically, European geopolitics was shaping as a line of conduct of and relationships among Christian countries while Christ was associated with Europe even though he was born in Asia and found refuge in Africa.2 Religious wars and an outright rejection of other confessions were raging while these relationships consolidated themselves. European geopolitics was changing together with the changing social conditions, departure from the omnipresent power of the Pope accompanied by the shift of emphasis from the theory of the Pope sovereignty to the “Laws of Freedom” of Christ.3 In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe was “… associated with the concept of a balanced system of sovereign states, religious tolerance and expanding commerce.”4
A balanced system was absolutely necessary: European neighbors were always fighting among themselves while the self-preservation instinct called for numerous alliances to outweigh potential enemies. Later the policy became known as “a balanced system of numerous alliances.” In the 19th century, the European countries went even further: they started calling international (European) conferences to put the world in order after the wars. The Versailles conference was the first of them followed by the Hague congresses. Early in the 20th century, the world received the first universal organization—the League of Nations. This happened when the United States emerged as another player on the political scene the events on which had been mostly limited to Europe. A Grammar of Politics, a textbook written by Laski and published in London in 1941, pointed out that the League of Nations should supervise how human rights were observed in different countries irrespective of national frontiers.5 European political thought never forgets to remind about this.
Religious tolerance is deeply rooted in the European past: Europe learnt a lesson from numerous religious wars and Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Not all authors though agree that this period marked a beginning of religious tolerance in European geopolitics. In one of his publications A. Bayaz quoted Kohl as saying that the European Union was an alliance of Christian states alone. In the same article the author mentioned a special position of the United States that supported Turkey.6
The above affords several interpretations. On the one hand, this says that European geopolitics is based on Christianity, on the other, this shows that different European countries treat the Christian factor differently. In many respects the U.K., France, and Germany as the European leaders have been playing and continue to play the leading role in the region. They try to extend the specific features of their past development and traditional behavior to Europe as a whole. There are attempts at creating a formula of collective behavior, yet the European Commission is not empowered to offer united foreign policy. At best it can be discussed and coordinated at meetings of the EU foreign ministers. This probably prompted Kohl to say: “Without integration the EU nations will revert to war among themselves.”7 Indeed, old insults may crop up thus undermining the united Europe’s might on the world political scene.
The continent’s past has taught Europe to develop trade as one of the key geopolitical trends. In fact, many generations tried to build up a European home based on new values “so that nobody would be afraid or envious.” Trade offered the shortest route to this ideal. It created better knowledge of cultures, increased trust and mutual understanding, and the desire to reach compromises. This was what Duc de Sully, minister of finance at Henri IV, believed in though none of his contemporaries could describe this cautious and enterprising pragmatist as a pipe-dreamer.8
For a long time Russia was not counted as a European country. Duc de Sully, for example, while recognizing that it was a Christian country did not list it among the European powers. He pointed out that Russia needed changes in the sphere of culture. All later European authors, however, regarded it as part of Europe, especially after the reforms of Peter the Great. It should be added that Turkey, too, was described as a member of European alliance.
This shows that European geopolitics was gradually replacing the initial principle of a single religion with the principle of devotion to similar values, including cultural values. Starting with the 18th century European geopolitics was frequently called cultural geopolitics.9
Today one can say that European geopolitics has many levels and sub-levels: the culturological level embraces the cultural community inside Europe and a messianic treatment of the world outside; the political level consists of tolerance created by the sobering European experience, an obligatory nature of political freedoms as the fundamental values inside the European states and a balanced system of constantly changing coalitions outside them; the economic level consists of a free market and rule of law inside Europe and pragmatism and economic stimuli outside it.
The United States and European geopolitics
According to a textbook on the logic of international relations, America looks at the world through the prism of political freedom of individuals and states and inadmissibility of tyranny. From the American point of view freedom as the pivot of international relations is threatened if any nation or a group of nations starts using the threat of force to achieve domination. Americans are convinced that human rights and freedoms do not belong to domestic competence. Even the minimal degree of democratic choice is a sine qua non of any state. Violations in this sphere should inevitably invite international interference.10
The American approach largely coincides with the European position. From the very beginning the United States embraced the principles of European geopolitics as the cornerstone of its worldwide policy. In many respects the United States represented and pursued European geopolitics. It seems that this made the Western alliance possible.
While cherishing European values the United States, because of its own history, outstripped Europeans in assessing the value of political freedoms and guarantees. No wonder there is a liberal trend in the American foreign policy thought that cherishes the democratic values, basic freedoms included, above all other things. Such freedoms should be defended in all circumstances, preferably through the world community’s concerted efforts.
The United States and its role in the world were changing by adding more flexibility to its foreign policy. Pragmatism moved to the fore that should not be taken to mean that pragmatism is totally absent from European geopolitics—it is of tremendous importance. Still, politics in Europe proceeds from the continent’s geopolitical, cultural and historical realia while the United States belongs to an entirely different geopolitical and cultural context. The country is a melting pot of races and peoples, which affects its policy to a certain degree. The United States is exercising a wider religious approach and entertains slightly different geopolitical ambitions. The abovementioned fact of American support for Turkey is one of the relevant illustrations.
The fact that pragmatism is reigning supreme in the U.S. geopolitics explains why American foreign policy thought is commanded by realism. As distinct from the liberals, the realists are much more flexible and prefer to guide themselves by the American interests. This explains their differentiated approach to any problem in different regions. As distinct from the liberals, the realists distinguish between high politics and low politics. The former embraces the issues of war and peace (neo-realists have completed the list with the economic and financial issues) while the human rights and social problems belong to low politics.11 This approach is next to impossible in European political thought.
During the Cold War the Western alliance was especially closely knit. The United States was opposing the threat coming from the socialist camp on the European field that made the European countries cherished foreign policy allies. The NATO and the newly coined term “the Atlantic world” were two symbols of geopolitical unity between the United States and Western Europe. Since 11 September, 2001 the U.S. has been confronted with the force that not merely threatens the American values in Europe but is involved in the guerilla warfare inside the United States itself. America and freedom as its most cherished value have come under direct fire. A well-known formula “Give me liberty or give me death”12 that some of the academics describe as the gist of the American treatment of world events says that the American society is prepared to die for victory.
The altered nature of threats is forcing the White House to change its strategy and the national security conception accordingly. Isolation is no longer an answer: the country is deeply incorporated into the world system that will not be able to function without it in the globalization context. The answer is provided by a more active and slightly different policy designed to neutralize potential threats. Its outlines can be most clearly detected in Central Asia, the frontline of American struggle against the newly emergent threats. In these conditions Washington looks at Russia as a more valuable ally than the traditional allies in Europe.
Russia: Its Role and Possibilities. American Position
M. Olcott has written that the West had been looking at Russia as a country designed to bring order to the Central Asian countries, yet oil urged the West to perform a U-turn in its Central Asian politics. “Central Asia states went from being viewed as inconvenient additions to the international scene to being seen as potential strategic assets.”13 The West no longer asks itself whether it wants Central Asian dependence on Russia.
The rivalry in the region continued until the terrorist acts of 2001. They and everything that the United States did after that determined the victor in the Cold War and the Central Asian rivalry. Today, we are still undecided as to whether Russia and other countries wanted or could compete with the United States for an undivided domination in the region.
Russia had many chances in Central Asia that has been its traditional sphere of influence. Today, Russia is busy radically revising its policies. There are voices that want the glory of a superpower restored, yet pragmatists are winning the battle. This is something new in the Russian political thought and is therefore very important. These changes are prompted by the current situation: it follows in the footsteps of many metropolitan countries trying to wring dry the present situation in an effort to obtain the slightest advantages. (This was what happened to Great Britain in which the old ambitions are still burning and which tries to restore the glory and influence it enjoyed in the 19th century.)
Russia is prone to changes, therefore no one can be sure that pragmatism and rationalism have already triumphed. The real changes in social life notwithstanding Russia’s political thought remains riveted on the discussion between the Westerners and Slavophiles. This is true of all spheres: domestic developments and foreign policy strategy, the values and principles of public life. On the whole, the Slavophiles are talking about Russia’s special role and development while the Westerners favor integration with the West and an acceptance of its values and norms.
Moscow’s geopolitical role depends, to a great extent, on the choice of the doctrine. I should say that there is no clear dividing line between the two groups: they both want to restore Russia’s status as a great power.
Today, there are few Westerners in Russia’s political establishment. They are mainly young democrats: Chubais, Nemtsov, and their circle. Most of the elite has chosen a certain synthesis of Russian and Western geopolitics with a slightly bigger Russian component. It looks as if President Putin would have preferred to tread traditional geopolitical roads, yet his intuition of a politician and realism force him to balance between two variants.14 Putin’s pragmatism is daubed with nationalist wordage and a great deal of self-confidence designed to inflate the Russians’ self-respect and self-assessment. On the whole, under Putin Russia’s policy in Central Asia became more flexible and more responsive to the opinions of others. At the same time, its new leaders have demonstrated that Central Asia retained its strategic importance for Russia. In other words, while wishing to remain in the region (under any developments and balance of forces) Russia has somewhat corrected its political methods and changed its instruments of influence.
Russia is using the CIS, in the first place, the Collective Security Treaty, the Eurasian Economic Community and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (the latter brings together two geopolitical rivals in the region—Russia and China) as its geopolitical instruments. The ECO that unites two other rivals—Iran and Turkey—plays a role similar to that of the SCO. The structure that if not promoting Russian geopolitics is not interfering with it is the Central Asian Community: many regional economies are tied to Russian economy while some of the CAC members are strengthening their military-political cooperation with Russia. The PfP, NATO and GUUAM at an earlier stage are obviously trying to contain Russia’s geopolitical designs.
At the same time, Russia’s policy in Central Asia is obviously of a dual nature: on the one hand, Moscow is seeking its stronger presence in the region through pro-Russian blocs in which China and Iran, two strong opponents of Atlanticism, take part. On the other, recently it has been obviously integrating with the Atlantic world and is inclined to act together with it (through NATO) and with the states that are close to it (the PfP countries). The latter probably explains why Russia approved of the bases in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries and Ukraine’s position (that could not be clearly stated without preliminary consultations with the Russian leaders) related to its NATO and EU membership.
This duality is rooted in Russia’s newly found pragmatism. On the one hand, the new geopolitical values and Russia’s desire to form a bloc with the Western countries are here for everybody to see. On the other, there is a space for maneuvering and for using the mechanisms of traditional opposition of Eurasianism (an alliance with China) and Atlanticism.
This is especially obvious in the history of relations with NATO. Traditional geopolitics is treating the NATO and the Russian interests as conflicting ones. The Western trend of Russia’s geopolitics demands integration with NATO to be crowned with actual membership.
I have already written that as a political realist President Putin prefers a synthesis of two variants, therefore despite the so-called “NATO at 20,” geopolitical contradictions between Russia and NATO are still here to be best seen in Central Asia.
Being aware of its limited possibilities, Russia prefers to act indirectly, through others. It seized an opportunity to become the West’s key energy partner while never doubting that no matter what Central Asia with which Russia shares a great deal of history will always need it to maintain a geopolitical balance. The logic of the theory of balance suggests that irrespective of the leading actor in the region (be it the United States or China) any of the Central Asian states will need Moscow to maintain stability. In other words, the Russian Federation did not lose the race: in fact, its geopolitical interests and its present possibilities requires American military involvement in the region.
Russia still controls efficient financial and economic levers in Central Asia.15 So far the local economies are still dependent on the former Soviet Center. There is a new and important factor: the sentiments of the local people and, more importantly, the youth. According to sociological polls among the regional youth, 76.5 percent of the respondents in Tajikistan; 67.2 percent in Kyrgyzstan; 52.4 percent in Kazakhstan, and 42.5 percent in Uzbekistan believe that Russia “might help to the greatest degree solve the problems of their countries,” while 88.1 percent of the polled young people in Tajikistan; 71.5 percent in Kyrgyzstan; 60.6 percent in Kazakhstan; 54.9 percent in Uzbekistan pointed out that Russia could make the weightiest contribution to regional stability and security. It is interesting to note that Russia left the United States that comes second far behind. Only 15 percent in Tajikistan, 15.5 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 30.9 percent in Kazakhstan, and 36.2 percent of the polled in Uzbekistan expect effective help from the United States while 7.6 percent in Tajikistan, 18.2 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 25.5 percent in Kazakhstan, and 33.2 percent in Uzbekistan rely on an American contribution to regional stability and security.16
The United States also profits from the new “liberal” Russian policies in Central Asia: the intertwined economic and geopolitical factors helped it strengthen its positions in the region. Public opinion in America affects, to a great extent, Washington’s foreign policies from which it follows that Americans (who remember the 11 September events and do not wish a repetition) will approve of American presence in the region. In this way the United States has long-term geopolitical interests in the region and serious economic interests supported by the American public.
There is a commonly accepted opinion that in Central Asia the West and Russia may become rivals. This means, by inference, that the U.S. and its allies may have common interests that may contradict those of Russia’s. I believe that we should talk not so much of a rivalry between the United States and Russia as about a rivalry between Russia and Europe for the United States everywhere, including Central Asia. One can even say that the American interest in the region has given Moscow a chance to demonstrate to Washington and the rest of the world its importance, its novel approaches and to exploit the opportunity to form strong and reliable relations with the European countries. In Central Asia the United States is testing an absolutely new model of European geopolitics.
The fundamental values of European geopolitics will remain important for the American worldwide strategy and will probably be embraced by Russia as the basis of its international policy. The United States is concentrated on “liberty” while Russia wishes “free will” more than anything else. I expect these two approaches to be incorporated into the new Western strategy based (very much as in the past) on the European geopolitical values.
The Western countries are transforming and renovating their policies—the first signs of this can be observed in Central Asia.
The basic principles of European geopolitics will remain for a long time to come a cornerstone of the American doctrines and those of European countries. Today, they are striking root in the Russian establishment, too. The Russian Federation has still preserved its special status despite the fact that certain authors started listing it among the Western forces. Russia will preserve its desire to ally with the European countries: its current reforms are intended to bring it closer to Europe. Historically Russia was part of Europe and is close to it from the religious point of view. Its geopolitical interests, however, are varied and this moves it a bit aside.
At the same time, Europe that strives to look like a monolith is divided by numerous rifts and underwater currents. Today it is becoming more and more obvious that the European countries resent the fact that the United States has moved away from them. Europeans want stability in Central Asia that is a source of oil and gas. They will be delighted to see a flow of drugs and illegal weapons from the region discontinued together with the spread of terrorism. Europe lacks instruments needed to conduct its policies in Central Asia, therefore the United States needs Russia as its ally in the region. Russia, on the other hand, being aware of its unwelcome development into a junior partner of the United States (or of its movement in this direction) wants closer relations with Europe to improve its chances and boost possibilities in its relations with the U.S.
The leading countries of Europe are divided over closer relations with Russia. The U.K. that at all times has been maintaining closer relations with the United States painfully reacts to America’s coolness and is slowly moving toward Europe. Germany that is completely aware of its economic superiority over its European neighbors is willing to join them at the European hearth and is inviting Russia. France that is playing its traditional role of a balancing force is trying to check German influence in Europe and is moving away, to a certain extent, from the United States.
There is another important thing: in the 19th century it was the European powers that were competing and fighting among themselves everywhere, Central Asia included. Later, in the 20th century, rivalry continued among the United States, the Atlantic states and the Soviet Union (that is, basically among the same European countries). Today, there is a possibility of warfare between them and other forces.
I can say that an open rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and Europe in Central Asia is impossible not because they share identical interests but because their potentials are unequal. The changed nature of threats has altered the American priorities and caused European disillusionment with Asian politics. Washington stepped up its activities in Asia while Central Asia acquired more importance. The Europeans are threatened at home and feel lonely without American support. They are doing their best to keep the U.S. at their side by talking about the common European values and accusing the Americans of one-sided approaches. On the whole Europe is suffering from lack of cohesion: it is torn by the English, French and, to a lesser extent, German ambitions (the latter is fully aware of its economic and financial superiority). Russia has enough ambitions of its own, the leading among them being the desire to restore its old grandeur. Today, however, its policy is obviously pragmatic: it is demonstrating its increasing readiness to act together with America and Europe—something that cannot be described as typical of Russia. On the whole one has to admit that there is a consensus among these forces, they are European and are acting as such on the world scene.
This should not be taken to mean that there are no contradictions inside this coalition of sorts. I think that they will be more obvious in the sphere of economy (as contrasted to the former ideological clashes) and will crop up as struggle for markets and resources, including Central Asian markets and resources.
Here I would like to quote the results of a sociological poll conducted among young people in Central Asia. Those who organized it concluded: “The youth is looking at the West. It associates possible solution of many problems in their countries and the region as a whole with the Western rather than Eastern or Islamic states.”17 This obviously includes Russia, the United States and West European countries. All sides of the triangle will profit from developing their cooperation with the post-Soviet Central Asian republics and helping them, thus promoting their modernization and neutralizing the possible seats of tension there.
Article was prepared in cooperation with Dr. Ph. Towle of Center of International Relations of Cambridge University and Dr. G. Hawthorn of Faculty of Social and Political Science of Cambridge University.
1 The Logic of International Relations, ed. by Walter S. Yones, New York, 1997, p. 52.
2 See: M. Heffernan, The Meaning of Europe. Geography and Geopolitics, London, 1998, p. 13.
3 A.A. Chanyshev, Istoria politicheskikh ucheniy. Klassicheskaia zapadnaia traditsia (Antichnost-Pervaia chetvert XIX veka), Moscow, 2000, p. 187.
4 M. Heffernan, op. cit., p. 20.
5 See: H. Laski, A Grammar of Politics, London, 1941, p. 596.
6 See: A. Bayaz, “Das Tuerkei-Bild der deutschen und das Deutschland-Bild der Tuerken,” Der Buerger im Staat. Die Tuerkei vor den Toren Europas, Heft 1, 2000, S. 57-58.
7 The Logic of International Relations, p. 114.
8 See: M. Heffernan, op. cit., pp. 20-21.
9 See: Ibid., pp. 20-31.
10 See: The Logic of International Relations, pp. 50-55.
11 See: The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations. Ed. by Y. Baylis and S. Smith, N.Y., 2001.
12 The Logic of International Relations, pp. 50-51.
13 Russia and Asia. The Emerging Security Agenda, ed. by G. Chufrin, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p. 129.
14 This conclusion is suggested by an analysis of Putin’s psychological makeup [www/kisi.kg] and works about Putin: A. Rahr, Wladimir Putin. Der “Deutsche” im Kremlin, München, 2000.
15 Russia accounts for 49.1 percent of trade turnover of Uzbekistan with the CIS countries even though Uzbekistan has somewhat moved away from Russia (see: L.S. Ziiadullaeva, “Problemy razvitia eksportnogo potentsiala Respubliki Uzbekistan,” Problemy bezopasnosti i progressa na poroge XXI veka: materialy mezhvuzovskoy nauchnoy konferentsii. 20-21 maya 1998 g., Tashkent, 1999, p .105).
16 See: Sotsial’niy portret molodezhi Tsentral’noy Azii v aspekte obespecheniia gosudarstvennoy i regional’noy bezopasnosti, Astana, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent, 2002, pp. 85-89.
17 Sotsial’niy portret molodezhi Tsentral’noy Azii v aspekte obespecheniia gosudarstvennoy i regional’noy bezopasnosti, p. 85.