Central Asia as an object of international interests
24/06/2002, Aybat Zharikbaev
Kazakhstan's joining NATO program "Planning and analysis process", announced on 7 June in the organisation's headquarters in Brussels, became a significant event, reflecting the realities of the modern Central Asian situation. And not only because it is the first Central Asian country participating in such program. What is important is that Kazakhstan enters a constantly developing space of international activities, where the relationships between the traditional and the new allies are complicated by serious contradictions of interests in the region.
The activation of international politics in Asia after the S11 events of the last year, made an impact on dynamics and qualitative content of the negotiating processes. Today the countries having geopolitical interests in the region, by means of long and short term agreements tend to strengthen their positions, which are revised in the majority of cases. The problems actuality conditions the frequency of international summits, which not necessarily bring good results. It is enough to remember the summit of Collecive Safety Agreement countries in Moscow last May, as well as June summits in Almaty and Saint Petersburg. Despite the conclusion of a number of important documents, the summits failed to analyse the reasons and conditions of destabilising factors' and terrorism's development. Moreover, the activities of Russia and China, as regional leaders in the Indian-Pakistani conflict regulating process provokes only sceptical attitude on the part of NATO representatives, USA in the first place.
Even a superficial analysis of the latest Western expansion in the East allows us to make a conclusion that the new division of the world into areas of influence and markets not only has successfully started, but resembles a permanent process more and more. As always, the USA, whose usual activity in the conditions of an unprecedented political (anti-terrorist) situation takes on a character of a mission, are leading the movement of the world. In the end of the last year Washington defined its priorities in its Central Asian politics clearly, when Elizabeth Jones stated that after the completion of the anti-terrotist operation in Afghanistan the US are not going to leave Central Asia, which has an "enormous geostrategical significance" for them, motivating this by an intention to promote the further development of reforms in these countries. It is absolutely evident that in relation with this the issue of the increasing US military presence in the region has become one of the most important problems, requiring its resolution. Bush's administration hurried to declare that "there are no plans of founding the US military bases on the territory of Central Asia", as the military bases are needed only for the Afghani operation, which unlike the mutual programs on specialists training or mutually beneficial cooperation will not last long.
Russia already expressed its opinion in the person of G.Seleznyov, chairman of the state duma, who said that the USA could not create its military bases in Central Asia, because they did not have a UN mandate. He emphasised that the terms of the foreign military presence on that territory are limited by agreed 6 months. "We would like the UN not to stay aside, because only its mandate can enable the foreign miltary forces to be present there", - the duma speaker noted. Such expressions are becoming more and more characteristic of the Russian side. Not long ago, the operating group of the state council for international affairs of Russia formulated its view quite clearly, noting that the military presence of USA in Central Asia has to be called off after the completion of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. It was emphasised that the anti-terrorist operation was not carried out with such efficiency as it had been supposed, despite the US statements, there is a possibility of prolonging the military actions, as well as a number of onshore operations, which could entail the expansion of the military presence in the Central Asian region.
The typical Russian reference to UN, as the only possible world leader-peacemaker is especially obvious today in the process of opposition to the American political activities in the region. S.Ivanov, minister of defence of RF, at a press conference in NATO headquarters in Brussels on 6 June, answering the question on Russia's readiness to take preventive measures against international terrorists together with NATO, said the following: "Terrorism is the worst evil, but the rules of struggle against it have to be defined by the UN security council… without it any unilateral actions will create more problems, than solutions".
There is another important detail. Despite all agreements reached between Russia, NATO and USA, the information exchange on struggle against terrorism between the Anti-terrorist Centre (ATC) of CIS and the secret services of USA and NATO is minimal. In relation with this, the colonel general B.Mylnikov, head of ATC, said the following on 13 June: "The ATC does not have any direct contacts with the secret services of USA and NATO and it is not our fault. We declared over and over again that we are open and ready for the information exchange. The CIA is reserved in discussing the issues of struggle against terrorism". As it could be predicted, the Russian general considered the improvement of collaboration within Shanghai Organisation of Cooperation to be the most promising. Furthermore, B.Mylnikov considers that China has a very special role in the conflict: "China can play a significant role in provision of safety in Central Asian region and South-East Asia".
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign policy is extremely careful: even after joining the WTO (not without Washington's help), this country still have enough problems, which it plans to resolve without complicating its relations with the USA.
It has to be noted that the expanding American influence in Central Asia irritates not only Russia and China, but its NATO allies as well. It is not by accident that the heads of Spanish (J.M.Asnar) and British (Т.Blaire) governments applied in June to J.Robertson (general secretary of NATO) with an initiative on re-organisation of the alliance, where they called on the allies to oppose "the new threats, resolve the new tasks, use the new participants and new relations with Russia and other partners in the East and in the South ". The head of Spanish goverment publicly commented on this mutual letter at a press conference in Berlin. He observed that after the establishment of Russia - NATO council as from 28 May the alliance entered a new stage of its development. "Russia, - in his view, - is getting close to NATO, NATO expands, we are resolute to maintain our strategic connection with USA and improve our cooperatoin with Russia ".
An article by Simon Teasedale in English "Guardian", entitled "Penetrating where other empires never penetrated" was quite significant. It is difficult to judge how much Teasedale's words are in accord with the position of the Foreign Office, but the author's conclusions do not leave any doubts about his evaluation of what was going on: "United States are carrying out a grandiose strategic takeover of power in Central Asia. Previously such type of expansoinism would be called colonialism or imperialism. It would be described as an honourable mission of civilising the less developed peoples of the Earth or as a legitimate realisation of America's mission. Nowadays this expansion is called simply a "war against terrorism"".
Unlike Russia that has a big experience in defining and pursuing its own interests in the world and in Central Asia, for Kazakhstan, in view of activation of the so called "geopolitical" processes and "challenges", it will become more and more difficult to postpone a decision on long term direction of its foreign policy. The country preaching a "multi-vector approach" in its foreign affairs, without any serious military potential, sooner or later will have to take a clear position in foreign policy. Obviously, the behavioural standard of "great" powers, with their privilege not only to change their priorities, but changing them force them on others, can not serve as an example for Kazakhstan.
It's hard to say for how long the military presence of the USA and their allies in Central Asia will last, but it will become clear after the completion of anti-terrorist campaign (which has to be completed one day). As M.Altinbaev, minister of defence of RK, considers the presence of military forces of anti-terrorist coalition in Central Asia has already "relieved the tension" in the region. "We forgot about "Talebahn" and we never mention them", - he confessed.