Was hoping to get a bit of feedback about where I can stand to improve this piece. Thanks in advance...Russia and the Far Abroad: Foreign Relations and Power Shifts After the Soviet CollapseIntroduction
In 1991, with the Soviet collapse, the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) solidified the sovereignty of the Central Asian Republics. The CIS, made up of Russia and eleven former-Soviet republics, was formed to effectively divorce these republics civilly and establish freedom and national identity for each of the republics. However, it was critiqued as a Russian geopolitical tool to maintain a sphere of influence in the region. In response to the failure of the CIS' Foreign Trade Agreement of September 1993, the Central Asian Union (CAU) was formed (Cutler 2000). While not abolished, the CIS lost considerable strength and credibility with the formation of the CAU in 1994. Proposed by President Karimov of Uzbekistan, the CAU included Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and later Tajikistan (Cutler 2000).1 [FOOTNOTE: 1 Tajikistan was never really "welcome" in the CAU due to civil unrest in the country created by civil war, drug trafficking, the neighboring presence of the Taliban, etc.]
The CAU was not supported by Russia, so Russia had no vested interested in the success of this alliance. A failure of the CAU would potentially offer more power to the CIS and therefore to Russia's influence. And fail the CAU did. However, the CIS did not gain any extensive credibility as a result. In 1996, the Shanghai Five was formed as a security alliance. Initially, the group included Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. When the purpose of the group evolved to an economic alliance, Uzbekistan wanted on board. President Karimov, with a large population and favorable geopolitics, was slowly trying to integrate Uzbekistan as a regional power. With Uzbekistan's inclusion in 2001, the Shanghai Five became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO has most recently been used as a counter-balance to United States' influence in the region (Yom 2002). One of its initial purposes was probably to prevent conflicts in the region that might allow the U.S. to intervene in areas around Russia and China (Ibid). The Shanghai Five and the latter mentioned SCO were successful in this endeavor for the short term.U.S. Interest Before 9/11
In 1997, then Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott delivered a speech on the U.S. policy toward Central Asia entitled "Farewell to Flashman" (Rumer 2002, 2). Essentially, Talbott's speech served as a statement to say that the U.S. "had no compelling interest in the region...[and] that Central Asia was not a region of critical strategic importance" (Ibid, 2). This is not to say, however, that there were not urgings from U.S. policy officials to exert influence on the region. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under Jimmy Carter, listed the qualities of Eurasia's worth, including, "Seventy-five percent of the world population, most of its material riches, 60 percent of the world's GNP, 75 percent of sources of energy, and behind the US, the six most prosperous economies and the six largest military budgets" (Escobar 25 January 2002). Brzezinski also stressed the U.S. should ensure no other super-power "take control of the geopolitical space" (Ibid). However, the prospects of oil and gas reserves in the Caspian region rivaling those of the Persian Gulf are very much exaggerated (Lieven 1999, 69). Anatol Lieven writes, "At barely 2 percent of the world's proven oil reserves (around a thirtieth of the Gulf's reserves), it should be blindingly obvious that Caspian energy does not constitute a 'vital U.S. interest' " (Ibid, 71).2 [FOOTNOTE: 2 It should conversely be noted that any decrease of reliance on the Persian Gulf's energy resources could be reasoned as a "compelling U.S. interest." Additionally, the estimates used to make this statement are currently under question.]
Historically, Central Asia's strategic importance has been two-fold: first, it acted as a powerful trade route between China, Russia, the Middle East, and Europe; second, it consistently produced warrior nomads during an epoch in which the most effective soldier in battle was the mounted bowman (Ibid, 70). Obviously, these two geopolitical interests dissipated long ago.
So, to this point, what is America's vested interest in the region? Arguably to contain Iraq and Iran, perhaps even Russia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? The first and second Clinton administrations were happy to not assume the burden of Central Asia's stability (or lack thereof) issues. After Talbott's 1997 speech, what changed? Perhaps the experience of Chechnya revitalized a vision of renewed Russian desire for hegemony. While the U.S. did not want to become involved in a new "Great Game," the U.S. did have a compelling interest to keep others from dominating the region.
"The worst imaginable turn of events from the standpoint of U.S. interests would be a geopolitical wrestling match between Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Turkey for control of Central Asia. It would upset too many other interests that the United States might have elsewhere (Rumer 2002, 2)."
The U.S. hope was that Central Asia would be free of the super-powers and develop its natural resources and gain economic stability through this development.U.S. Interest After 9/11
Enter a post-9/11 world. The U.S. invades Afghanistan and overthrows the Taliban government. Troop presence and U.S. bases exist in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. There is no reason to believe the U.S. stay in the region will not be an extended one (Rumer 2002, 2). Prior to this point, comparisons between the geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and Russia and the "Great Game" of the 19th century between Britain and Russia were invalid (Lieven 1999, 70). Britain's interest in the region was not hegemonious, but defensive. It is important to remember Britain controlled India at the time and so its motivation was not to conquer Central Asia, but to make sure that Russia did not use the region as a base to carry out attacks on India and/or British forces (Ibid, 70). Now, it could be argued, U.S. influence and presence in the region is attributed to national defense (via the "War on Terror"). However, in doing so, the U.S. has become the chief protectorate of the Central Asian countries.
The former Soviet republics obviously had a "security manager" upon which they could rely. After the Soviet withdrawal though, the lack of this comfort blanket left the regional leaders naked. The U.S. arrival into the region was a welcome one to most of the area's leaders. Before U.S. intervention, the Central Asian republics in their youth were too militarily undeveloped to provide their own security under the threat of regional disturbances and rivalries. Fighting the fears of militant Islam on many of its borders and transnational problems such as drug and weapons trafficking pushed the Central Asian leaders toward unstable relationships with Moscow and Beijing. The U.S. presence brought about a new hegemony in the region, much to the dismay of Russia and China.The SCO's Irrelevance and China's Resulting Fall from Influence
The SCO, and through association, China, has perhaps been the biggest loser in the post-9/11 struggles in and over Central Asia. The Shanghai Five (which later become the SCO) was originally created as a security alliance. The Shanghai Five in its earliest forms was an outlet for Sino-Russian control of Central Asia's security affairs and transnational issues. However, since September 11, the U.S. has become "the main power broker in China's strategic backyard" (Rumer 2002, 3). The U.S. has also displaced China as the Russian intermediary in regional affairs. Additionally, with the world's third largest energy consumption, China has a vested interest in developing and obtaining energy resources close to home (Ahrari 2003). This is not to say, though, that China has not gained anything from U.S. military campaigns against Taliban forces. On its western borders, China is in dispute with Uighur separatists in the province of Xinjiang. A Chinese strategy to oppress this rogue group has become accusations of terrorism. China has been able to deal blows to the Uighurs with less scrutiny under the guise of fighting a regional war on terrorism (Rumer 2002, 3). However, no matter what gains within their own country China has made as a result of U.S. military action in the region, their displacement as a regional force seriously limits their ambitions to become the Asian superpower.Russian Droit de Regard, U.S. Droit de Seigneur
While it is hard to believe many Russian officials are happy with the U.S. influence in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin's uncompromisingly pro-U.S. stances have led to a general acknowledgment of "a certain Russian droit de regard in Central Asia" (Rumer 2002, 3). This simultaneous respect by Russia of U.S. regional policy and by U.S. of Russian rights to monitor U.S. actions to some degree has created peaceful relations and similar policies. The U.S. war on terror has helped Russia tie up western concerns over their campaign in Chechnya. Chechnya was previously a human rights disaster, but now it is a common fight against a militant Islamic terrorist group.
While relations between the U.S. and Russia are strong, Russia has been more or less reduced to a recoursive voice allowing the U.S. regional access and intelligence. Essentially, since U.S. military presence in the region, the U.S. has a driot de seigneur relationship with Russia. The U.S. would take out of necessity even if Russia did not give. However, it is to both countries' benefits that the current give-take relationship remain. The U.S. does not want to enter into a new "Great Game" with the super powers of the region and Russia does not have the military capacity to act as protectorate of Central Asia. This is not to say that Russia has been reduced to a minor influence. Russia's geographical importance as a consumer of oil and gas and high ethnic population in the Central Asian republics (specifically in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) assures Russian government a continued sphere of influence for some time to come.Conclusion
The U.S., China, and Russia are not the only countries that have an impact on the region, but they are the focus of this paper because they are the most influential. Also to be considered are India, Turkey, and Pakistan; not to mention Iran's interest in having American troops in Afghanistan to prevent an Iranian-Taliban conflict. The bottom line, though, is the U.S. is in for the long haul. In the years after the Soviet collapse, the U.S. intent was never to assume the task of acting as Central Asia's regional security manager, but for the better or worse of all parties involved this is the job the U.S. has undertaken.Bibliography and Works Cited
Ahrari, Ehsan. "The Importance of Central Asia to China." Asia Times. 13 March 2003.
Blagov, Sergei. "US, Russia marching on Central Asia." Asia Times. 7 December 2002.
Cutler, Robert M. "Uzbekistan's Trade Liberalization: Key to Central Asian Economic Integration." Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. 16 February 2000.
Escobar, Pepe. "The Roving Eye: Pipelineistan, Part 1: The Rules of the Game." Asia Times. 25 January 2002.
Escobar, Pepe. "The Roving Eye: Pipelineistan, Part 2: The Games Nations Play." Asia Times. 26 January 2002.
Kerr, David. "The New Eurasianism: The Rise of Geopolitics in Russia's Foreign Policy." Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 47, No. 6. September 1995: 977-988.
Lieven, Anatol. "The (Not So) Great Game." The National Interest. Winter 1999/2000: 69-80.
Lynch, Allen C. "The Realism of Russia's Foreign Policy." Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1. January 2001: 7-31.
Rumer, Eugene B. "Flashman's Revenge: Central Asia after September 11." Strategic Forum, No. 195. December 2002: 1-8.
Smith, Graham. "The Masks of Proteus: Russia, Geopolitical Shift and the New Eurasianism." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 24, No. 4. 1999: 481-494.
Yasin, Kamal Nazer. "Iran Seeks to Keep US Troops in Iraq." EurasiaNet. 13 November 2006.
Yom, Sean L. (2002). "Power Politics in Central Asia: The Future of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization." Harvard Asia Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 4. 2002: 48-54.