As I have shown in the previous chapters, NATO-Russia interaction often entails the two actors getting involved with third parties or taking on “out-of-area” issues. Joint operations such as Operation Active Endeavour and joint action plans such as the NATO-Russia Action Plan against Terrorism are meant to ensure the security of NATO member and partner states by engaging in peace-keeping missions or by stabilizing regions that lie outside of NATO’s or Russia’s territory. The concept of out-of-area itself has remained in flux throughout NATO’s history and is continuously redefined, taking into account developments like enlargement or different peace-keeping missions. The manifold partnerships that NATO has engaged in since the end of the Cold War further diffuses the geographical boundaries of NATO’s “sphere of interest”. NATO’s open door concept implies that countries that are currently not members might gain membership in the future, provided they fulfil certain geographical and political requirements. In short, NATO does not exist within a vacuum, but rather is defined and re-defined with reference to the actions it undertakes concerning not only member and partner countries, but also third countries. The same is true for the relationship that NATO and Russia have engaged in: the two landmark events that have shaped this relationship, Kosovo and 9/11, both originated from outside events that primarily had nothing to do with the way NATO and Russia interact. Even so, the aftermaths of both Kosovo and 9/11 have changed the nature – and outcomes – of the NATO-Russia partnership more significantly than any internal procedures and treaties negotiated by the two actors themselves.
Therefore, assessing a certain situation or process by testing it against the effects that an outside actor has on it should give further insight into the object of analysis. Conversely, the effects that the object of analysis has on the outside event or actor yields results that are equally important. The insights provided in chapter 3 will be corroborated with one such “outside factor” in this chapter. This case study will address an issue that is current and relevant to my object of analysis, but at the same time has no immediate connection to the internal workings of institutionalized NATO-Russia relations. I have chosen to analyze the politics and interests that NATO and Russia have vis-à-vis Central Asia and how those interests shape their interaction. This by no means implies that the two actors’ interests, which shape policies towards Central Asia, are necessarily always contradictory. The convergence or divergence of interests that both NATO and Russia have towards Central Asia will be assessed in detail, taking into consideration history as well as current political and security issues. There are several reasons why I have chosen Central Asia over other possible case studies. First of all, Central Asia is a region that is steadily gaining importance in terms of geopolitics, natural resources and geography. Historically a region of “great power dispute”, Central Asia has once again emerged as a place of interest to the outside world. The tectonic shifts that the dissolution of the Soviet Union had set in motion also greatly affected the five former Soviet republics that emerged as independent states. Conversely, these five states continue to affect foreign policy decisions taken by the successor state to the Soviet Union, Russia. This in turn constitutes a second reason for the choice of Central Asia as a case study: since the region is likely to increase even more in importance over the coming years, there is a significant relevance to present as well as future politics that are concerned with this particular region. The fascination that Central Asia evokes goes beyond NATO and Russia – in fact, some analysts see a new “great game” already unfolding385. Even though “great game” characterizations should be carefully evaluated and not taken as a foregone conclusion, there is evidence to suggest that Central Asia will continue to figure prominently on the agenda of policy-makers in the West, and also in the Far East and in Middle Eastern countries.
Thirdly, my choice to use Central Asia as a case study is also the result of a process of elimination. Events and decisions that have shaped the relationship between NATO and Russia were very often the result of geographical disputes. Points of contention of a more technical nature, such as arms limitation and reduction were often debated on a bilateral basis, such as the ABM-NMD386 Treaty controversy that led to serious frictions between the US and Russia. With the end of the Cold War, the US considered the development and deployment of a NMD system, and began to question the ABM Treaty’s value for strategic stability, whereas Russia adhered to the treaty’s importance for international security.387 Alternatively, technical issues were discussed in a broader forum, such as the CFE Treaty which ran under the auspices of the OSCE.388 However, the debates that touched upon fundamental issues pertaining to NATO-Russia interaction more often than not concerned geographical matters. Tensions between NATO and Russia over the war in Kosovo escalated largely because of geographical concerns: as much as some analysts claim that “great power”, “great game” or “sphere of interest” considerations should be a thing of the past, it is an undeniable fact that Russia’s objections to the bombings of Serbia stemmed from Russian objections to NATO interfering in what Russia considered to be its sphere of influence, especially since NATO initiated the bombings without a UN Security Council resolution – which would of course not have been possible due to Russia’s objections. Throughout the 1990s, Russia consistently feared losing influence over parts of the European continent, a concern that culminated with the war in Kosovo. The two rounds of NATO enlargement represent yet another high point in NATO-Russia tensions. Once more, geographical shifts in the European political and security architecture resulted in Russian anxiety and in heated discussions between the two partners. In the end, both rounds of enlargement went ahead – whether this was with or without Russian consent remains debatable.389
On the other hand, geography does not always have to be a divider between NATO and Russia. For example, Russia participates in NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour, which also involves joint operations taking place outside NATO territory. Therefore, this case study will analyze a current, or potential “hot spot”, expected to yield some results that are indicative of the actual quality of NATO-Russia relations. As mentioned above, the actual choice of Central Asia is a logical result of considering different alternatives. There are limits to geographical areas that are of interest to both NATO and Russia. In fact, some of the most pressing issues relating to potential geographical disputes between NATO and Russia have already been resolved. The great debates that characterized the ministerial and ambassadorial meetings of the PJC are finished; NATO has taken in the new east European states. The dispute over the Baltic States and their membership in NATO and EU is settled, though the effects on Lithuanian membership in both organizations on the Kaliningrad exclave continues to be a matter of discussion especially where economical and transit issues are concerned. Ironically, it is Lithuania’s membership in the EU that creates more actual problems and not NATO membership as originally feared.390 Furthermore, the end to the bombing of Kosovo and Serbia also marked the end to geographical disputes over the Balkans. Even though Russian troops were stationed in Kosovo until 2003391, it was widely acknowledged that the Balkans were under Euro-Atlantic supervision: first NATO and then the EU. Both enlargement and the war in Kosovo have intrinsically shaped the relationship between NATO and Russia; therefore, using them as a case study would mean running the risk of analyzing effects of events that are by now obsolete.
Current issues for discussion are located elsewhere, geographically speaking. Some of the former Soviet republics, located to the south and to the west of Russia, are following Eastern Europe’s and the Baltic States’ example by seeking closer cooperation with European political and security structures. The various revolutions that have taken place in those states in the past couple of years have edged them further away from Russia and more in a European direction. Ukraine in particular enjoys – and actively seeks – close ties with the EU, NATO, and Western countries on a bilateral basis, especially with the US. Also, Ukraine is the only country besides Russia that enjoys a “special partnership” with NATO. Shortly after the signature of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation on 27 May, 1997, the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine was signed. The goal of this partnership, which was initiated on 9 July 1997, was to build “an enhanced NATO-Ukraine partnership”392 – incidentally, the principles and areas of cooperation mentioned in this document closely resemble those of the Founding Act. As far as the European Union is concerned, Ukraine is a part of the recently devised European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), developed from the individual Partnership Cooperation Agreements between the EU and several partner states. Additionally, the Caucasian states, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia are engaged in constant dialogue with European as well as Euro-Atlantic institutions to varying degrees. All three countries are engaged in an Individual Partnership Action Plan393 (IPAP) with NATO, although Armenia traditionally has strong ties with Russia394. Both Georgia and Ukraine are the most likely candidates for NATO Membership Action Plans (MAP).395 Additionally, Georgia has been the beneficiary of a US project since April 2002, the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP). This program is responding to the government of Georgia's request for assistance to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and address the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. This effort is meant to complement other counter-terrorism efforts and to increase stability in the Caucasus.396
The above suggests that the countries of the Caucasus and Ukraine have moved further in the direction of the European and the Euro-Atlantic security and political structures. Whether or not the Caucasus and Ukraine will follow the path of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States is still not decided, especially since the European Union seems to have put a – temporary? – halt on enlargement through the implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy which, unofficially, is supposed to stand in lieu of enlargement.397 Therefore, Russia’s neighbors to the south and to the west – the countries of the Caucasus and Ukraine - offer an interesting view on what the stakes are in an area where the interests of the US, Europe and Russia overlap. This is my last reason for not choosing the Caucasian countries or Ukraine as my case study: the diversity of interests emanating from Western countries and institutions, in addition to Russia’s continued involvement in the region is only one side of the coin. The other side is that the Caucasian countries themselves are too diverse in their own interests and political choices in order to be taken as one group. Adding Ukraine to the Caucasus makes this endeavour even more complex. Whereas Ukraine and Georgia – albeit to a lesser extent in the latter case – have continuously striven to become members of the European Union and NATO, Azerbaijan and Armenia have their own legacies to overcome before they engage in new partnerships and alliances. Additionally, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are geographically further removed from the EU and NATO than Ukraine is, constituting a further obstacle to any possible integration schemes.
Generally speaking, the question of integration should not be given exclusive attention. In fact, models for future cooperation with the former Soviet states are increasingly moving away from membership options to options of “other” forms of cooperation. This does not imply that the two rounds of NATO enlargement in 1999 and 2004 and EU enlargement in 2004 put an end to any future enlargement schemes. However, cooperation plans such as the European Neighborhood Policy and NATO’s multi-layered partnership programs suggest that alternatives to enlargement are being actively pursued. Even though objections to further rounds of enlargement are more openly voiced in the case of the EU, NATO too has no immediate plans to take in new members. Therefore, it is important to take a closer look at the existing partnerships and the philosophy behind them. Moreover, NATO’s ever-developing partnerships and Russia’s involvement – or reaction – to them further elucidates the state of NATO-Russia relations. This is particularly insightful with regard to the states of Central Asia. As opposed to the other possible areas that I have discussed above, Central Asia is a region where the larger geostrategic alignments are still in flux. Unlike former Soviet states such as Ukraine or Georgia, the states of Central Asia have not pursued an explicitly pro-Western course.398 They have, however, increased in importance to the West, especially after 9/11 and with the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom. This chapter will trace developments that have lent increased prominence to the Central Asian states: Western interests, NATO’s interests, Russian interests and how these intersect with interests that the states of Central Asian themselves pursue. The goal is to determine whether or not Central Asia is in fact a “contested” region where interests of Russia and NATO – as well as third countries – intersect and compete. Alternatively, they might not; and events that take place in connection with Central Asia have no impact on NATO – Russia relations at all. Both cases would be indicative of the current state of relations between the two actors: if NATO and Russia clash over issues pertaining to the central Asian states then there is evidence to suggest that a confrontational aspect of NATO-Russia relations is still observable. On the other hand, coinciding interests and complementary policies would indicate that a cooperative approach is in place. A third possibility, of course, would be that neither cooperation nor confrontation over Central Asia can be discerned; in this case, conclusions will be drawn accordingly.
One last caveat concerns an issue that I have already raised with regard to the Caucasus states as a potential case study, namely the allegation that the Caucasian countries are too diverse to be lumped together into one study. The same applies to Central Asia to a certain extent: different analysts caution against treating the five countries as an entity on political, historical and cultural terms. While this is certainly a legitimate claim, I will nonetheless refer to Central Asia holistically, in accordance with this dissertation’s macro-level approach399. I will therefore briefly introduce the five countries individually, but for the purpose of this case study I will refer to Central Asia generally. Having said this, some of the republics are of greater importance to NATO and Russia than others, a fact that will also be reflected in this chapter. Finally, even though the timeframe of this dissertation – since 1997 – also mostly coincides with events that will be analyzed in this chapter, it will be necessary for completeness’ sake to also refer to events that have taken place before 1997; these digressions will be kept brief.
Approaches to studying Central Asia differ widely. Some analyses concern themselves with Central Asia as a region, while others focus on individual countries400. Still others, seeking a comparative study, often compare and contrast the Central Asian countries with the South Caucasus. Rajan Menon notes that
The extant literature on the South Caucasus and Central Asia is vast, and its architecture has become predictable. A country-by-country coverage is the dominant motif; comparative studies that cover both regions are rare because scholars knowledgeable about both areas are rare. The result is an abundance of volumes rich in detail but weak in thematic and comparative analysis.401
Furthermore, Menon contends that “The eight states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus differ in size, population, ethnic composition, and political and economic characteristics. While the differences appear greater the closer one looks, the regions also share similarities...”402 Though Menon’s priorities diverge from this dissertation’s, he makes the important claim that similarities exist between the different countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Equally interesting is the fact that taking a macro-level approach to studying this region is not necessarily self-evident, as many experts of the region have focussed on analyzing the individual countries, rather than the region itself. As mentioned above, this case study will leave out the Caucasus and focus on the Central Asian states only.
The Central Asian region borders Russia to the north, Afghanistan and Iran to the south, China to the east and the Caspian Sea to the west.403 Central Asia consists of five states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Central Asia, a “kaleidoscope” of nationalities404, is inhabited by 50 million people: “The indigenous peoples … are predominantly Turkic … The Tajiks are not Turkic but are culturally and linguistically linked to Iran … Central Asia’s economy reflects the region’s role as a supplier of energy, cotton, and raw materials … Although there are industrial belts in northern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the region is not highly industrialized.” Kazakhstan boasts the most ethnically diverse population, including the highest percentage of ethnic Russian inhabitants: 54% of Kazakhstan’s population are Kazakhs, 30% Russians; the remaining population is a diverse mix of Ukrainians, Germans, and inhabitants of Turkic origin. The other four states, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are characterized by an ethnic majority that dominates the population of their respective countries; however, a large percentage of each country’s population comprises ethnic minorities. According to Menon, the high concentration of ethnic minorities living in the different Central Asian states that is characteristic of the region is a potential source of conflict. He puts forward the idea that
[The] demographic realities will not, per se, inevitably lead to ethnic conflict … Yet the risks increase when they exist alongside conceptions of nationhood that exclude, vilify, or threaten minority nationalities, or alongside hypernationalist and hegemonic regimes that invoke ‘regional stability’ to intervene in weaker states.405
In Central Asia, there are two countries that compete for regional dominance: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, both of which dispose of greater power in terms of population and GNP than the other three states combined. Kazakhstan’s high population of ethnic Russians is an important link that ties Kazakhstan to Russia, politically as well as economically. According to Menon, this could pose problems should Russia feel compelled to intervene on behalf of Russians in Kazakhstan, a concern that has often been voiced. However, there is no real evidence to suggest that Russia is actively engaging in a policy of intervention on behalf of the Russian minority. The other state vying for leadership in the region, Uzbekistan, could become a threat because, according to Menon, “[Uzbekistan] regards itself as the natural leader of Central Asia and has the largest population and the most highly developed sense of nationalism in the area…”406 Martha Brill Olcott, senior associate at the Washington DC-based think tank Carnegie Endowment and expert on Central Asia, contends that the presidents of the Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Islam Karimov respectively, have a “highly competitive working relationship”, a rivalry of sorts that Russia is incapable of diluting.407
The other three states do not have a realistic chance of assuming a leadership position within Central Asia. Turkmenistan is the state that is the most closed off to the outside world. This is largely due to the country’s president, Saparmurad Niyazov, who has been in power since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and his authoritarian leadership. Olcott describes Turkmenistan as being hidden behind a
…veil that shrouds political life and economic relations of the country for all but those with close ties to the country’s president, Saparmurad Niyazov. While relations among Turkmenistan’s political elite are said to be dominated by inter-clan rivalries, it has been difficult for outsiders to predict political shake-ups in advance… Certainly it is true that President Niyazov has little interest in tolerating any form of political opposition. Nor is Niyazov, who now prefers the name Saparmurad Turkmenbashi (or Saparmurad, the Head of the Turkmen), comfortable accepting the role of an equal among his fellow central Asian rulers.408
Turkmenistan, or rather Niyazov, has consistently kept out of any pan-Central Asian organizations, economic of otherwise. However, relations between Turkmenistan and Russia have remained relatively good, according to Olcott.409
Tajikistan continues to be haunted by the 1992 civil war between government forces and various opposition forces, some Islamic, challenging the power structures that were established under Soviet rule. In June 1997, a settlement between Tajikistan's Moscow-backed government and the Islamic-led United Tajik Opposition was negotiated by the UN. However, sporadic fighting has not abated. Tajikistan continues to be heavily influenced by outside actors: Moscow, claiming to fight the Islamic threat has actively backed the Tajik government, and Uzbekistan, concerned about a spill-over effect into its own territory, also played a role in supporting the old government.410 The current government under President Emomali Rahmonov seized power in 1992 and has been in power ever since, in spite of the unrest of the civil war. Elections in Tajikistan, including the parliamentary elections of 2005, have been repeatedly criticized for failing basic democratic standards.411 This, in combination with the devastation that the country has suffered, continues to prevent Tajikistan from engaging in “normal” relations with other countries. Olcott concurs with this assessment and claims that “Although it retains the trappings of formal independence, Tajikistan cannot really be called a state in the full sense of the term… years of ongoing civil war have killed more than fifty thousand people and have driven thousands more into exile”.412
Finally, Kyrgyzstan, like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, is struggling with domestic issues that prevent it from pursuing a dominant role in the region. As opposed to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, however, Kyrgyzstan does not have a history of violence as pronounced as Tajikistan’s, nor is the political leadership as authoritarian as Turkmenistan’s. However, a less than democratic regime is as much a problem of Kyrgyzstan as it is in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. According to Olcott, “Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy is governed by two basic considerations. The first is that the country is too small and too poor to become economically viable without considerable outside assistance. The second is that it lies in a nervous and volatile corner of the globe, vulnerable to a number of unpleasant possibilities.”413 Olcott describes Kyrgyzstan as a small, relatively resource-poor, remote nation “which is more likely to be seeking help from the world community than contributing to it.”414 Efforts were made by former president Askar Akaev to attract foreign business and investment, making his nation into “the Switzerland of Central Asia”, through a combination of international finance and a special emphasis on “clean” industry, specifically electronic, in order to reduce Soviet-era industrial pollution.415 Efforts have not produced results on a large scale, however. Kyrgyzstan’s unpredictability was further highlighted when the “Tulip revolution” took place in March 2005: protests intensified surrounding parliamentary election results that supported pro-regime candidates, culminating in the storming of the White House on March 25 and in outbreaks of looting and destruction of public buildings in Bishkek. Akaev, who had fled the country on the 25th, eventually resigned and was succeeded by opposition leader Bakiev following presidential elections in July. The Tulip revolution was widely seen as a logical consequence and continuation of the 2004 orange revolution in the Ukraine and the 2003 rose revolution in Georgia. However, one year after the events in Kyrgyzstan, there is a widespread disillusionment with the new Kyrgyz government, as corruption and disregard for democratic principles remain widespread.
This very brief overview of the five Central Asian States is meant as a short introduction to the region, and as an illustration that the region actually does consist of five different states, rather than one large, homogeneous compound. Even though the five states do share certain characteristics, they each have their own history as well as their own experiences of the post-Soviet transition period – and though the verdict is still out on successful democratic transition, the region has, unexpectedly, gained in global importance.
The purpose of this case study is not the analysis of the developments that have taken place within the five countries, but rather an assessment of the outside powers shaping the region – or, more specifically, the region shaping outside powers’ interests and policies. Of course, it is not possible to do this without taking into consideration events that have influenced Central Asia as a region; however, this will only be done where it contributes to understanding the NATO-Russia context. From this it follows naturally that not every country will be given the same amount of attention, as some countries – Uzbekistan for instance – have greater stakes in the international interest in Central Asia – than others. There are several issues that keep on gaining importance with regard to the international community’s rising interest in the region. RAND experts identify the following as potential or actual destabilizing trends that may affect not only the region but the international community at large:
Ten years after independence, transitions from Soviet authoritarianism and planned economies to democracy and market economies have not been successfully completed in any of the states of Central Asia … The lack of real economic reform or sustainable development, the persistent centralized controls built on the foundation of Soviet bureaucracy, and the growing problems of corruption and public cynicism all constrain efforts to build effective and popular governance.416
These internal problems need to be seen within the context of problems that have the potential to further destabilize the entire region:
Conflict could result from a wide range of factors present in this part of the world. Potentially explosive ethnic tensions and irredentist border challenges, severe poverty, drug trafficking, and … the threat of Islamic insurgency and conflict across the border in Afghanistan could all separately or together led to fighting… Political, social, religious, ethnic, and economic structures are such that the risk of conflict spreading from one state to another is significant.417
At the same time, Charlick-Paley, Williams and Oliker concede that, given these potentially destabilizing conditions and “considering the ten years of predictions to the contrary, [Central Asia] has seen surprisingly little conflict since independence.”418 However, they continue to be a reason for concern, or at least observance, by outside powers, most notably the US and Europe. After this overview of the challenges that the states of Central Asia – and outside powers exerting influence over the region – are confronted with, I will now turn to outlining the institutional arrangements that shape the political landscape in Central Asia. This is of particular interest, as institutional arrangements are a reflection of how certain outside powers have influenced the area.
Events in Central Asia are usually seen within a wider geopolitical context, even though experts on Central Asia repeatedly point out that doing this, in combination with treating the region as an aggregate in the first place, doesn’t necessarily make sense. Rather, they refer to the individual economic, political and cultural characteristics of each country. Also, each country’s individual experience with post-Soviet transition towards democracy sets the five countries further apart, rather than unifying them: the only recurring theme that has emerged is that democratic transition that has occurred is flawed and by no means completed. Still, this statement is of course not comprehensive as far as the development of the individual countries and their perspectives for the future is concerned. As I have pointed out in the previous section, an important amount of literature exists that deals with the five countries of Central Asia on a comparative basis, taking into account their similarities as well as their differences. Particularly when the analysis does not center on the Central Asian countries’ experience of post-Soviet transition, the focus is often on the region as a whole and its importance internationally. For example, it is impossible to discuss political and economic events in Central Asia without taking into account the influence that Russia still has over the region. The different influences that have shaped Central Asia in its present form are also reflected in the institutional setting that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Martha Brill Olcott, the Soviet legacy still determines certain aspects of Central Asian politics, foreign policy in particular: “Generally speaking, during the period prior to independence, the Central Asian republics were more acted upon than active in their international relations”.419 This resulted in some disarray when the Central Asian countries were suddenly faced with the dissolution of the Soviet Union: “The suddenness of the USSR’s collapse pushed the new Central Asian states into the international arena before they had thought out what they wanted to do when they got there.”420 Olcott makes the observation that a rather haphazard process was set in place that saw the Central Asian countries seeking membership in as many organizations as possible:
All of the Central Asian nations joined just about every international body that offered them membership. All of the Central Asian states joined the UN and the OSCE (and, in the process of joining the latter, extended the geography of ‘Europe’ right up to the borders of Afghanistan and China), applied for membership to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and began to talk of applying for membership in the EU and NATO.421
However, the “original” organization that has left its mark on post-Soviet Central Asia is the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that was created by Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on 8 December 1991 and joined by the remaining former Soviet states (except the Baltic states) following the Alma Ata declaration of 23 December 1991. The abruptness of the Soviet Union's disintegration caught the Central Asian states by surprise, as did the independence which came to their countries in December 1991. Whereas independence from the Soviet Union was actively sought by most countries of Eastern Europe, the Central Asian countries followed suit somewhat more reluctantly. One of the main reasons for this was that “All of the leaders recognized that their new states were beginning life with considerable disadvantages, not the least of which was the lack of experienced elites capable of developing domestic or international policies independent of Moscow.”422 Therefore, resistance to joining the CIS, which was seen by many other former Soviet states as an organization aimed at preserving Russian dominance, was more moderate. This might be considered a consequence of decades of submission to Moscow, which had resulted in the absence of institutionalized political decision-making structures, as well as the limitations that Moscow had put on executive responsibility.423 Therefore, the Central Asian attitude towards Russia was somewhat ambiguous: on the one hand, the prospect of independence and sovereignty was certainly welcomed, but on the other, the necessary structures for building an independent and sovereign state were underdeveloped – underlining the fact that Moscow was still needed for economic and political matters.
Debating the role of the CIS in Central Asia is almost equal to discussing Russian influence in the region. Even though many of the former Soviet states realized that severing all ties with Russia would not be in their best interests, reservations about Russian interference have shaped and continue to shape attitudes in non-Russian CIS member states, including the Central Asian countries. The most prominent issue where this duality of interests becomes obvious is in the area of privileged economic ties to Russia: “…none of the republic leaders understood that the end of the USSR and the old order meant the end of the old economic ties, including the Soviet-era inter-republican linkages that had benefited their particular republics by supplying, among other things, cheap grain and energy. Now each republic, and most prominently Russia, would attempt to redefine these links to maximize its own national interests.”424 This ambivalence is also reflected in the way the CIS has performed since it was created in 1991. The general verdict on the CIS is that it has not achieved a great deal. Rajan Menon argues that this is largely due to the attitudes of the CIS members that are not Russian:
The conviction is widespread that Russia has not truly reconciled itself to [the former Soviet republics’] independence and that it is plotting its return – if not as an empire that rules, then as a hegemon that defines the parameters of foreign policy. This explains, for example, the guarded view that many … states take towards the CIS, which – no matter how unsuccessful it has been – is generally seen as a means to continue Russian control.425
Therefore, consensus-building and decisions to move forward with joint projects mostly did not materialize. Both in economic and military terms, the CIS has no major projects to boast; rather, bilateral agreements between Russia and individual former Soviet states are the norm.
An effort to integrate the CIS countries militarily was undertaken with the plan to develop a formal alliance in the Caucasus and Central Asia through the CIS framework in the form of the Tashkent Collective Security Agreement of 15 May 1992. This agreement, officially known as Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was originally signed by Russia, the Central Asian states minus Turkmenistan and Armenia, and was subsequently joined by Georgia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. However, the multilateral approach that the CSTO propounded did not materialize. The “grand visions” of various CIS theater commands that were developed by the CIS Joint Staff have collapsed.426 Roy Allison summarizes the situation as follows: “Most CIS defense agreements have simply not been realized. The numerous bilateral treaties Russia has signed with individual CIS states much better express common interests.”427 These common interests are expressed in bilateral agreements that were reached between Russia and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Georgia.428 Interestingly, the costs of combined programs of air defense have been borne by Russia entirely.429 Conversely, the only peacekeeping operation in the CIS that was intended as a broad, multinational collective enterprise, and which did represent a joint military action, was the intervention in Tajikistan in 1992.430 However, by 1998, the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division was “effectively operating alone under the flag of the collective peacekeeping forces.”431 Russian efforts to extend this mission into an anti-Taliban coalition failed. The CSTO also underwent significant changes: at the CIS summit in April 1999, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan decided that they did not want to renew their membership in the Collective Security Agreement, leaving as the remaining member states Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia. The CSTO continues to operate in this formation today; however, not unlike the CIS, the actual importance of the organization is questioned by many. Recent debates have been renewed with regard to a possible (second-time) membership of Uzbekistan, indicating that geostrategic realignments might be occurring; however, Uzbekistan has not yet indicated a final preference.
The presumption that the Central Asian states do indeed form an entity – while at the same time allowing for their differences – is further endorsed by the existence of yet another regional association, namely the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO). In contrast to the CIS and the CSTO, the CACO originally consisted of Central Asian states only, thus deviating from the notion that all former Soviet states should be lumped together and be considered a general post-Soviet area. In 1991, the idea of a Central Asian cooperation organization under the name of Central Asian Commonwealth was initiated by the five Central Asian states. However, Turkmenistan later pursued a policy of isolation and did not become a member. As of 1994, the Central Asian Commonwealth was renamed the Central Asian Economic Union (CAEU), with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as its members. Tajikistan rejoined the organization, after having left it between 1994 and 1998. From 1998 on, the organization’s official name has been CACO. Finally, on 26 January 2005, CACO was merged with the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), which also included Belarus. CACO has granted observation status to Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine. Most importantly, however, Russia joined CACO in 2004, thus entering an organization that was created to advance Central Asian interests. This suggests that the objections to Russian influence on Central Asian matters are less prominent than one might think.
This statement is further supported by the development of another regional organization: GUAM or GUUAM. GUAM was created in October 1997 by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova largely to counter Russian influence in the post-Soviet states. The organization was renamed GUUAM in April 1999 when Uzbekistan joined, only to withdraw from the organization in May 2005, effectively making GUAM a non-Central Asian organization. The absence of Central Asian countries in GUAM suggests that relations between Russia and the Central Asian states differ from those between Russia and the Caucasian states, or Russia and Ukraine. This also ties in with the opening paragraph of this chapter, where I introduced the notion that Central Asia, unlike the Caucasian countries and Ukraine, has not yet decided where their final allegiances should lie, making them a particular interesting case.
The intricate web of post-Soviet regional association further includes the Economic Cooperation Organization which includes countries like Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran, in addition to Central Asian states, and the Community of Democratic Choice (CDC), which was initiated by Ukraine and Georgia in 2005 and is made up of six post-Soviet states, some of them, such as the Baltic countries, already members of the EU and NATO. The final organization that I would like to introduce here, however, is of increasing importance to not only Central Asia, but also in larger geopolitical terms: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), created in 2001. The SCO emerged from the Shanghai Five grouping of China, Tajikistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan that had been in place since 1996 and includes all five members of the Shanghai Five. Once again, Turkmenistan is the “spoiler”, consistent in the refusal to join any association or organization. The SCO is the organization that currently receives the bulk of international attention. The SCO itself “is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation proclaimed in Shanghai on June 15, 2001 by six countries – People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Uzbekistan.”432 The stated goals and purpose of the SCO are
[t]he strengthening [of] mutual trust and good-neighborly relations among member states; promoting their effective cooperation in political affairs, economy and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environment protection fields; joint safeguarding and presenting regional peace, security and stability; striving towards creation of democratic, just, reasonable new international political and economic order.433
Furthermore, “As regards its internal relations, the SCO is guided by ‘the Spirit of Shanghai’, which is based on the principles of mutual trust and benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for the multifaceted cultures and aspiration to joint development, and with regard to external relations SCO is not a closed block and is not directed against any states and regions.”434 The Council of Heads of State has executive decision-making power and meets at least once a year. Annual meetings are also held at the level of foreign affairs, ministers of economy, transport, culture, defense, security, as well as general public prosecutors and heads of border authorities. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has two permanent bodies: the Secretariat in Beijing and the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent.435 According to the SCO, “The Council of Heads of Governments of SCO Member States holds a regular meeting once a year to discuss strategy of multilateral cooperation and priority directions within the SCO framework; to decide on actual matters of principle regarding economic and other cooperation”.436
Generally speaking, the SCO is built upon interests and concerns pertaining to Central Asia – both from the standpoint of the Central Asian countries themselves and from the standpoint of China and Russia. The SCO was created mainly to deal with the security issues of their members: they felt that cooperation on problems such as the rise of militant Islam, drugs trafficking, and border controls was needed. Also, creating a platform of discussion for the two hegemonic powers of the region, namely Russia and China, was an important reason for the founding of the SCO. Indeed, Russia’s and China’s sometimes conflicting interests have stalled the SCO decision-making process; most notably in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 when the SCO was unable to define a joint strategy against terrorism – even though the two countries had signed the Treaty on Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on 16 July 2001.437 However, since its creation, the SCO has increased its efforts to cooperate on sensitive security issues: one milestone was the creation of the anti-terrorism center established in 2003 in Shanghai; another was the first ever Sino-Russian joint military exercise, Peace Mission 2005, which began on 19 August 2005.438 The SCO has expanded its working program to include issues that go beyond security, such as judicial and economic topics. The idea of a free trading zone has been put forward, but has not materialized thus far.
4.1.3. Interim summary
As I have shown throughout this section of the chapter, identifying trends and geopolitical shifts in Central Asia is far from easy. The dichotomy between seeing the region as a whole for geostrategic regions on the one hand, and taking into account the individual countries’ differences on the other is an issue of concern for any analysis dealing with Central Asia. As mentioned before, I have chosen to approach the region as a whole, for methodological and thematic purposes; the brief introduction of the individual countries in the beginning of this chapter is meant only to give necessary basic information concerning the five states. Of much greater importance, however, is the discussion of the intricate web of alliances and interstate organizations that link the countries of Central Asia to each other and to third states. One theme that has already been introduced is the importance of Russian influence on the region – it is absolutely impossible to discuss local alliances or local politics in general without addressing the role that Russia continues to play in Central Asia, which is still much more so than in other post-Soviet states. The right to independence applies as much to the Central Asian countries as it does to any other of the former Soviet republics – a fact no longer questioned by Moscow. Still, when it comes to geopolitics and gauging national interests, a certain pattern can be discerned within the seemingly uncontrolled web of alliances and security organizations of Central Asia. Treating the region as the mere subject of great power politics would certainly not do justice to current developments. However, existing alliances and associations with certain organizations indicate that more than one foreign power is interested in getting involved in the region.
Within this context, Russia has already been mentioned throughout this chapter. Due to geography and history, Russia is in a position where it is not only an outside power getting involved in Central Asia, but rather a member of the Central Asian community due to a combination of history, economics and the ethnic Russian communities living within the borders of the five Central Asian countries. The complicated endeavors of the Central Asian states on the one hand to strive for independence and on the other to benefit from the positive aspects of Russian presence is indicative of the ambivalence that characterizes Central Asia and its interaction with outside powers and next-door neighbors. Considering the advantages that Russia has in influencing the region, it is telling that efforts undertaken by other actors have also been crowned by success. I have already mentioned China and its ever-increasing importance in the region. On the other hand, active involvement of the US has shaped the region, particularly since 9/11. Crucially, NATO has pursued a steady policy of involvement in Central Asia that is in line with its open door policy – and that has gained in importance since the attacks on Washington and New York in 2001. This constellation of intersecting interests once more raises the legitimate question as to whether or not a zero-sum scenario is currently playing out in Central Asia whereby the increased influence of one actor diminishes that of another. Once more, such an assessment runs the risk of being overly simplistic. Also, wherever there are third players involved – as it is in the case of Central Asia –zero-sum logic is harder to apply, because the interests of the outside players affect whatever interaction is taking place. Still, the interplay of involvement and interests that has been taking place in Central Asia in the past 10 years, and more especially ever since 9/11, tells us a great deal about the general positioning of those forces that have become involved. In the next section, I will first analyze how this applies to Russia and what the implications are, then I will go on to assessing NATO involvement in the region in order to establish an overarching analysis about how the roles assumed by NATO and Russia reflect on their overall relationship. I will refer to the institutional framework that I have introduced above, and elaborate on it, as appropriate.
Russia is, as I have outlined above, not so much an external actor, but rather a part of the region. The rather euphemistic concept of the “near abroad” elucidates certain aspects of Russian foreign policy, particularly Russia’s attitude towards the CIS states, which significantly differs from its attitude towards all other countries. The concepts of near and far abroad imply that the CIS states are indeed viewed differently. Ever since the Central Asian states became independent, Russia is de facto and de jure an outside state that legally has no claims to participate in the internal decision-making of any of the five countries, no matter how important its own interests in the region might be. I have already provided an overview of the most important regional alliances as indicators as to where allegiances and strategic interests lie. Olga Oliker offers a closer assessment of the various national interests that intersect in Central Asia:
Because there is room for many states to gain from the region’s potential and because regional stability is a shared goal as well, there will be high incentives to cooperate as well as compete. Strategic reasons to maintain good ties among interested third parties will also temper the likelihood of conflict. But because there is also little doubt that some will gain more than others, it is likely that competition will remain a significant factor – and may at times be fierce. Moreover, the existence of incentives for cooperation among outside powers does not imply that third parties cannot be potential sources of regional conflict in other ways, or that one or more of them will not get involved in conflict if it occurs for other reasons.439
The phenomenon of third parties getting involved in Central Asia, to the detriment of the Central Asian states themselves, has traditionally been associated with Russian foreign policy. Through a Western lens, the choices of post-Soviet republics are usually confined to alignment with Moscow, or alignment with another bloc, usually the West. Moreover, should a Central Asian country chose to “align” itself with Moscow, it automatically returns into the Russian sphere of influence, which leaves little room for the country to develop its own identity, politics and culture. Similarly, countries that choose alignment with the West and Western institutions are sometimes seen as “lost” to Moscow. Again, the reality is somewhat more complex. However, alignments of Central Asian states are quite impossible to define without taking into account the presence of Russia in everyday situations. In the West, this is more often than not seen in a negative light. Oliker contends that
Russia, whose stakes in the region are historical, political, strategic, and economic, presents a number of complications. One is the fear among [Central Asian] states that this large neighbor, recognizing its increasing weakness and fearing a complete loss of influence in the region, will seek to reassert control while it still can, and will attempt to do so by force … Moreover, Russia’s deep and fundamental interests in the region all but guarantee that if conflict erupts, for whatever reason, Russia will seek to play a role – and to have a say over the extent to which other outside powers can get involved.”440
Interestingly, the very charge often levelled at Russia, namely that it continues to see international politics in a manner that is reminiscent of the Cold War, where the world was divided in to “our” bloc and “their” bloc, is now used to explain the larger geopolitical context in Central Asia. This suggests that looking at Central Asia as a region where larger geopolitical battles are fought is not uncommon and, moreover, that bloc-thinking patterns are widely present in international politics and not only confined to Russia mourning the loss of empire.
Oliker takes her criticism one step further: “Perhaps even more dangerous is the possibility that Russia, due either to weakness or some other factor, cannot or does not act to stem local conflict, or does so belatedly”,441 This, in turn, suggests that Russia is after all expected to play a special role in the region, and that Russia is expected to intervene should local conflict arise; when it does, however, it is very often accused of interfering in another country’s internal matters. For example, the inability of the CSTO to devise joint policies and the Russian peacekeeping efforts in Tajikistan indicate that the dynamics between Russia and the Central Asian states are much more complex than Russia vying to regain control over the region. On the other hand, it is also fairly logical that Russia doesn’t engage itself in the region purely out of the desire to do good deeds: “Whatever Russia’s own situation, however, it has numerous strategic reasons to see [Central Asia] as crucial to its security interest. Russia’s historical effort to control the region derived from its belief that this control would reap economic benefits”.442 The economic interconnectedness of the Central Asian states and Russia has already been mentioned in the previous section of this chapter, and will not be elaborated upon here, as this constitutes a vast topic, requiring a whole separate chapter. Suffice to say here that economic ties between Russia and the Central Asian states are such that it is simply not possible for Central Asia to have viable economies without active Russian involvement.
Another key concern that relates to Russia and its security interests is the rise of militant Islam, as I have already briefly mentioned above. Long before the attacks of 9/11 moved the problem of militant Islam on the top of security agendas around the world, the influence of militant Islam in the southern parts of the Russian Federation was of concern to Moscow. This is especially true for the wars that Russia has fought in Chechnya: where the West saw an attempt to reinstate Moscow’s control over the region by means of questionable methods, Moscow saw itself in the forefront of a war against Islamic terrorism.443 According to Oliker,
Russia… sees a threat in the growth of radical Islamic political movements that seek to overthrow secular governments in Central Asia. With its own large Muslim population…, Russia fears that radical Islamic movements, if successful in Central Asia, will then spread to other states, including Russia itself, perhaps using Chechnya as a foothold, and that his will lead to further unrest and homeland terrorist attacks.444
Whereas the bulk of Russian attention has indeed been directed at the Caucasus445, especially where rising Islamic forces are concerned, Central Asia too is considered to be a potential location for militant Islam to establish itself. This fact contributed to making Central Asia such a crucial area in the war on terror that ensued after the attacks of 9/11 – this will be discussed in greater detail later on in this chapter.
Finally, another threat to Russia’s national interest, as well as to regional stability overall, is the proliferation of drug trade and crime that extends throughout the entire region. Svante Cornell argues that narcotics production and trafficking, as well as organized crime in the region were at its peak between 1995 and 2001. Since then, according to Cornell, organized crime infiltrating state institutions constitutes the greatest threat.446 Cornell notes that “The pervasive state weakness in Central Eurasia has enabled the gradual criminalization of state authority in the region … [this] undermines the prospects of building stable, prosperous states in Central Asia with a participatory political system.”447 This, in turn, makes for contradictions within Russia’s policy toward Central Asia: “The Russians want to prevent unrest and violence, stem the flow of crime and drugs, and ensure that secular governments remain in place and in control, but these interests are at odds with their desire to maintain dominance, which requires that these states remain politically weak and dependent on Russian assistance.”448 It is largely this dichotomy that summarizes Russia’s relationship with its Central Asian neighbors, as Oliker argues. Oliker’s assessment is a fairly accurate example of the outside perception of Russia’s role in the post-Soviet states in general, and in Central Asia in particular: that it is generally not completely to be trusted, and that Russia is just as interested in advancing its own interests as it is in promoting security and stability – sometimes even more so.
Olcott, Aslund and Garnett offer a somewhat more balanced assessment:
Russia casts a long shadow over most of its neighbors, for it has the capacity, should it desire to do so, to devote larger reserves of political, financial, or military power to an issue than could any other post-Soviet state. It is not enough, however, to measure Russia’s advantage relative only to the assets of a potential rival; Russia’s assets must also be measure against the demands of the country’s many problems … Russia has not always treated its new neighbors with respect, but neither has it formally impinged on the sovereignty of any of them, preferring to use bluster and surrogates rather than direct force to get its way. Moreover, Russia’s enthusiasm for intervention has waned as its own problems have deepened.449
Olcott, Aslund and Garnett claim that post-Soviet politics have largely failed and that the legacy of the Soviet Union remains: “The failure of the CIS has largely been conditioned by the fear that the states of the CIS have for one another; and which all of them have for Russia.”450 Still, that failure is not only due to Russia playing the imperialist card, but rather to the mutual uneasiness that the states of the CIS share in each others’ company. Again, this relates to the issue of interconnectedness that I have introduced earlier: the failure of the CIS, paradoxically, is also a result of the closeness of the post-Soviet countries: the wish for new politics was overshadowed by the reality of old structures – economically, militarily, politically – which thus have stood in the way of an innovative approach towards post-Soviet politics. While this problematic is often associated with Russia’s inability to let go of its superpower status, it is in reality somewhat more complex, as I have demonstrated. This is not to say that Russia does not have a propensity to invoke its lost superpower status. Even so, this is only one side of the coin, the other being the above-mentioned interconnectedness, and the inability of Central Asian leaders to bring stability and democracy to their countries. Additionally, there is no real consensus among the successor states with regard to their own attitude toward Moscow, as Olcott, Aslund and Garnett explain:
The Soviet successor states have not yet resolved the question of what it was they were resolving; indeed, it is possible that there will never be consensus on the issue. The difficulty of deciding whether the Soviet Union was a colonial power or a unified state in which citizens could receive significant social mobility in exchange for ideological conformity has made the battle over how history is to be written hotly contested everywhere in the CIS.451
Indeed, the verdict on the Russian role in the region and in regional alliances continues to be hotly contested.
Olcott analyzes the melange of allegiances, alliances, and affiliations that is so characteristic of the post-Soviet states by differentiating between the ethnicities that are present in Central Asia. According to Olcott, ethnic affiliations were seen as a pragmatic way of advancing business interests: “With the republic’s independence, the leaders of Central Asia’s new states hoped to use their ethnic or national composition to attract international investment and support.452” Olcott identifies three main ethnic “cards” that the Central Asian states could put into play in the international arena: Turkic/Persian, Islamic, or “Asian-ness”.453 This first ethnic card is obvious because all of the Central Asian nationalities claim cultural ties with either Turkey or Iran; additionally, in four of the countries Turkic languages are spoken, while Tajikistan shares cultural attributes with Iran.454 Secondly, according to Olcott, the Islamic card is played as a religious card rather than an ethnic card. This statement might have to be reconsidered depending on the future impact that the spread of Islam will have on the region. However, Olcott contends that the leaders of Central Asia played that card mainly for financial reasons, and to attract aid and investment from oil-rich countries. Still, in addition to these more materialistic considerations, it is a fact that all five Central Asian republics are historically and culturally Muslim, even though observance of religious rites varies widely throughout the region.455 Thirdly, the Asian card was also played in order to attract financial investments from the economic powerhouses of Asia, in combination with the ethnic similarities that Central Asians and nationals from the Far Eastern countries share.456 According to Olcott, the Asian card has turned out to be the least successful, mainly because of an unsentimental approach to business behavior on the part of the Asian nations who were unwilling to take ethnicity into account when agreeing on business deals.457
The conclusion that Olcott draws from this “card” exercise, however, is that in spite of efforts geared at using these three different ethnic allegiances in order to benefit from them, the “Russian” card is still the most prominent. Olcott contends that the realization that the Central Asian states came to after independence was that Russia was the only predictable ally in the region, especially taking into consideration security guarantees that only the Russians had so far been willing to grant them, for example in Tajikistan. She further argues that even though Central Asians are aware of the potential threat that might emanate from Russia, they also know that the individual Central Asian states may pose an even greater threat to each other, especially since violence in one state might very well spill over into another.458 Therefore, she concludes that
Given the background and training of the region’s current leadership, it seems inevitable that they would turn again to the Russians to protect them… should the need to make such a choice arise…. That fact suggests Central Asia’s fourth ‘identity’, of a common Soviet/Russian heritage, which may well be the strongest ‘ethnic card’ of all. Not only did Russia shape the intellectual world and supply the technical training for all of the Central Asian elites, but it continues to remain a presence, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ties formed over long decades of shared existence do not disappear overnight, even if it took many of Central Asia’s leaders the better part of a year to realize the fact.459
Outside assessments – in particular, Western assessments - of Russian influence in the region are not set in stone either. In fact, there seems to be a “majority opinion” that changes every so often, depending on the newest developments in the region. Since Oliker wrote her article, for instance, there has been a movement and a counter-movement with regard to opinions about Russia’s ability to influence developments in Central Asia. For a fairly long time, the major debate – the one I have referred to in the previous paragraph – largely concerned itself with the negative effects of Russian intervention in the former Soviet states. In the mid- to late-1990s, when EU and NATO enlargement were in the process of being negotiated to Russia's dismay, the bulk of Western analysis focused on what was perceived to be Russia’s inability to face up to the post-Cold War world, directly translating into open opposition to Western institutions interfering in Russia’s “sphere of interest”. The same discourse emerged during the second round of enlargement. The events in Georgia and in Ukraine, finally, also bore the marks of that same discourse – Russia unwilling to let go of the former Soviet states. Where Central Asia is concerned, this discourse is somewhat more complex, largely because the Central Asian states themselves, due to geography or history, have not opted in favour of Western institutions to the same extent that the former states located in the west of the former Soviet Union have, but retain fairly strong connections with Russia.
This of course influences the way Russian involvement in the region is seen, both from the inside and from the outside. I have mentioned before that this assessment has changed and continues to change depending largely on third power involvement in the region, as well as on developments in the Central Asian countries themselves. Throughout the 1990s, the most common assessment was that Russia acted largely as a hegemon, trying to maximize its own national interests, sometimes at the expense of the individual countries. This analysis changed drastically after the events of 9/11 and the increased presence of US and NATO in the region, only to revert again in the last year or so: recently, analysts once more see Russia as gaining in importance in the region – in combination with third powers. This brings me back to an issue that was introduced in the beginning of this chapter: in spite of calls to refrain from treating Central Asia as a unified entity, this is precisely what has very often happened. Moreover, the recurring theme of Central Asia as region of strategic importance still prevails in IR literature. Thus far I have outlined the importance of Russia to the region. I will now turn to discussing how attention was shifted away from Russia as the main outside power that shaped events in Central Asia by analyzing how 9/11 and ensuing US and NATO deployment affected the region.
In the previous sections I have discussed how Central Asia might be considered logically to be following the political trajectories of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, Ukraine, and subsequently, the Caucasian states. However, developments have occurred in a far less linear manner than this listing of individual states and regions might suggest. Also, towards what goal or along what path these countries are moving is far from obvious. Thus far, the path had been fairly clearly marked and entailed a rapprochement with Western institutions, such as the OSCE, eventually leading to membership in the NATO and in the EU. Whereas the case of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states was a fairly straightforward one, progress stalled with Georgia and Ukraine. The case of the remaining Caucasian countries is still unclear, and most unclear of all is the case of Central Asia. What has become increasingly evident, though, is that extending membership to new countries will not happen automatically as it did with the Central/Eastern European countries and the Baltic States. This is not necessarily a negative development, but it does raise questions about what kind of partnership the West is pursuing with countries that are presently labelled “partner countries”. For example, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) can be seen as an attempt to devise partnerships that don’t necessarily lead to membership.460 This is also true for NATO: there is only one country at present, Ukraine, that engages with NATO in a manner that could be seen as being part of the accession process. All the other partnerships programs that NATO engages in are not officially geared towards membership. Whereas Russia is struggling with the legacy of the Soviet Union in its dealings with the countries of Central Asia, Western institutions have approached them as complete outsiders. Geography does not permit an automatism the way it did for the western states of the former Soviet Union.
The question then is: what kind of partnerships is NATO pursuing with the Central Asian countries? Are these relationships developed to the detriment of Russia? In other words: has NATO involvement in the area lessened the importance of Russia to these states? And most importantly, what does NATO involvement in Central Asia say about its positioning, both in general terms and with regard to Russia? The fairly intricate institutional framework outlined in section 4.1.2. of this chapter indicates that extensive linkages between the Central Asian countries, as well as between the countries and Russia, are already in place. However, the quality of the different arrangements varies widely and does not necessarily adequately reflect actual cooperation. What, then, are the relationships that NATO has forged with the countries of Central Asia?
Before starting this analysis one caveat should be noted, concerning the duality of NATO involvement and US involvement in the region. I have alluded to the difficulty of making a strict distinction between NATO and the US at several points in this dissertation. On the one hand this is due to the fact that NATO’s inherent structure accounts for US dominance. The ongoing debate about stronger European capabilities, including ESDP interoperability with NATO’s capabilities is a testimony to this. On the other hand, NATO is very often perceived by third states as an extension of US policy and US interests, which has its roots in the Cold War and in the reasons for which NATO was created in the first place. The NATO-US duality is particularly important in the case of Central Asia because the new initiatives that have emerged recently are largely due to the US’ increased interest in the region, with NATO following suit. Interaction between NATO and Central Asia had been low-key since the first wave of post Cold-War programs, in Central Asia’s case, the PfPs. This phase of relative quiet ended on 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror. Since then, Central Asia has been moved to the top of the US foreign policy agenda. In order to be able to carry out Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), US airbases were established in Uzbekistan (Termez and Karsi-Khanabad, commonly known as K2) and in Kyrgyzstan (Ganci Manas). OEF began on 7 October 2001, and its initial military objectives included the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al Qaeda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan.461 I will return to OEF and the US’s usage of NATO capabilities later on in this chapter. It is sufficient to say here that 9/11 was a defining turning point in the way Central Asia’s importance to international relations was perceived. Therefore, NATO’s involvement is also to no small extent a consequence of 9/11 and the US-led OEF.
NATO’s diverse partnership programs that were developed throughout the 1990s have always included the countries of Central Asia. From the NACC to PfP to the EAPC462, the five Central Asian states are considered partner countries by NATO. As outlined in chapter 3, the PfP and the EAPC constitute NATO’s most important program or institutional structure for interaction with the so-called partner countries. Four out of five of the Central Asian republics signed a PfP agreement with NATO in 1994, the year PfP was launched. Tajikistan joined the rest of the Central Asian countries in signing a PfP agreement with NATO in 2002. Furthermore, the EAPC, created in 1997 as a successor to the NACC, is made up of the 26 NATO countries and 20 non-member countries that include prospective new NATO members such as Croatia, non-aligned Western European states such as Sweden and Switzerland, as well as countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, such as Georgia, and the Central Asian states. In practical terms, this means that NATO and Central Asia have a forum in which security issues are discussed. These issues include topics such as
crisis-management and peace-support operations; regional issues; arms control and issues related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; international terrorism; defence issues such as planning, budgeting, policy and strategy; civil emergency planning and disaster-preparedness; armaments cooperation; nuclear safety; civil-military coordination of air traffic management; and scientific cooperation.463
Also, assisting partner countries with democratic reform, in particular military reform and civil-military relations, has always been one the cornerstones of NATO’s engagement with partner countries. This was the case with Eastern and Central Europe in the 1990s; similarly, it continues to be on the top of the agenda of NATO’s partnership working plan with regard to the countries of Central Asia.
This goes back to NATO’s self-understanding as not only a military, but also a political alliance. According to some observers, it is only logical that NATO now focuses on Central Asia in an effort to encourage democratic change. Vahit Erdem, Head of the Turkish delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly464 argues that
The completion of transformation efforts in the Baltic states and in most Central and East European countries and the gradual progress in achieving a lasting stability in the Balkans have paved the way for a wider focus on the Caucasus and Central Asia … There is, then, a general understanding that the Alliance should and can do more for the Caucasus and Central Asia. The defining criterion in establishing or deepening relations with any given country in today’s international relations is adherence to fundamental values, democracy and basic human rights.465
Moreover, Erdem observes an increasing Central Asian interest in the different Western institutions, which can be seen for instance in Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the WTO in December 1998.466 The most important fact to note, according to Erdem, is “the willingness voiced by all partners… to deepen cooperation with western institutions, among which NATO holds an important place.”467
Whether Erdem’s observations are correct is of course a matter of interpretation. I would argue that he is somewhat too enthusiastic in presupposing a unified interest in Western institutions on the part of the Central Asian countries. The important point that Erdem himself makes is that in terms of West-orientation, one has to clearly differentiate between the Caucasian countries and the countries of Central Asia, even though the two regions are usually lumped together in analyses, as well as in official documents. Thus, whereas Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia have clearly indicated that their foreign policy orientation is geared towards the West, the Central Asian countries have not really committed themselves to such an orientation. Of course it is entirely justifiable to call for increased interaction between NATO and Central Asia, but that should not obscure a more realistic view. Overall, cooperation between NATO and the individual Central Asian countries does not extend much beyond PfP and the EAPC. Additionally, both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan joined the Planning and Review Process (PARP) in 2002, a program devised to assist partner countries with the modernization of their armed forces.468 Kyrgyzstan followed suit by joining PARP in 2004. At the same time as joining PARP, and with the encouragement of NATO, Uzbekistan considered extending its relationship with NATO to an IPAP. However, these plans were put on hold indefinitely after the events in Andijan on 13 May 2005. Uzbek security forces killed hundreds of protesters demanding the release of 23 locals who were charged by the government with being members of a banned Islamic group, sparking further protests in other parts of the country. The Andijan massacre constituted a turning point in how NATO – and the West in general – views Uzbekistan and Uzbek commitment to democracy, which in turn affects the institutional ties that are already in place or had been planned with NATO: there are currently no steps being taken towards extending an IPAP to Uzbekistan, nor is the Uzbek government actively seeking to change this.
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have so far not indicated interest in IPAPs. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, appointed a military representative to NATO; and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer spoke in favor of extending an IPAP to the country during a visit to the region in October 2004. The IPAP was finally signed on 31 January 2006, suggesting an affirmation of the “political will” on the part of Kazakhstan to build a relationship with NATO469. Nevertheless, in spite of Kazakhstan’s IPAP, the status quo suggests that the institutional framework between NATO and Central Asia is presently characterized by rather low intensity and low commitment470. That fact does not preclude the possibility that closer ties will be forged in the future. However, at present it is most likely that rapprochement between NATO and the individual Central Asian countries will not increase much in the near future. There are several reasons for this assumption: firstly, geographical facts and the limits the US and Europe face in having an actual impact on the region. This also relates to the second point, which is the fact that NATO is likely to have reached its maximum limits in terms of members and will therefore almost certainly not extend membership to Central Asian countries. Thirdly, evidence has increased in the last year or so to suggest that any perceived pro-Western course of countries like Uzbekistan might be reversing. Fourthly, and possibly most importantly, the increasing importance of third actors in the region further suggests that European and US’, and thus also NATO’s powers of persuasion are waning in the region, even if concerted efforts are undertaken to extend partnerships to the Central Asian countries. Fifthly and finally, although still a manner of speculation, it might very well be possible that Russia’s influence is again on the rise in Central Asia. The plethora of regional associations discussed earlier in this chapter, and most particularly, the ascendance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, suggest that Russia continues to actively shape politics and economics in the region. What this means for NATO will be discussed in the final part of this chapter. I will now discuss the impact that NATO involvement has had in the area.
As mentioned above, NATO involvement in Central Asia is closely interlinked with the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the ensuing US-led OEF: ironically, however, OEF was not NATO-led, largely because the US chose not to call upon NATO, even though NATO had invoked Article V471 for the first time in its existence. Instead, the US preferred to select specific partners for specific capabilities. However, claiming that OEF had nothing to do with NATO at all would be wrong: in fact, the majority of coalition forces that took part in OAE were sent from NATO member states. The United Kingdom, France, and Canada, all NATO member states actively contributed to OEF, in addition to non-NATO members Australia and New Zealand. Finally, coalition forces included the Afghan Northern Alliance, a coalition of Afghan groups opposing the Taliban regime. OEF was to serve several goals, all of them connected to preventing the spread of international terrorism, with which the Taliban regime had been widely associated. The immediate goal, the removal of the Taliban regime, was accomplished through OEF. Long-term objectives such as ending terrorism, deterring states from sponsoring international terrorism, as well as reintegrating Afghanistan into the international community472 are still underway, and their success has recently been given mixed reviews.
NATO became actively involved in Afghanistan in the wake of OEF. Peacekeeping and reconstruction are implemented by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that has been under NATO command since 9 August 2003. ISAF was established in December 2001 through UN resolution 1386 and consists of roughly 9000 troops from 35 nations, both NATO and non-NATO states.473 Between 2001 and 2003, individual nations volunteered to lead the ISAF mission every six months. The first two ISAF mission were run by the United Kingdom and Turkey, respectively. The third ISAF mission was led by Germany and the Netherlands with support from NATO.474 Since 2003, NATO itself has been responsible for the command, coordination and planning of the force, as well as for providing the force commander and headquarters on the ground in Afghanistan.475 In this capacity, NATO’s role is
to assist the Government of Afghanistan and the international community in maintaining security within its area of operation. ISAF supports the government of Afghanistan in expanding its authority throughout the country, and in providing a safe and secure environment conducive to free and fair elections, the spread of the rule of law, and the reconstruction of the country.476
Joint Force Command in Brunssum, The Netherlands, is responsible at the operational level for manning, training, deploying and sustaining ISAF.477 ISAF has continuously expanded, both in terms of troop numbers and in geographical scope. The UN-mandated ISAF operates separately from OEF.
OEF is important in its scope and its goals. First of all, it has drastically increased Western presence in the region bordering Central Asia. Whereas the initial fighting occurred under US command, and not NATO’s, NATO nevertheless became involved through its leadership in ISAF, resulting in a permanent NATO presence in the region. As far as the countries of Central Asia are concerned, however, this presence has largely been reduced to the airbases and over-flight rights that the individual countries have extended to the US and to NATO. Though the US has no base in Tajikistan, it has nevertheless negotiated an arrangement that allows US military aircraft to fly over Tajik territory and land in case of emergency, as well as to refuel on Tajik territory. Termez transit point in Uzbekistan was used by NATO forces, whereas the now-closed Karsi-Khanabad (K2) air base in Uzbekistan and Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan are components of OEF, and are thus unrelated to NATO. This suggests that NATO yields relatively little influence over the Central Asian countries, even though it is visibly present in a country neighboring the region, and is moreover likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Much attention was given to Uzbekistan evicting US forces from the K2 air base in light of US criticism of president Islam Karimov’s handling of the Andijan events. This move was widely seen as proof that Uzbekistan, counted upon as an ally in the war against terror, is reverting to an anti-Western, and specifically, to an anti-American course. In fact, the loss of the K2 base poses logistical problems to the US and OEF, leaving the operation with only Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. In a parallel move, shortly after evicting US troops, Uzbekistan also asked NATO troops to leave, effectively denying NATO forces access to Termez airport. This move by Uzbekistan was also prompted by European reactions to Andijan that resulted in an EU arms embargo on Uzbekistan, as well as in the halt on the ratification of the EU’s Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Uzbekistan. These developments suggest that NATO and US presence in the region do not necessarily mean that the Central Asian countries are aligning themselves with the West. Rather, NATO and US forces continue to be seen rather suspiciously as outsiders that the region could do very well without. However, this does not necessarily mean that, according to the same zero-sum logic that has been discussed before, Russia stands to gain from this. Yet it does reaffirm the notion that to the Central Asian states, Western states and institutions are not as naturally desirable as they are to other post-Soviet states.
Developments in Central Asia have thus occurred in a somewhat unstructured way. The prominence that the region gained in the aftermath of 9/11 is considerable, but what this ultimately means is still unclear. One should not lose sight of an important limitation to this statement, though: it is the West that “discovered” the importance of the Central Asia region in the aftermath of 9/11. Conversely, many other actors, especially Russia, did not have to “discover” Central Asia; it had always been part of its policy planning. The increased presence of US, European and NATO troops in the region is not a result of long-term strategic planning, but rather one of the short-term effects of 9/11. This presence should therefore not be overestimated, since it is by no means a guarantor of any future developments in the region. Some analysts contend that current Western involvement in Central Asia actually constitutes a second wave of involvement; the first wave being a push for democratization before 9/11. Political and diplomatic efforts pertaining to Central Asia during this first wave of involvement consisted of four components, according to one expert: firstly, the formation of democratic political institutions; secondly, the promotion of market economic reform; thirdly, the establishment of cooperation and greater integration into the Euro-Atlantic and the international community; and finally, the advancement of responsible policies, including weapons-non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, and drug trafficking.478
In her latest book “Central Asia’s second chance”, Martha Brill Olcott claims that Western efforts – which were to a large extent US efforts at the time – to foster a climate of democracy in Central Asia during the 1990s largely failed.479 According to Olcott, this was largely due to the fact that the US government pursued a policy of democratization that actively excluded the governments of the Central Asian countries. Instead, the US insisted on working with NGOs only, which, Olcott argues, turned out to be the wrong choice.480 This first wave of Western engagement in Central Asia was guided by the same post-Soviet democratization movements that also swept through other countries of the former USSR and the Warsaw Pact. One difference, however, was the fact that an eventual goal of the democratization effort, namely membership in one or more of the Western institutions, was not a realistic option for Central Asia. The question that arises now is whether the second wave of Western involvement that has gained in momentum in the aftermath of 9/11 is any more effective. Olcott argues that it is not, first of all because the Central Asian leaders have gained in self-confidence, and are more reluctant to receive Western advice than they were in the 1990s.481 Secondly, Olcott contends that the West consistently overestimates its own abilities to influence the region, while at the same time third actors – especially China – are becoming increasingly more important to the states of Central Asia.
Nevertheless, there is one very important conclusion that can be drawn from OEF concerning NATO itself, rather than its performance in Central Asia. OEF has given an answer to the question pertaining to NATO’s role after the end of the Cold War: Afghanistan solidifies NATO’s concept of out-of-area mission. The intense discussions about what kind of tasks NATO would face in light of the end of bipolarity, as well as the ambiguities that existed with regard to what exactly “out-of-area” means were in part answered by the creation of ISAF. During the mid-1990s, it was a highly contested issue whether or not the Balkans constituted out-of-area territory, until the establishment of IFOR, SFOR and KFOR missions terminated that debate. The same applied to Afghanistan some years later, and was subsequently also resolved by establishing ISAF. These developments have been viewed very positively by NATO officials and politicians of NATO member states. Former German defense minister Peter Struck addressed this issue in his speech at the 2004 Munich Conference on Security: “Whereas not so long ago a frequent question was: ‘Is there a future for NATO?’, the questions today are: ‘What is the future of NATO’, and: ‘What must we do so that NATO can continue to perform its task in the future’? I believe that the ‘existential crisis’ of NATO which some people forecast is a thing of the past.”482 Struck here makes the important point that in 2004, the real issue is no longer whether NATO should exist, but rather how it should exist. Struck underlines the importance of that new NATO:
NATO is taking on an increased amount of international responsibility and is contributing decisively to mitigating dangers to our security in crisis regions – for instance, in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. Particularly in Afghanistan the process of stabilization and democratization would be inconceivable without the role played by NATO and the capabilities which it contributes.483
The common denominator that the fight against terrorism evoked after 9/11 is put into practice in the mission of ISAF, thus underlining the claim that NATO is not an obsolete organization.
Moreover, it is quite legitimate to reverse the argument that is often used to underline the weak state of NATO, namely the fact that the US chose to not call upon NATO under the provisions of Article V after the attacks of 9/11. In the words of one analyst, the US’ reaction to the first-ever invocation of Article V was “Thanks, said the Pentagon: don’t call us, we may call you. In practice this has meant the US has used UN Security Council Resolution 1368 as legitimation for a US riposte to the attacks it suffered. With its mainland violated for the first time, the US instinct is to confront its enemies everywhere in the world”484 – and without NATO’s help, is the implicit message. While the US decision to not call upon NATO could be labelled a unilateralist move, it can nevertheless also be interpreted as move that is actually in accordance with NATO’s own post-Cold War guidelines, namely the streamlining of capabilities in order to create more flexible, and thus more efficient, operational forces. This shift was initiated with the 1993 launch of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept, which entails “a multinational (combined) and multi-service (joint) task force, task-organised and formed for the full range of the Alliance's military missions requiring multinational and multi-service command and control.”485 This concept was further developed with the launch of the NATO Response Force (NRF) at the Prague Summit in 2002.486 Both concepts were an attempt to adapt NATO capabilities to new the new challenges of the post Cold-War world, of which 9/11 and Afghanistan were prime examples. Therefore, the US’ decision to proceed with only a few allies, even though not precisely in the spirit of CJTF or NRF, should also be seen in light of the particularity and the challenges of the Afghan operation. Therefore, as far as NATO itself is concerned, OEF and ISAF can be considered successes, as they have legitimized NATO in its post-Cold War form. This new NATO might not be enough to satisfy critics who contend that the new NATO’s purpose is not clear-cut enough, or that NATO’s future is still uncertain largely because of the lack of financial commitment of the member states. In spite of all these well-founded criticisms, the fact remains that NATO is still perceived to be one of the most successful organizations of all times, and is therefore often brought up in discussions about how to solve international crises, from Sudan to the Middle East.
However, OEF and its effects on the region are more limited than might have been expected. This suggests that the mere presence of US, European and NATO troops in the region has not necessarily led to any geopolitical shifts, especially since the main target of OEF has been and continues to be Afghanistan, which is not a Central Asian country. This is also reflected in the structures and frameworks that NATO has established in Central Asia: even though OEF created a new impetus for stepping up interaction, the institutional agreements between NATO and the individual Central Asian countries remained the same, with the exception of PARP in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This, in turn suggests that in terms of progress and visible outcomes in the cooperation between NATO and the Central Asian states, the course is still in the process of being set, all the while keeping in mind earlier statements about the natural limitations of NATO and other Western institutions in the area. I will now discuss the perspectives that exist with regard to interaction or cooperation between NATO and Central Asia, as NATO has indeed committed itself to the region in the future.
The summit of Heads of State and Government on 28-29 June 2004 in Istanbul was seminal in its efforts to identify the Alliance’s priorities for the future. The Istanbul summit was a defining moment in NATO’s history as a post Cold-War organization: on the one hand, the tenets of the “new” NATO that had dared to go out of area were reviewed, while at the same time, future agenda-setting was actively pursued. The opening paragraph of the Istanbul Summit Communiqué reiterates the foundations of the “old” NATO, stating that
We, the Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, reaffirmed today the enduring value of the transatlantic link and of NATO as the basis for our collective defense… Our 26 nations are united in democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, and faithful to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.487
Subsequent paragraphs emphasize the transformation undergone by NATO through the second round of enlargement, as well as through the decision to extend NATO’s mandate to out-of-area missions. The NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan was expanded at the Istanbul Summit by several more Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and by enhanced support for the 2004 elections. This was decided upon in a spirit of further shaping “this transformation in order to adapt NATO’s structures, procedures and capabilities to 21st century challenges.”488 Other priorities include enhancing Operation Active Endeavour in order to fight international terrorism, assisting the government of Iraq with training of its security forces, transforming NATO military capabilities in order to make them more usable and deployable, reaffirming NATO’s open door policy towards new members (Albania, Croatia, Macedonia), enhancing the Mediterranean Dialogue, and offering cooperation to the broader Middle East region through the “Istanbul Cooperation Initiative”.489
This list demonstrates that NATO’s future priorities lie well outside of its traditional area of engagement. Crucially, NATO also made a commitment to strengthen to Euro-Atlantic Partnership, “in particular through a special focus on engaging with our partners in the strategically important region of the Caucasus and Central Asia.”490 This was the first time that NATO had proactively focussed on Central Asia as a region of special engagement and can be considered a direct consequence of ISAF and NATO’s reconsideration of what out-of-area missions mean. The Communiqué specifies this commitment in Article 31 by stating that
In enhancing the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, we will put special focus on engaging with out partners in the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Towards that end, NATO has agreed on improved liaison arrangements, including the assignment of two liaison officers, as well as a special representative for the two regions from within the International Staff. We welcome the decision by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan491 to develop Individual Partnership Action Plans with NATO. This constitutes a significant step in these countries’ efforts to develop closer Partnership relations with the Alliance.492
The Communiqué does not become more specific on the matter of NATO’s commitment to greater involvement in Central Asia. Moreover, the one specific practical implementation of partnership that is mentioned, namely Uzbekistan’s intention to pursue an IPAP, has been put on hold with no signs of revival. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are not mentioned at all in the communiqué. Also, Article 31 reveals that once more, the two regions Caucasus and Central Asia are seen as an entity.
In the absence of specific plans pertaining to the shape and design of NATO’s partnership with Central Asia, Article 31 of the Istanbul Communiqué should be seen as part of NATO’s general positioning as a post-Cold War institution. The goals and benchmarks of this new organization are outlined at the end of the Istanbul Communiqué (Article 45):
Today’s complex strategic environment demands a broad approach to security, comprising political, economic and military elements… The Alliance is conducting challenging operations in regions of strategic importance; transforming its capabilities to meet new threats; and working ever more closely together with partner countries and other international organizations in a truly multilateral effort to address common security concerns. While NATO’s transformation continues, its fundamental purpose – based on the common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law – endures: to serve as an essential transatlantic forum for consultation and an effective instrument for Europe and North America to defend peace and stability, now and into the future.493
The dichotomy between “transatlantic” on the one hand, and “new threats”, located in strategic regions such as Central Asia, is still not fully reconciled. However, it no longer constitutes the existential crisis that the end of the Cold War had provoked.
This fact is also reflected in the appointment of Robert Simmons by NATO’s Secretary General in 2004 as his Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, indicating that NATO’s areas of interests have expanded. Simmons specifies his duties: the Special Representative focuses on “going to the region and making contacts with senior officials in their capitals… to assist them in making the best use of the partnership activities… We also have agreed that we will have liaison officers, one for each region.”494 Cooperation between NATO and Central Asia consists of three parts, according to Simmons:
One is we want them to see that NATO is a place where they can consult and raise their security concerns… That focus is on Brussels. The second is defense reform. All of these countries are going through a process where they’re adjusting and reforming their defense structures to make them meet the new requirements that they have. NATO has a very good experience in that with the countries that have joined the Alliance… finally, in a broad sense; we hope that these countries will become increasingly interoperable with NATO…495
When asked about specific examples of programs that NATO would like to see implemented, Simmons first mentioned IPAPs, and second, NATO making “them aware of opportunities where they can practice the interoperability… Equally, [to] convey to their publics, to their leaders, the message of what NATO’s role is in areas for instance like Afghanistan which is in fact near to many of these countries, and why NATO is involved in countries like that. So to explain NATO’s overall message to these countries and to their people who are a bit distant from this headquarters.”496
These priorities advocated by Simmons are reminiscent of priorities set by NATO in the early 1990s with regard to the then-prospective applicants to NATO membership: defense reform, opportunities for interoperability, explaining the concept of NATO to local publics that might still have a negative impression of the organization. Still, Simmons’ answers make it perfectly clear that membership is not considered an option as far as the countries of Central Asia are concerned. Therefore, the aim pursued by NATO really boils down to politics, such as those aspects mentioned that Article 45 of the Istanbul Communiqué – and indeed the preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949: the advancement of freedom, democracy, human rights. Throughout this chapter I have argued that these aspirations might not be realized, and that NATO – indeed, Western – influence on the region is likely to decrease, not increase. One NATO official rather frankly remarked that NATO is not interested in the region, realizing that “very little can be achieved there”.497 Moreover, he contends that this is a matter of mutuality; Central Asia shows little to no real interest in NATO. Variations among the individual countries do exist. For example, Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country that has expressed “global and European”498 ambitions, whereas Turkmenistan, consistent with its own tradition of isolationism, has a relationship with NATO that is quasi-non existent. One reason for this, aside from geography, according to the same NATO official, is that NATO lacks sufficient funds to properly engage in the region, whereas the Central Asian countries expect NATO to foot the bill. Therefore, it is not surprising that specific projects implemented by NATO for the benefit of Central Asia are scarce; indeed, only one such project is still underway, the Virtual Silk Highway (VSH), a project that dates back to 1994. VSH was designed by the NATO Science Programme as a multi-year NATO computer networking project in order to bring cost-effective, global Internet connectivity to the Caucasus and Central Asia through state of the art satellite technology, thus creating a modern information network.499 Throughout 2003, internet connectivity was set up in all five Central Asian states.
The implementation of VSH is certainly to be seen in a positive light, especially since the Central Asian countries are actively benefiting from a NATO-sponsored program. Still, the question arises when – and if – other projects will be started relating to Central Asia. According to one NATO official, there is a lack of political will to bring NATO to Central Asia, except on the part of the United States.500 According to this same official, fundamental differences exist between the European countries and the US with regard to the importance of the region.501 Whereas Europe is more interested in engaging in the Caucasus, the US focuses on Central Asia – both a result of strategic interests. Europe perceives a willingness on the part of the Caucasian countries to engage with European/Western institutions, a willingness that Central Asia lacks. The US, on the other hand, sees Central Asia as an attachment to their involvement in Afghanistan, and therefore prioritizes Central Asia over the Caucasus.502 Putting Central Asia on the Istanbul agenda by appointing a special representative was thus a US initiative; the rest of NATO remains reluctant in terms of enhancing its efforts of engagement.503 Jennifer Moroney argues that NATO might run “…the risk of being an ineffective multilateral engagement tool for this region, and encouraging these states to seek bilateral security assistance from the United States and other countries.”504 Still, Moroney deems that “NATO has something unique to offer to its partners: a proven forum for increasing security cooperation among actors in a given region, as well as a tested ‘open door’ policy.”505
Summing up this paragraph, the hypothesis that NATO, in spite of its institutional frameworks in Central Asia and its proclaimed focus on the region, is not well positioned to have a lasting impact on the area, gains prominence. Involvement in Afghanistan is not likely to spill over into sustainable involvement in Central Asia, especially in light of the fact that the region itself has not shown any strong desire for increased NATO involvement. What then are the implications of the status quo that I have traced throughout this chapter? Underlining their importance to NATO-Russia relations, I will connect the threads in this final paragraph.
In this chapter, I have presented an overview of how external actors have exerted their influence over Central Asia, and how, in turn, the countries of Central Asia have positioned themselves vis-à-vis external influences. The most important results of this analysis are the following: First, the importance of Russia in the area should not be underestimated. The countries of Central Asia are not following in the footsteps of other former Soviet republics in terms of emancipating themselves from Russia, or at least not to the same degree. The established logic of post-Soviet nations turning to Western institutions does not apply in the case of Central Asia. This implies that, secondly, NATO does not have the same opportunities for influencing the region as it did in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, or even in the Caucasus and in Ukraine. Even though NATO has accorded priority to Central Asia, most notably at the Istanbul Summit, both policymakers and analysts agree that there is no perspective for NATO membership as far as the Central Asian countries are concerned, nor should NATO realistically expect to exert long-term influence over the region. This will not deter NATO from engaging with Central Asia; even setbacks like the Andijan massacre will not change that. According to one NATO official, NATO is and always has been a pragmatic organization and therefore will not suspend relations with Uzbekistan.506 The same NATO official contended that NATO’s goals for the region are modest: short-term plans are largely confined to a basic training of forces, which one day might lead to involving them in NATO operations. However, the point was made that this is by no means guaranteed.507 Other plans pertaining to Central Asia, namely a long-term commitment to reform society and to assist in maintaining a peaceful region, are not guaranteed to succeed either. NATO has overcome its post-Cold War dilemma of purpose with its mission in Afghanistan. However, the limits to the “new” NATO’s approach of taking the “Washington spirit” out of area are already visible in Central Asia – suggesting that NATO’s future missions might have to be limited to post-conflict peacekeeping and stabilization activities.
Returning to the beginning of this chapter and the reasons for choosing Central Asia as a case study, a third conclusion that can be drawn is that the last “undecided” area of the former Soviet empire is not likely to opt for alignment with the West. In an interesting twist, one could claim that in this case, Russia has the upper hand in a game that is not precisely zero-sum, but is still characterized by different actors vying for power at the expense of other actors. The unified Russia-NATO-US front against terror is no longer as strong it was in 2001, when Russia decided to unconditionally back the US in the fight against terrorism by allowing US troops to launch OEF and later NATO’s ISAF to take over. This move has often been perceived as an attempt by Vladimir Putin to use this service to the US for potential trade-offs to advance Russia’s interests.508 However, this hope turned out to be false; the US and Europe both continued to criticize the state of human rights in Russia, one important issue that Putin wanted to see as an above-mentioned trade-off. This, in turn, prompted Putin to take a step back from his commitment to the fight against terror, and to once more consider Central Asia a strategically important region where US and NATO influence through increased involvement might be exerted to the detriment of Russia.509 As I have demonstrated, the myriad of local associations and organizations in Central Asia does suggest that Russia is indeed better positioned to influence the region. One NATO official described interaction between Russia and NATO in Central Asia as “delicate and sophisticated political game”, where everyone is balancing according to their best interests.510 For instance, recently, Russia has been arguing in favor of intensifying efforts to enhance the CSTO’s status as a collective defense organization that would see eye to eye with NATO on security issues. This, in turn, would prevent NATO from pursuing bilateral contacts with the Central Asian states, a possible situation staunchly opposed by the US.511
Fourthly, and crucially, many indicators point towards another development: the influence of other outside powers on Central Asia is increasing, and might one day eclipse the influence that either NATO or Russia wield over the region. First and foremost, China is in the process of solidifying its economic power, resulting in increased influence over the region. This economic power has already spilled over into other aspects of international relations, as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization suggests. Moreover, China’s influence in the region is expected to increase, not decrease, in coming years. Therefore, observations that Russia does not see NATO as a challenge in Central Asia512, but rather, China, are not uncommon. New fault lines are being drawn, though there is no consensus yet on what that means, although most analysts agree that in the past two years, Russia has successfully reasserted its influence on Central Asia. Irina Korbinskaya contends that “Russia faces a [political] dilemma [with regard to Central Asia]… On the one hand, it might yield to imperial temptation, jeopardize relations with Washington, and upset the whole strategic balance in the Asian-Pacific region (which involves China).”513 Pavel Baev argues in a critical article about Russia’s ultimate intentions that
…the reassertion of Russian influence in Central Asia since mid-2005 has been … impressive. Rulers who until recently preferred to assert their independence by manoeuvring between Russia, China, and the West are now according Moscow the respect it demands and are eager to discuss with it plans for strengthening their armed forces according to old Soviet templates.514
Yet other analysts, such as Nikolai Sokov, caution that the notion of a new “great game” shouldn’t be overestimated:
This time the great game is conceptualized as the desire of Russia and China to squeeze the United States out of Central Asia and keep the region under their exclusive control… Ironically, between the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2005 the roles were reversed: Moscow accused the United States of expanding its influence into the soft underbelly of Russia. The United States denied the accusation, saying that the notion of the great game was outdated; unlike in the 19th century, Central Asian states were now independent, sovereign actors that could make their own choices, it seems that frameworks and terms change with the changing of policy tides.515
He concludes that “Politics in the region are a great game only to the extent that great powers are prepared to frame issues in that manner. Unless both the United States and Russia assume a different attitude toward each other’s positions and interests in Central Asia, a Moscow-Beijing axis is likely to form and will create a geopolitical conflict with Washington.”516
NATO and Russia themselves do not take up any of these geopolitical issues. At the NATO-Russia Council at the level of foreign ministers held in Istanbul on 28 June 2004, issues for discussion did not diverge significantly from the regular canon of NATO-Russia issues. For example, “[the ministers] expressed their solidarity in standing against the terrorist threat and took note of the broad-based co-operation that has been developed in this area in the NRC framework, in this context, they also welcomed Russia’s offer tot participate in maritime operations in the Mediterranean Sea in the framework of Operation Active Endeavour.”517 Further topics for discussion were, amongst others, TMD, the enhancement of military-to-military cooperation and the interoperability of NATO and Russian forces, the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI), and joint peacekeeping operations. Throughout the NRC meetings of 2004 and 2005, these familiar topics did not change either.
It appears, then, as though NATO is in the process of being sidelined in Central Asia, whereas Russia is reaffirming its influence. This seemingly reverse zero-sum scenario supports the hypothesis that NATO and Russia have not found an optimal way of cooperating, but rather get caught up in perceived power imbalance scenarios. Also, the claim that institutional frameworks matter less than external events has once more been confirmed: the implementation of the NRC did not influence the interface of NATO and Russia as far as Central Asia is concerned. However, as I have demonstrated in this chapter, 9/11 and its aftermath has affected NATO-Russia relations, though not in an explicitly productive way. It is remarkable that “safe” schemes such as Operation Active Endeavour, which do not impinge upon Russian interests, or traditional topics such as TMD, civil emergencies, and peacekeeping operations are time and again matters for discussion at the NRC. However, Russian commitment to engage in the war against terror did not extend to Afghanistan. Baev contends that “Indeed, Russia has never so much as hinted at the possibility of contributing something meaningful to the international efforts at rebuilding Afghanistan, preferring to criticize the shortcomings in NATO operations.”518 In other words, the “glass ceiling” that limits NATO-Russia cooperation is also in place in Central Asia.
See Berman, Ilan: “The new battleground: Central Asia and the Caucasus”, in: Washington Quarterly, vol. 28, #1, 2004/2005, pp. 59-70; Clover, Charles: “Dreams of the Eurasian heartland. The reemergence of geopolitics”, in: Foreign Affairs, vol. 78, #2, 1999, pp. 9-13; Edwards, Matthew: “The new great game and the new great gamers: disciples of Kipling and Mackinder”, in: Central Asian Survey, vol. 22, #1, 2003, pp. 83-102; Halbach, Uwe, van Scherpenberg, Jens and Schmidt, Peter: “Seidenstraße und Great Game: Internationale Politik und regionale Entwicklung zwischen Kaukasus und Pamir”, in: van Scherpenberg, Jens and Schmidt, Peter (eds.): “Stabilität und Kooperation: Aufgaben internationaler Ordnungspolitik”, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2000. Conversely, other analysts have argued that the geostrategic importance of the region is exaggerated, especially with regard to the existence of raw materials: see Meyers Jaffe, Amy and Manning, Robert: “The myth of the Caspian ‘Great Game’: the real geopolitics of energy”, in: Survival vol. 40, #4, 1998, pp. 112-129.
Menon, Rajan: “The new great game in Central Asia”, in: Survival, vol. 45, #2, 2003, pp. 187-204.
386 Anti-ballistic missile; national missile defense.
387 Senn, Martin: “A submissive nuclear power? Russia and the United States’ national missile defense system”, in: Mangott, Gerhard, Trenin, Dmitri, Senn, Martin, Timmermann, Heinz (eds.): “Russlands Rückkehr. Außenpolitik unter Vladimir Putin”, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2005, p. 153-202, p. 153.
388 See chapter 3.
389 See chapter 2.
390 Interview with Alexei Salmin, President, Russian Public Policy Center. 11 March 2005, Moscow.
391 See chapter 3.
392 The Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine, http://www.nato.int/docu/
basictxt/ukrchrt.htm [last accessed on 17 March 2006].
393 See chapter 3. In 2006, IPAPs were extended to Moldova (19 May) and Kazakhstan (31 January), making Kazakhstan the only Central Asian country that is engaged with NATO on an IPAP-basis.
396 Georgia Train and Equip Program, United States Department of Defense news release # 217-00, 29 April 2002, http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/2002/b04292002_bt217-02.html [last accessed on 17 March 2006].
397 Interview with Commission Official #1, 16 September 2005, European Commission, Brussels.
398 I refer here to the present governments and policies of both Ukraine and Georgia; keeping in mind that the large Russian minority population in Ukraine represents a force that is not necessarily Western-oriented.
399 The significant amount of IR literature dealing with Central Asia as a region indicates that there exists a certain commonality with regard to the republics’ history and their status as part of the former Soviet Union.
400 For a comprehensive analysis of political and security developments in Central Asia since the break-up of the Soviet Union see: Allison, Roy and Jonson, Lena: “Central Asian security: the new international context”, Stockhom: Swedish National Defence College, 2000.
401 Menon, Rajan: “The security environment in the South Caucasus and Central Asia: concept, setting, and challenges”, in: Menon, Rajan, Fedorov, Yuri and Nodia, Ghia (eds.): “Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia – the 21st century security environment”, New York: East-West Institute, 1999, pp. 3-25, p. 3.
402 Ibid, p.8.
404 Ibid, p.9.
407 Brill Olcott, Martha: “Central Asia’s new states: independence, foreign policy, and regional security”, Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1996, p. 145.
408 Ibid, p. 145-146.
409 Ibid, p. 146.
410 Globalsecurity.org: Tajikistan civil war, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/
tajikistan.htm, [last accessed on 21 March 2006].
411 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report on the parliamentary elections in Tajikistan 2005, http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2005/05/14852_en.pdf, [last accessed on 21 March 2006].
412 Olcott, 1996, p. 120.
413 Ibid, p. 87.
416 Charlick-Paley, Tanya, Williams, Phil and Oliker, Olga: “The political evolution of Central Asia and South Caucasus: implications for regional security”, in: Oliker Olga and Sznaya, Thomas: “Faultlines of conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus: implications for the US army”, Santa Monica: RAND Arroyo Center, 2003, pp. 7-40, p. 7.
418 Ibid, pp. 7-8.
419 Olcott, 1996, p. 18.
420 Ibid, p. 21.
421 Ibid, p. 23.
422 Ibid, p. 4.
423 Ibid, p.4-5.
424 Ibid, p.5.
425 Menon, 1999, p. 13.
426 Allison, Roy: “The military and political security landscape in Russia and the South”, in: Menon, Rajan, Fedorov, Yuri and Nodia, Ghia (eds.): “Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia – the 21st century security environment”, New York: East-West Institute, 1999, pp. 27-59, p. 40.
428 Ibid, p. 52.
430 Ibid, p. 40.
432 The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Brief introduction of the SCO, http://www.sectsco.org/html/
00026.html, [last accessed on 29 March 2006].
437 ChinaView, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2003-05/21/content_1482324.htm, [last accessed on 30 March 2006].
438 Martin, Andrew: “Power politics: China, Russia and Peace Mission 2005”, in: China Brief, vol. 5, #20, 27 September 2005, The Jamestown Foundation, http://www.jamestown.org/images/pdf/cb_005_020.pdf, [last accessed on 30 March 2006].
439 Oliker, Olga: “Conflict in the Caucasus and Central Asia: implications of foreign interests and involvement”, in: Oliker Olga and Sznaya, Thomas: “Faultlines of conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus: implications for the US army”, Santa Monica: RAND Arroyo Center, 2003, pp. 145-240, p. 186.
440 Ibid, p. 187.
442 Ibid, p. 190.
443 See chapter 3.
444 Oliker, 2003, pp. 191-192.
445 The hostage crisis that took place from 1-3 September in a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, further consolidated Moscow’s tough anti-terror stance, although Russian incompetence in dealing with this crisis evoked widespread criticism abroad.
446 Cornell, Svante: “The narcotics threat in greater Central Asia: from crime-terror nexus to state infiltration?”, in: China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, vol. 4, #1, 2006, pp. 37-67.
447 Ibid, p. 66.
448 Oliker, 2003, pp. 191-192.
449 Brill Olcott, Martha, Aslund, Anders and Garnett, Sherman: “Getting it wrong – regional cooperation and the Commonwealth of Independent States”, Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999, p. 225.
451 Ibid, p. 226.
452 Olcott, 1996, p. 24.
453 Ibid, p. 25.
455 Ibid, p. 31.
456 Ibid, p. 34.
457 Ibid, p. 35.
458 Ibid, pp. 36-37.
459 Ibid, p. 36.
460 See chapter 3.
461 Pike, John: “Operation Enduring Freedom”, Global Security, July 2005, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/enduring-freedom.htm, [last accessed on 7 April 2006].
462 For a detailed description of the various partnership schemes, see chapter 3.
463 The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, http://www.nato.int/issues/eapc/index.html, [last accessed on 5 April 2006].
464 The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is the inter-parliamentary organisation of legislators from NATO members states and 13 associate members. The principal objective is fostering mutual understanding of key security challenges facing the transatlantic partnership among Alliance parliamentarians, About the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, http://www.nato-pa.int/Default.asp?SHORTCUT=1, [last accessed on 5 April 2006].
465 Erdem, Vahit: “The Caucasus and Central Asia”, East and West Studies, 28 January 2006, http://www.eastweststudies.org/makale_detail.php?tur=100&makale=194, [last accessed on 5 April 2006].
466 Kyrgyzstan is until today the only Central Asian country that is a member of the WTO.
467 Erdem, 2006.
468 See chapter 3.
469 Interview with NATO Official #5, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels. According to this official, the political will is more noticeable in Kazakhstan than in the other four Central Asian states.
471 See Chapter 1.
472 Pike, 2005.
473 NATO in Afghanistan Press fact sheet, http://www.nato.int/issues/afghanistan/050816-factsheet.htm#troop_contributions, [last accessed on 10 April 2006].
478 Alaolmolki, Nozar: “Life after the Soviet Union”, Albany: State University of New York, 2001.
479 Brill Olcott, Martha: “Central Asia’s second chance”, Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005.
482 Struck, Peter: “The future of NATO”, speech given at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Munich, 2 July 2005, http://www.securityconference.de/konferenzen/rede.php?id=125&sprache=en&, [last accessed on 12 April 2006].
484 Kirchner, Emil: “The future of NATO: transforming not withering”, in: Meier-Walser, Reinhard (ed.): “Die Zukunft der NATO”, in: Argumente und Materialien zum Zeitgeschehen, #34, München: Akademie für Politik und Zeitgeschehen der Hanns Seidel Stiftung, 2002.
485 The Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Concept, NATO Handbook, http://www.nato.int/docu/
handbook/2001/hb1204.htm, [last accessed on 12 April 2006].
486 See Chapter 3.
487 Istanbul Summit Communiqué, www.nato.int/docu/pr/2204/p04-096e.htm, [last accessed on 12 April].
491 Uzbekistan’s IPAP has been put on hold after the events in Andijan.
492 Istanbul Summit Communiqué, www.nato.int/docu/pr/2204/p04-096e.htm, [last accessed on 12 April].
494 Interview with Robert Simmons, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership and Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, 10 September 2004, NATO HQ, Brussels, http://www.nato.int/docu/speech/2004/s040910b.htm, [last accessed on 13 April 2006].
497 Interview with NATO Official #4, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.
499 Virtual Silk Highway, www.nato.int/science/virtual_silk/info.htm, [last accessed on 13 April 2006].
500 Interview with NATO Official #4, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.
501 See Bhatty, Robin and Bronson, Rachel: “NATO’s mixed signals in the Caucasus and Central Asia”, in: Survival, vol. 42, #3, 2000, pp. 129-145.
502 Interview with NATO Official #4, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.
504 Moroney, Jennifer: “Building security in Central Asia: a multilateral perspective”, in: Burghart, Daniel and Sabonis-Helf, Theresa (eds.): “In the tracks of Tamerlane: Central Asia’s path to the 21st century”, Washington DC: National Defense University, 2004, pp. 341-360, p. 349.
506 Interview with NATO Official #5, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.
508 Interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-chief, Russia in International Affairs, 5 March 2005, Moscow.
511 Interview with NATO Official #4, 27 September 2005, NATO HQ, Brussels.
513 Korbinskaya, Irina: “Russia – NIS relations beyond the color revolutions. Are the shifts durable?”, PONARS Policy Memo # 375, December 2005, pp. 49-56, http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/
pm_0375.pdf, [last accessed on 14 April 2006].
514 Baev, Pavel: “Russia’s counterrevolutionary offensive in Central Asia”, PONARS Policy Memo # 399, December 2005, pp. 199-204. http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/pm_0399.pdf, [last accessed on 14 April 2006].
515 Sokov, Nikolai: “The not-so-great game in Central Asia”, PONARS Policy Memo # 403, December 2005, pp. 223-228, http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/pm_0399.pdf, [last accessed on 14 April 2006].
517 Chairman’s statement, meeting of the NRC at the level of Foreign Ministers held in Istanbul, 28 June 2004, www.nato.int/docu/pr/2004/p040628e.htm, [last accessed on 14 April].
518 Baev, 2005, p. 199.
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