Central Asian states need a multivectoral policy to maintain regional stability

Apr 12. RIA Novosti

By Andrey Karneev

Central Asian states need a multivectoral policy to maintain regional stabilityWith the exception of Kazakhstan, the Central Asian countries have been trying, so far largely in vain, to break out of the poverty trap. There are no “one-size-fits-all” recipes that can miraculously bolster the regional countries’ socio-economic development.

Their post-Soviet history shows that they have each made their particular choice, more or less clearly. Most importantly, they are pursuing a multivectoral foreign policy, thanks to which they are not solely tied to any one country or a group, be it the United States, Russia, China, India, Iran or the European Union.

By accepting assistance from major powers and continuing this delicate balancing act, they have received more money and other aid, avoiding unnecessary dependence on any one partner. These countries, land-locked away from seas and vital international communications hubs, view economic cooperation with Russia, China, the United States, and other countries as an opportunity to gain better access to the global market and attract modern technology and investments.

Preventing China and Russia, or China and the West, from scrambling for influence over countries in the region has to be the main goal. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established, among other reasons, precisely to prevent any such undesirable rivalry and to coordinate the regional interests of Russia, China and other member countries.

Socio-economic reforms are underway across Central Asia, with varying degrees of success. Kazakhstan, for example, resembles Russia in a number of ways: its vast territory, relatively small population, huge reserves in oil and gas and other resources, and the possibility of using them to attract large foreign funds. It has moved even faster than Russia in certain areas.

But other regional countries, such as Uzbekistan, have large, rapidly growing populations and insufficient resources. Therefore, they have a different problem set and consequently different potential solutions.

In my understanding, Kyrgyzstan aside, these countries’ key strategy is to ensure political and socio-economic stability at all cost. Without that, development potential could easily be fizzled out by civil unrest.

The authoritarian political models built by Central Asia’s political elite were not very much different from the recipes put forward by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, hailed as the man “who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle.”

But this model has obvious drawbacks, as the recent unrest [in the Middle East and North Africa] has shown.

Although there is no magic bullet for countries in the region, social unrest can be avoided provided the authorities: pursue a multivectoral foreign policy, gradually reform their economies, are self-sufficient and take pragmatic political decisions in the interests of political, social and economic stability.

Some wonder if last year’s Kyrgyz tragedy could be repeated in this way or another. First, Kyrgyzstan’s new government failed to create an effective mode of governance after the revolution and is unlikely to do so in future. Rather, the ruling elite have, in part, been renewed, but the control mechanisms, security apparatus included, have not been fully streamlined. Therefore, local unrest is still possible in the country, especially since the authorities’ frailty is compounded by acute social problems.

Negative scenarios elsewhere in the region seem unlikely in the short term. But there are many elements of uncertainty, because these countries are still ruled by the Soviet-era leaders. To date, none of them has succeeded in passing power down through the family line, and consequently, behind the scenes, both agreements and even conflicts among members of the elite remain possible.

We can only hope that the succession issue will be resolved peacefully, and that the new leaders will be presented to the public without unrest bubbling over into the streets.

Andrey Karneev is Deputy Director of Institute of Asian and African Studies of M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University