Saturday, July 4, 2020

Free Trade Areas Can Reduce Intensity of Border Disputes, Tomsk Scholar Argues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – Just as reducing the differences between citizens and non-citizens helped solve a potentially serious problem in Estonia, so too reducing the significance of borders as such can reduce conflicts between states about them far more easily that moving people or redrawing lines, Artyom Dankov says.

            The Tomsk State University scholar says that countries which have long experienced clashes over borders and especially enclaves agree to trade agreements which allow for the free flow of people and goods between them, the likelihood of conflicts about borders even if those not changed can be much reduced (

            Dankov develops this point regarding borders in Central Asia and the Eurasian Economic Community as part of a longstanding Russian argument that these countries should join the Eurasian Economic Community; but his point has broader applicability even for countries not interested in doing that.

            And while it may be far more difficult to get two countries locked in a border dispute to agree to a free trade area than to have them become part of a free trade grouping organized by others, it is not impossible and appears likely to have more success than any border changes or population shifts that have been proposed so far.

            Border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan, on the one hand, and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, on the other, have become increasingly frequent and violent, Dankov begins. Growing population density and roads that pass through another country to get from one part of a state to another add to these problems.

            Earlier, most of the conflicts along the borders arose as a result of disputes about water and land, the Tomsk scholar says; but more recently, as governments have sought to control contraband and narcotics, they have made the borders less open and thus more important to people living on both sides.

             The desire of governments to get such illegal flows under control is both natural and justified, but the ways they have chosen to conduct this fight have intensified the problem of borders and thus made it more rather than less difficult for the powers that be on both sides to reach any agreement.

            “There is no simple solution to the problems of enclaves,” territories belonging to one country but separate from it and surrounded by the territory of another. Efforts to address the problem by the exchange of territories “have not been crowned by success,” Dankov continues; and given these other priorities, such projects are unlikely to.

            The main reason for that is that “through the enclaves pass transportation routes, which connect separate districts of Batken Oblast and there are no alternatives to these roads.” (On the Batken dispute and the difficulties of resolving it via territorial swaps, see and

            According to Dankov, “unexpectedly” the Eurasian Economic Community, the Moscow-led free trade grouping, could help solve these problems. If Uzbekistan and Tajikistan join and thus if the borders between them become less salient, that could “remove a majority of disputed issues.”

            Membership would lead ot the elimination of many customs points, the simplification of procedures involving the transit of borders by people and goods, and the reduction of elimination of all border controls “in the first instance for residents of the border regions” who are the most directly involved in current conflicts along borders.

            No one should “flatter himself” that this will be a panacea or easy to achieve, the Tomsk scholar concludes; but given that all the other proposed “solutions” have proved to be dead ends, it is certainly worth a try.  And while he doesn’t say so, it might be worth considering in other places in the post-Soviet spaces where there are border conflicts.

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