Geopolitical shifts in different parts of the world add diverse dynamics to the geopolitical rivalry of the big powers. Central Asia stands out as a pressing issue in this context, with thought-provoking changes to the policies of Russia, America and China in the direction of the region. Experts are interested with this particular aspect of the problem.
Post 2014: Any substance changes in Washington-Beijing rivalry?
There are many speculations regarding the fate of the geopolitical situation in the Central Asia upon America’s announced decision of troop pullout from Afghanistan. Western analysts and experts suggest their forecasts that can be divided into 3 groups. First, radical religious groups rejuvenate upon the withdrawal of the U.S. forces. “Al-Qaeda” will be the most reenergized. Ultimately, terror’s tentacles will stretch out towards Russia and China. Central Asian states will face serious threats in this respect. Therefore, pull out of the American troops from the region will entail new threats and challenges across a large geopolitical space. Among other issues, terrorism, embodied by the extremist Islamic groups, can become more menacing.
Second, U.S. troop pullout from the region may provide broader maneuvering capability for China, and Beijing appears ready to join the process. This is evident in two directions. First, China opts to strengthen regional organizations. Second, China is stepping up its performance with regards to economic, political, military and cultural influence over the Central Asian countries. Official Beijing has pledged $50 million to establish a bank within the “Shanghai Club”. Moreover, China promised billions of dollars worth of investments in the countries of the Central Asia, with the emphasis on cooperation in the energy field.
Third, Russia and Iran may capitalize on the U.S. withdrawal. Russia will mainly gain a chance to amplify its geopolitical clout over the Central Asia. Moscow has traditionally enjoyed solid posture in the region and now it would obtain greater leverage. The former has already provided significant military assistance to Kyrgyzstan’s “Manas” airbase after abandoning of the facility by the U.S. In the meantime, Kremlin is rendering similar support to Tajikistan. This testifies to Russia consolidating its position in the Central Asia, despite all challenges and serious geopolitical rivalry with China.
Albeit deprived of the influence akin of Russia’s, Iran may employ religious factor to enhance its clout in the Central Asia. Pro-Iranian radical groups in Afghanistan and ethnic affinity with Tajikistan are regarded as Tehran’s key leverages. Nonetheless, there are few to believe that Tehran’s performance in the region may be proficient without Moscow. However, radicalization of religious groups in the region is something Iran is capable of and it would only exacerbate the terror threat.
Such scenarios are voiced time and again during discussions attended by the Western experts. The issue was more specifically and intensely deliberated upon from America’s interests perspective during two recent events held in the U.S. Expert on Central Asia Joshua Kucera clearly emphasizes the need to revisit America’s regional policies (see: Joshua Kucera. The U.S. In post-2014 Central Asia: New Silk road or Geopolitics / “EurasiaNet”, 20 December 2013). He writes that the Western analysts are suggesting this particular theme. Where does the urgency to introduce changes to Washington’s foreign policy emanate from? Why do the Americans find that they’re ought to pursue hard and vigorous line in the Central Asia?
Contradictions of being stuck between the “two chairs”
Experts attribute this necessity to the geopolitical trends developing in the Middle East and Central Asia. The key argument is that Russia and China (with Iran on the sidelines) have become more assertive in those regions. Russia seems to be especially active on the issues related to Syria, Ukraine and Armenia (see: Денис Закиянов. 5 побед Владимира Путина над Западом / “Forbes Ukraine”, 24 December 2013).
Progression of the events demonstrates that new struggle battleground for the big powers will be the South Caucasus and the Central Asia. In this connection, experts deem changes in this direction by Washington necessary. However, they seem to forget one important aspect – America’s viewing of the China factor in the region. Namely, Washington is urged to conduct active geopolitics in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, similar to its performance of the 1990s (see: Jeffrey Mankoff. The United States and Central Asia after 2014 / “Center for Strategic and International Studies” (CSIS), January 2013). Western experts tout the realization of such a massive project as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan as a direct geopolitical victory of the U.S. Apparently, they consider the same policy to be applicable in Central Asia, and this is why there are many factors to be taken into account.
First, there are plenty of contracts in place with respect to Central Asia’s energy resources. The likelihood of palpable changes to be made to previous arrangements is low. Russia and China already occupy most prominent positions there. The West also has access to energy resources of Central Asia. Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) project provides for tapping of resources on the other side of the Caspian. On top of that, there are some other programs to ensure Western interests. Nevertheless, some geopolitical factors have emerged, that fall short of Washington’s expectations and experts draw attention to those.
Secondly, regional organizations that bring together the very Central Asian states are strengthening. “Shanghai Club”, BRICS and Customs Union are the most eminent ones, with growing geopolitical prominence. Moscow and Beijing are notably reinvigorated. Judging by the official statements and media information, the two countries opt to boost their influence, particularly within the framework of different organizations (see: Татьяна Децч. БРИКС как новый игрок в сфере международной безопасности / ”Российский совет по международным делам”, 9 December 2013).
Third, according to leading Western analysts, it appears as if the Far East and the Pacific are far more important areas for the U.S. that mainly focuses on the rivalry with China. America even pursues its Middle East agenda from this angle; it automatically implies that the U.S. attaches increasingly great attention to the China issue. Central Asian region bears no principal significance from this perspective.
Thus, it is not accidental that Kucera characterizes the Central Asia as the primary issue for America’s political circles (see: Joshua Kucera. Previous source). During the recent event organized by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy warnings were voiced that Washington may end up trying to “sit on two chairs” (same source). Options will largely depend on Washington’s economic or geopolitical preferences in the region after 2014. In this context, experts advise attention to be attached to active economic investments made by China in the region.
Apparently, experts maintain that in its Central Asia policy America must take China into account and allow certain changes with geopolitical and economic factors in mind. Would this provoke new tensions engulfing the South Caucasus? For us, this is the pressing side of the issue. Yet it is difficult to estimate as to what extent the big powers would consider this aspect.