Central Asia: new war on the horizon?

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Baku, 13 August 2013 –

Without signs of subsiding violence in the Middle East some already speculate about the eruptions of hostilities in the Central Asia. Western experts cite several reasons for that mentioning different arguments and different scenarios. In any case, tensions in the region appear inevitable. Apparently, some quarters fell in love with the idea of warming up their hands over the next "hot spot”.

Similar yet different arguments of two experts

Hearings on the issue of competition for the natural reserves of the Central Asia were recently held in the U.S. Congress. Possibility of a new war in the region was among the topics. Experts Ed Chow and Neil Brown testified in the capacity of experts, suggesting their projections. We wish to remind that Edward Chow is an energy expert with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Neil Brown is a non-resident fellow with German Marshall Fund of the United States. Hearings chaired by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, were held in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats on 25 July, 2013.

Chairman underscored that increasing global demand for supplies of energy resources was sparking intense struggle. He warned that the Central Asia has already seen several indications in this respect. Although this issue is often discussed, there are no concrete decisions yet. Therefore, a need arises to check with the experts’ opinions.

Expert E. Chow believes that possibility of competition over the energy resources turning into all out war is somewhat exaggerated (See: Edward C. Chow. The emerging Threat of Resource Wars //, 25 July, 2013). Regardless, serious struggle between the large geopolitical powers is evident. That expert was fairly confident about his views, being State Department’s adviser on the TAPI project (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India).

In the meantime, rivalry between Western and Russian, Chinese and Indian companies in the Central Asia is undeniable. It is no secret that Russia is displeased with the TAPI project. It is difficult to argue that U.S. and Europe are happy about the project. E. Chow also emphasizes that America supports diversification of energy routes. Provided that the U.S. maintains prominence in Afghanistan, projects equivalent of TAPI may yield dividends. This automatically identifies Russia and China as competition to the West.

This is indicative of the possible deepening of differences between the big players over the energy resources of Central Asia. Although E. Chow did not specify the details his ideas did imply that. Those contradictions may even escalate into a war. Key nuance is that hearings in the Congress are actually dedicated to the topic of whether or not the Central Asia would see energy resource wars? In fact, it denotes that such a scenario is not excluded. At least, risk of emergence of the situation here, similar to the one in the Middle East, must not be dismissed.

This idea is evident in the testimony of another expert, Neil Brown. He considers two aspects in approaching the problem. The first is the potential conflict that may arise between the regional countries. Second, the impact contradictions emanating from the struggle for the energy resources of the Caspian Sea basin may have upon the Central Asia. Both aspects deserve serious consideration. Cores of the possible conflicts between the regional states rest within incorrect administrative divisions of the 1930s that for years have brought about grievances of the social-economic and ethnic character. Today they are more pronounced than ever.

Other difficulties stem from the projects aimed at delivery of the Central Asia’s energy wealth to Europe via Caspian seabed. In this context, lack of consensus on the division of the very seabed further complicates the matters. According to Neil Brown, this trend may increase and affect the Central Asia directly (See: Neil R. Brown. Changing the Rules in Global Resource //, 25 July, 2013).

In the meantime, another idea voiced by expert E. Chow evokes keen interest. He believes it is not oil and gas but rather potable water that may become an asset to ignite a fight in the Central Asia. Indeed, there are contradictions among the regional countries with respect to water issues. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were involved in an incident related to the issue in the not so distant past. Border patrol guards lost their lives on both sides. Notwithstanding, regional scale developments are yet to materialize.

Increasing tensions in the competition for the energy resources of the region are beyond doubt. Along those lines, experts do not exclude the negative impact the illicit drug trafficking may have on the situation. Afghanistan is commonly recognized as a source of threat. Therefore, fight for the energy resources may only worsen, with the deliberate increase in the illicit drug trade.

Fight for the clout and assurance of security: no point of contiguity

Discussions held in the U.S. State Department on the topic of competition between the large powers over the energy resources of Central Asia is indicative of dangerous aspects. Apparently, after the Middle East, geopolitical processes in the Caucasus and the Central Asia may exacerbate. It is undeniable that America and China are locked in a rivalry over the global leadership. Situation is only aggravating in this particular direction. It is extremely difficult to estimate the geopolitical developments in the region upon the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan.

Presentation of the issue in Congress in this context is intriguing. J. Kuchera emphasizes that "it is regrettable that American government views the region only in the aspect of armed conflicts” (See: Джошуа Кучера. В Конгрессе США прошли слушания о возможности войн за ресурсы в Центральной Азии // EurasiaNet, 25 July, 2013). Washington’s performance in the region is insufficient, in terms of addressing the democratic development. It only articulates the propensity of the West to put its geopolitical interests above other values. If indeed true to the fact, the possibility of a war in the region is high.

Another point has to do with the relation of the energy resources of the Caspian basin with the geopolitical struggle for the Central Asia. Most experts do not exclude such a connection and take this issue into account quite seriously. Conclusions to be made: there is a possibility of armed clash in the Central Asia spreading over to the South Caucasus. Present course of the processes may stir up greater geopolitical area and create such ramifications as hindering the resolution of the ongoing conflicts.

It is pointless to expect the geopolitical powers to deviate from the course. In this context, embedding of radical religious groups from abroad can be a common threat for the South Caucasus and the Central Asia. That is to say, identical scenario of developments in Egypt and Syria may possibly be replayed in these regions. In this respect, more attention given to the emergence of armed conflicts during Congressional deliberations provokes number of questions.

Growingly fierce competition for clout in the Central Asia between Russia and China must also be taken into account. Especially, some unpredictable events may occur after withdrawal of NATO from Afghanistan. It is not accidental that foreseeing such scenarios large powers in the vicinity undertake certain endeavors. For example, media speculates about the prospects of Russia returning to Afghanistan whereas Beijing is attempting to seriously enhance its position in the Central Asia in economic, financial and cultural fields.

Aforementioned points underpin the projections of experts with respect to the fate of the region. One question is particularly thought-provoking: why do divisions, wars and armed confrontations prevail in the analysis and projections? Is religious radicalism exaggerated in this context?

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