Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: MGIMO Analyst Sees Border Changes Ahead for Central Asia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Andrey Kazantsev, the director of the Analytic Center of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Moscow Institute for the Study of International Relations (MGIMO), says that the borders of the countries of the Central Asian region are likely to change over the next century and that this prospect should worry Russian policy makers.

            In an 1800-word essay on the Rusichi Center portal, the MGIMO analyst outlines five different scenarios under which these changes could occur, the role of external and internal factors in this process, and the probabilities for each of them (rusichi-center.ru/e/3170795-pyat-stsenariev-buduschih-granits-tsentralnoy-a).

            The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, he says, showed that “the collapse of states of this region which had ceased to be able to control their borders could have serious consequences at the other end of the world” and prompted the US and other powers to get more involved there.

            Such external involvement, which focuses on the resolution of regional problems like terrorism, drug trafficking, and failed states and the use of this region as a north-south or east-west trade route, is likely to have an impact on the borders of the Central Asian countries in the future.

            If the outside powers cooperate, Kazantsev says, then “the current borders of the states will be preserved,” but if as seems more likely they compete or even come into direct conflict with one another, then the borders are almost certain to change along the lines of one of the five scenarios he outlines

The first scenario, he says, would involve China taking “complete” control of the region. Beijing will be able to do so because it will find “a common language both with the secular elites of the region an also (with the help of its ally Pakistan) with the Islamic extreists by directing their energy against Western influence.”

The expansion of China, the MGIMO analyst says, would represent not something new but the return of China to a region where it once was the dominant power.  Diplomatists should remember that the borders of the Tang empire of Chin were much father west than the current ones.”

The second scenario would involve “the re-establishment of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.”  This is much less likely than the first, but its probability is “not zero even now,” although the prospects for such an outcome, Kazantsev says, “are rapidly decreasing with each passing year.

The third scenario for border changes in Central Asia over the next century would be the creation in the region of a Central Asian system on the model of the European Union to deal with problems like sharing water.  This could happen either by agreement or “by the establishment of a military-political block around a strengthening Uzbekistan.”

The fourth scenario would be the creation of an Islamist khalifate on some or all of the territory of the region. That would reflect both external influences and internal developments.

Finally, there is a fifth scenario, one that has more to do with internal factors than with external ones.  That would see border changes happen as a result of the weakness of the existing states, the continuing strength of supra- and sub-national identities, and the inability of governments to block fragmentation or even collapse with new states emerging on the model of Southern Sudan.

Despite the fact that “ethno-national identities have arisen in all the republics of the former Soviet Central Asia and even a civic (Kazakhstan) identity as arisen in Kazakhstan, these states have not overcome either the smaller or larger identities, and these could play a role in future border changes.

Of these five possible scenarios, Kazantsev argues, the first – Chinese expansion – and the last state failure and disintegration –“are more probable than all the rest.” Moreover, they do not contradict one another because the dangers of disintegration to its west would be a particularly powerful motivating force for Beijing to extend its control over that region.

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