Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: The new Central Asia: The Regional Impact of International Actors (2010)

The New Central Asia: The Regional Impact of International Actors  Ed. Emilian Kavalski
           World Scientific Publishing Co. 2010

           The New Central Asia: The Regional Impact of International Actors, which is an anthology of essays edited by Emilian Kavalski, contains a variety of insightful analyses, explanations, and comparisons of the relationships between external agents and Central Asia.  In the first chapter, Kavalski explains that Central Asia is a region which has experienced multiple phases of definition vis-à-vis international actors.  On the one hand, it was viewed in the 1800s as a theater of Russian victory in the contest for influence in the “Great Game.”  Kavalski’s main point in this chapter is that the definition of what “Central Asia” means varies among the international actors, and that these external agents have sought to reshape the region according to their own interests since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. 
            In the second chapter, Smith and Kavalski describe the history and characteristics of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its transition from a military security alliance into what resembles a political-military alliance.  Smith and Kavalski provide a brief synopsis of NATO’s recent attempts and struggles to act as an agent of reform through various programs, such as the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in Central Asia.  They then conclude the chapter with a comparative assessment of NATO’s efficacy in the five Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.  With the first four, Smith and Kavalski argue that NATO experiences a limited agency; receiving mixed responses in participation and lacking any real leverage over members.  Kavalski arranges the first half of the book to focus on the agency of international organizations in Central Asia, while presenting reflection on Central Asian state relationships with inter-state actors.
            Maria Raquel Freire contributes with an assessment of the performance of the OSCE in Central Asia.  Freire provides a descriptive history of the OSCE as an agent of socialization, reform, and security in Europe, as well as its assumption of a role of expansion into Central Asia.  Despite the amount of resources and staff that the OSCE invests in Central Asia, Freire suggests in the chapter that the organization lacks a clear and unified direction.  Freire suggests that the OSCE consider the following: improving its communication at all levels, defining specific goals for all activities, protecting regional civil society groups in their interactions with the state, encouraging selective bilateral rather than multilateral arrangements between the OSCE Central Asian states, and falling back from grandiose projects to smaller, focused goals.  Her assessment is a relevant reflection of the shared sentiment among Western donors involved with security partnerships in Central Asia.
            In chapter four, Ertan Efegil describes the initial history of the European Union’s involvement in Central Asia as somewhat lacking in direction, with the exception of a handful of bilateral agreements and the TACIS (Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States) program.  Efegil follows with an analysis of European Union (EU) policy after the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001.  Following the September 11 attacks, the author highlights the EU’s interests concerned regime stabilities, corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction.  According to Efegil, this expanded influence in security affairs ran parallel to the rapid expansion of EU-sponsored economic initiatives in Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Efegil highlights the numerous goals of the “Democratic Development and Good Governance” objectives, most of which encourage human rights guarantees and cooperation between leaders, but illustrates the recurring difficulty faced in realizing these goals.  In conclusion, Efegil recommends that the EU further engage Central Asian economies through programs which will motivate citizens to participate and profit from the global economy.
            W. Andy Knight and Vandana Bhatia write on the history and role of the United Nations (UN) in Central Asia in the fifth chapter.  They identify the multitude of original mandates drafted by the UN and elaborate specifically upon the expansion and promotion of the human security mandate.  The authors state the UN’s definition of “human security” in its 1994 UNDP Human Development Report as concerning economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political securities.  According to Knight and Bhatia, this marked a transition in post-Cold War thinking about security.  The authors suggest that the Central Asian states are more likely to prefer resolutions and agreements with the UN because of its neutrality, rather than arrangements enforced from external actors.  Knight and Bhatia highlight the commitment of Central Asian states in enforcing nuclear non-proliferation agreements, particularly the 2008 Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (CANWFZ) Treaty.  The authors also describe the UN’s role as mediators during the Tajik civil war, as well as their efforts to combat drug, human and arms trafficking in the region through collaboration with Central Asian governments.  Although Knight and Bhatia assert that the UN struggles to prompt regional governments to promote gender equality and human rights, they do note that Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian state to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
            In chapter six, Michael Clarke highlights the recent agency of China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) within the region.  Clarke introduces China’s foreign policy approach to the region as an avenue of its “peaceful rise” in international affairs.  Clarke describes China’s approach as incorporating “soft” and “hard” elements of regionalism; “soft” referring to a promotion of regional awareness and community, and “hard” being a regionalism through specific interstate institutions.  Clarke also refers to the 2001 declaration of the SCO’s commitment to suppress terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism within the region.  Clarke notes that the SCO seeks to promote security within the region as a means to increase economic growth and development, which bears an interesting parallel to China’s ancient imperial foreign policy of datong (“universal harmony”).  Clarke sums China’s bilateral and SCO-based multilateral approach in the region as deliberate and mindfully-crafted, and demonstrating success in manifesting its “peaceful rise” approach.
            Marlene Laruelle approaches Russia’s “vague” foreign policy in Central Asia in the seventh chapter.  Laruelle categorizes Russian foreign policy in Central Asia over the past two decades into three phases: disinterest (1991-1995), multilateralism and renewed interest (1996-2000), Putin-initiated security and economic partnerships (2000-present).  Laruelle aptly characterizes this dynamic in Russia’s Central Asian foreign policy as ebb and flow.  Much like China’s goals, Laruelle states Russia’s primary interests in the region are controlling energy resources and maintaining regional security.  She also maps the direction of gas flow out of Central Asia, illustrating that it is generally unidirectional and toward Russia.  While Laruelle highlights Russia’s mixed success in controlling Central Asian regional security through multilateral partnerships such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), she explains that Russia relies considerably on bilateral security arrangements between states within the region, which include substantial troop assignments and sales of military equipment.  In conclusion, Laruelle assesses Russia’s Central Asia foreign policy as pragmatic, seeking to co-pt local economic and political elites rather than coerce them, yet still lacking a cohesive, binding regional organizational framework akin to that which existed under the Soviet Union.
            Matteo Fumagalli outlines the changing role of the United States in the eighth chapter.  Fumagalli asserts that the U.S. evolved from a “friend in need” to a “threat” to the Central Asian regimes, and claims that a U.S. approach of “Uzbekistan first” is diminishing its influence within the region as a whole.  Fumagalli notes that although the U.S. policy promotes democracy within the region, this policy is often trumped by security interests.  Thus, Fumagalli describes U.S. policy within the region has “conflicting objectives” which inhibit its ability to levy sanctions against particular Central Asian regimes which fail to guarantee human rights and transparent democracy.  Fumagalli concludes that without being able to claim a sense of urgency related to Afghanistan and regional security, the future of U.S. policy in the region remains obscure.
            Brent E. Sasley provides an assessment of Turkey’s foreign policy in Central Asia with chapter nine.  In this chapter, Sasley suggests that Turkish foreign policy in the region was only marginally affected by notions of shared Turkic identity with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.  Sasley claims that pan-Turkism failed to compete with the influence of Kemalism, thus defusing any future pan-Turkic approach in Turkey’s foreign policy relations with Central Asia.  The author claims that Turkic foreign policy in the region was largely inhibited by this disorientation, despite its earlier expectations of playing a significant influence.  Sasley illustrates the divide between Western and Turkish rhetoric of the potential of Turkey’s influence in the region on the one hand, and the actual policies which followed on the other.  Sasley concludes that Turkey’s role in the region is limited, and not likely to play a significant role in the future.
            In the tenth chapter, Pierre Pahlavi and Afshin Hojati describe Iran’s approach to the region as pragmatic and realist.  Pahlavi and Hojati provide an example of this prudent realism by highlighting Iran’s refusal to support militant Islamist groups in the region, as well as Iran’s preservation of friendly relations with Uzbekistan despite the mistreatment experienced by Tajiks in the country.  According to the authors, Iran’s pragmatic approach to Central Asia has relied upon: (1) developing bilateral economic and political relations, (2) developing pipelines and infrastructure capacity, and (3) regional integration in pre-existing economic partnerships such as the SCO.  In conclusion, the authors insist that Iran compensates for its inability to dominate the security or political scene in the region by instead pursuing a pragmatic approach of economic partnerships for growth and development.
            Emilian Kavalski provides an analysis of India’s “Look North” policy in chapter eleven.  Kavalski identifies the “Look North” policy as India policymakers’ emphasis to formulate proactive and meaningful policies with respect to Central Asia.  Kavalski states that this policy has likely emerged from a sentiment of anxiety caused by the instability, religious extremism, trafficking, and mixed reforms in the region.  Kavalski identifies two main ambitions supporting india’s “Look North” policy: promoting secular democratic ethos, and encouraging regional cooperation in safeguarding stability of the states.  Kavalski emphasizes that India’s strongest path of influence Central Asian regional politics has been through bilateral relations with Tajikistan.  In conclusion, though, Kavalski suggests that the “Look North” policy has had more of a “no influence” in the region, failing to command a majority of respect among Central Asian leaders.
            David Walton describes Japanese foreign policy in Central Asia as a product of its “adaptive state” model.  Walton explains that Japan’s role in region during the 1990’s was largely characterized by humanitarian assistance programs and small partnerships for economic development.  However, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan has realized itself as leader of intraregional cooperation within Central Asia.  Walton illustrates how Japan works through ASEAN to promote peace, economic development, intra-regional cooperation, and positive democratic relations throughout the region.  Watson remarks on Japan’s achievement of influence in Central Asia comparable to that of China or Russia, while not being a geographic neighbor of the region.
            In the final chapter, Stephen Blank provides an overview of external agency in Central Asia.  He essentially summarizes the theoretical meaning underlying the previous chapters into a writing which illustrates the complexity of these external agencies and their related circumstances.  He suggests that the absence of regional cooperation within the region is the largest motivator for external involvement.  Blank also reminds the reader that these external actors end up working toward overlapping security goals: suppressing militant Islam, countering all forms of illegal trafficking, and maintaining domestic security.  Blank notes that Central Asian leaders, considering this rapid influx of foreign agency and patronage, have reaped a tremendous volume of material assistance.  In conclusion, he suggests that this myriad array of intervention should be thoughtfully managed and balanced in implementation.

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