Friday, May 02, 2008

"Greater Central Asia," the new geopolitically reified region

The term Greater Central Asia seems to have caught on. I used the term in an article written as the Soviet Union seemed to be weakening and was published shortly after it expired.

  • Restructuring in Greater Central Asia: Changing Political Configurations,” Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 10 (Oct., 1992), pp. 875-887.

Two years later the Russian political scientist Vyacheslav Ya. Belokrenitsky used the term again in the same journal:

  • Russia and Greater Central AsiaAsian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 12 (Dec., 1994), pp. 1093-1108.

The term seemed to me useful even though its meaning was at that point somewhat imprecise, including the several nations (different ones, depending on how you count) that were liable to link up together, once the Soviet Union had expired.

It's interesting to track what has happened to the term since then.

The term was used in a paper written in January, 1996, and published in 2000:

The Environmental and Social Impacts Group used the term in 2002 in its proposal but they referred to a more easterly sector of the region (Xinjiang) than Belokrenitsky and I had in mind (see also their ESIG Alert # 1 report).

  • “Development of a Desert Affairs Center in Western China,” ESIG Alert #2, November, 2002.

In 2003 Rajan Menon used the term in a sense more consistent with our usage:

· “The New Great Game in Central Asia” by Rajan Menon. Survival, Volume 45, Number 2, 2003 , pp. 187-204(18).

Menon defined “Greater Central Asia” as “the region consisting of the five Central Asian states, plus Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Xinjiang, and Afghanistan” and he argued that it had been “strategically transformed” by the American commitment to the region after the attack of September 11, 2001. During that time the several authoritarian governments of the region were trying to take advantage of the new American interest in their neighborhood to escape the historic Russian hegemony. But they would be frightened by the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2004) and the government of Kyrgyzstan would itself be overturned by a similar movement (“Tulip Revolution”) in 2005. Also in 2005 the Americans clashed with President Karimov over the massacre of hundreds of Uzbek citizens in Andijan, and were forced to evacuate their airbase at Karshi-Khanabad.

It was not long before the political exigencies and economic possibilities of the time were being recognized in the term “Greater Central Asia.” Now the term stood for a new region of geopolitical interest, to the United States and to those becoming alarmed by its rising hegemony there. S. Frederick Starr promoted the importance of the region in his article,

Starr advocated the formation of a Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development in which, of course, Washington would be central. “Recent progress in Afghanistan,” he said, “has created a remarkable opportunity . . . . The United States now has the chance to help transform Afghanistan and the entire region into a zone of secure sovereignties sharing viable market economies, enjoying secular and open systems of government, and maintaining positive relations with the United States.” This was the hubristic language of that time, which like so many of the grand aspirations of sounds quaint and dated now. A reference to Greater Central Asia appeared in a report of the Rand Corporation in the same year.

· “Faultlines of Conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus,” by Olga Oliker and Thomas S. Szayna. Rand Corporation, 2005.

The new American interest in the region worried the Chinese, as reflected in another publication in 2005 that used the term:

And it had a similar impact on the Russians.

  • “Russian foreign policy experts debate interaction with America in Greater Central Asia,” by Igor Torbakov, Volume 2, Number 196, Friday, October 21, 2005. Eurasia Daily Monitor. [Jamestown Foundation.]

Greater Central Asia was now becoming a region of trade. A conference of “experts and officials from throughout Greater Central Asia” was convened in Kabul on April 1-2 of 2006 on a topic of:

At this conference Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan said his Government “supports the idea of a a Greater Central Asia as a way to promote intra-regional trade and development and reconnect Afghanistan to the regional and global economy.”

Representatives of the United States government also participated and indicated an interest in “partnering” with the states of the region on matters of trade, and a panel discussion took place in Washington, DC, on July 18, titled “The New Silk Roads: Transport and Trade in Greater Central Asia.” It was sponsored by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI). One wonders if the drug trade was given much attention in either of these conferences, but clearly it was already a powerful source of wealth for some of the countries of the region. In fact, Svante E. Cornell was sounding an alarm at about this time.

  • “The Narcotics Threat in Greater Central Asia: From Crime-Terror Nexus to State Infiltration?” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No. 1 (2006) p. 37-67.

And Richard Weitz was warning that a “great game” was taking form like that of the nineteenth century.

  • “Averting a New Great Game in Central Asia.” The Washington Quarterly • 29:3 pp. 155–167. 2006.

And M. K. Bhadrakumar was suggesting that South Asia already being caught up in the geopolitical “game” of earlier times.

Indeed it was clear that the Russians were bothered by American meddling in their backyard:

  • Moscow making Central Asia its own.” M K Bhadrakumar. Asia Times Online, Aug 25, 2006.

All of these articles referred to the region as “Greater Central Asia”.

The new geopolitical focus prompted research activity. In 2006 the Social Science Research Council announced that it would provide teaching tools on the history of Greater Central Asia.

In 2007 an important work was published, firmly anchoring the terminology for the region in the strategic discourse.

With chapters by S. Frederick Starr (overview), Masood Aziz (Afghanistan), councilor at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., Aftab Kazi (Pakistan), professor of international and comparative politics at American University in Bishkek, Abbas Maleki (Iran), director general of the Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran, Niklas Norling (China), project director of the Silk Roads Studies Program, Taleh Ziyadov (Azerbaijan), deputy executive director of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, and others.

Robert M. Cutler has delimited the region precisely, distinguishing “Central Asia” from “Greater Central Asia” from “Central Eurasia” from “Greater Southwest Asia” from “Greater South Asia.”

So the term “Greater Central Asia” is now a real place, having been reified by geopolitical policy and debate. Some recent works using the term are the following:

  • “Political Development and Organized Crime: The Yin and Yang of Greater Central Asia?” Niklas Swanström. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 5, No. 4 (2007) p. 83-101.

· U.S. Aims in Central and South Asia Challenged by Russia and China,” by Richard Weitz World Politics Review Exclusive, 27 Jul 2007.

· “Eurasian Trade And Transport: New Silk Roads Or Old Pipedreams?
Richard Weitz. Eurasianet 7/24/07

· “Americans Still Think All Stans Are Same,” Adam Kesher. Politics, Foreign Affairs, April 16th, 2008

  • [seminar proposal] Security in Greater Central Asia, Tensions and possibilities of destabilization from Astana to Islamabad. Didier Chaudet. http://www.sciences-

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