The Eurasia strategy remains an integral part of Kazakhstan’s geopolitics.
The role of regions and regional integrated unions as new subjects of global influence is growing in today’s world. Today, world economic trends are most visible in Eurasia. Indeed, Eurasia is currently at the centre of global economic interest because:
● “old” centres of the world economy such as the European Union, Japan and Russia have not lost their significance;
● China and India are developing into centres with potential global impact;
● the significance of international groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and BRICS is growing.
Eurasia, including Kazakhstan, has remained a strategically important region for both East Asia and the European Union due to both its geographic location and its large market and energy resources, as well as being a centre of potential global economic influence. Hence, in the current atmosphere of increasing tension between East and West, the growing interest in Eurasia is worthy of note.
The elements of a single Eurasian economic space and the prerequisites for the qualitatively new development of a regional economy are currently being shaped in Eurasia. Consequently, analysis of the specific features of the Eurasian integration processes and their management has become topical, especially when considering development trends in the integration of Eurasia as a continent.
At the international level, the Eurasia strategy, shaped by the complex concurrence of geopolitical, economic and cultural factors, can in a sense be seen as a tool for pursuing Kazakhstan’s Eurasianist national interests.
The concept of Eurasia serves as a cornerstone for Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. While the multiplicity of influences is Kazakhstan’s specific way of adapting to the geopolitical conditions on the continent, the Eurasia strategy complies with the paradigm of mutual relations between the republic and the international environment in every sense. This is particularly due to the need to establish and maintain friendly relations with neighbouring countries, boost cooperation to ensure regional security, and benefit from the interested parties’ economic and transportation potential as well as resources for the common good.
The basis for the idea of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is realistic and follows global integration practice. The practical steps in specific fields of cooperation for creating the EEU were taken within the framework of several existing regional organisations: the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation (CACO), the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU).
In the context of Eurasianism—nowadays expressed through the region’s countries communicating within the framework of regional organisations—components like the shaping and implementation of a unified capital movement regime, joint development of infrastructure, representation of common interests in Western markets, removal of customs barriers and coordinated diplomatic activity in international organisations could be seen as having a direct link to globalisation.
It is no exaggeration to add that Kazakhstan, in the person of its leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been the main advocate for integration processes in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and Central Asia. Since gaining independence, the Republic of Kazakhstan has founded a whole series of regional organisations of strategic importance: CICA, CSTO and EAEC as well as the Eurasian Economic Space. President Nazarbayev stressed the significance of these structures in the evolution of the concept of Eurasianism in his presentation to the international forum “Eurasian Integration: Modern Development Trends” held in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on 18–19 June 2004: “The main factors contributing to the foundation model of a Eurasian union, namely multi-level and multi-speed integration on the basis of economic expediency, and ensuring the internal and external security of the countries involved, have certainly found a place in the current integration processes”.
Collective Security Treaty Organisation
The CSTO has a special position among the integration structures in which Kazakhstan is actively involved. Founded on a treaty basis within the framework of the CIS in 1992, its primary objective was to ensure the collective security of the CIS countries and boost military and political cooperation. In its initial phase, the treaty contributed to the formation of the signatory countries’ armed forces and created the necessary external conditions for the establishment of the countries’ independence.
The treaty was signed by six CIS countries—Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—on 15 May 1992 in Tashkent with a five-year validity and the option of extension. Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia joined in 1993. Joining the treaty expressed the post-Soviet states’ attitude towards the integration process in the framework of the CIS. The treaty was registered at the UN Secretariat on 1 November 1995.
A protocol to extend the treaty was signed on 2 April 1999 at a session of the Collective Security Treaty Council in Moscow. This was ratified by all member states except Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, whose governments had apparently begun to see the treaty’s military and political obligations as an obstacle to their future integration with Euro-Atlantic structures.
The qualitatively new phase in the development of the treaty began in 2000 with the conclusion of a memorandum on increasing its efficacy and its adjustment to the current geopolitical situation, which highlighted new challenges and threats in regional and international security.
On 7 October 2002, the member states signed the organisation’s charter and an agreement on its legal status. This was the beginning of the CSTO. In 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution granting observer status to the CSTO.1
Under the terms of the treaty, the member states guarantee their security on a collective basis. In case of a threat to security, territorial integrity or sovereignty, the member states will begin consultations to coordinate their positions and take measures to eliminate the threat. In the event of an act of aggression against a member state, all other signatories will provide necessary assistance to it.
Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia
The idea of convening a Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) dates from the Soviet era. In the 1970s the Soviet leadership proposed several initiatives that were to draw the world’s attention to the question of security in Asia. These included a proposal for the creation of a collective Asian security system. However, due to the Soviet Union’s unfavourable strategic situation, the initiative triggered serious protest from all the countries concerned.
The suggestion was next raised by President Nazarbayev, at the 47th Session of the UN General Assembly on 5 October 1992. The president stressed that the initiative’s purpose was to create an effective and universal structure for ensuring the security of Asia, for which there was no mechanism at the time and to which end previous attempts had failed. The proposal was backed by the UN Secretariat. Experts from Asian countries’ foreign ministries held a series of meetings to bring the initiative to fruition, in April 1993 (with 12 participants), August–September 1993 (28 participants) and October 1994 (29 participants).2
At Kazakhstan’s initiative, a permanent secretariat was established, consisting of the representatives of the concerned states’ embassies accredited in Almaty. The body’s task was to organise consultations, exchange opinions and provide expert assessments to the conference. Twenty-four experts from 12 countries—including non-members—participated in an international conference on CICA matters in Almaty in October 1998.3
A Declaration on the Principles Guiding Relations among the CICA Member States was signed at a meeting of foreign ministers on 14 September 1999. This recorded the fundamental principles of ensuring international security: respect for the sovereignty, rights and territorial integrity of member states, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes, refraining from the use of force, disarmament and arms control, economic, social and cultural cooperation, and respect for human rights pursuant to the UN’s principles and international law. This became the legal basis for the Asian security system.
On 4 June 2002, an extremely important international event took place in Almaty: the first CICA summit. Two documents were adopted at the summit: the Almaty Act and the CICA Declaration on Eliminating Terrorism and Promoting Dialogue among Civilizations. With the Almaty Act, the participant states defined the conference’s structures and operational bodies. The states decided to hold regular meetings of heads of state and government (and foreign ministers), consultations and meetings of committee members and high officials to settle organisational questions, and meetings of a special working group for resolving more detailed issues.
The Almaty Act touches upon questions ranging from cooperation in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the resolution of environmental problems. The document captures the essence of CICA’s activity: the reinforcement of peace, stability and security in the region and the whole world through cooperation.
A meeting of the member states’ foreign ministers in 2004 in Almaty was the next significant step in CICA’s evolution. This meeting saw the adoption of the CICA Catalogue of Confidence Building Measures, which provides guidelines for the settlement of disputes and avoidance of conflicts in all spheres from the military to the diplomatic.4
Although the CICA is simply a forum for dialogue, it is still a good platform for establishing trust-based relations between Asian countries. Even the arrangement of a meeting that brought together Asian leaders with both common and diverse interests is an accomplishment in itself. For Kazakhstan, the organisation of such a large-scale international forum strengthened the country’s position and helped to establish its authority on the international stage, which in turn increased confidence in Kazakhstan as a state ready for collaboration and dialogue in multiple spheres.
The fact that Asia had accumulated numerous triggers for instability can be regarded as the key to CICA’s success. The threat to the security of the region’s sovereign countries became more serious with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This led to an international legal vacuum in the field of security, which threatened the region’s peaceful development and increased the risk of serious conflict.
Integration processes are quite difficult in the context of Eurasia (meaning the territory and nations of the former Soviet Union). It is the scene of a struggle between two opposing factors. On the one hand, there are negative memories related to the now-independent countries’ past membership of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reluctance to form a union on a federative basis. On the other hand, all concerned parties realise that autarchy is a dead end in today’s globalising world and are looking for solutions: some are against integrating connections within the framework of unifying structures like the CIS, while others try to find a solution on their own, either by collaborating with their closest neighbours or joining other economic and political structures—like the Baltic States, which have joined the EU, or Ukraine and Georgia, which are applying for membership of the EU and NATO—or by creating all kinds of regional structures (for instance, the Eurasian Economic Community). It may take a long time for the process to stabilise and become more clearly defined.
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
The region’s current security is defined by Central Asia’s general geopolitical situation, which is exacerbated by both the region’s geographical features (bordering with Afghanistan and the Caucasus on one side and China, the Islamic world and Russia on the other) and the interests of geopolitical agents related to their strategic objectives in Central Asia. Russia and China are the most influential on the international scale. This situation forces the geopolitical agents to face new game rules, which have, above all, been created because the Central Asian countries’ decision-making is no longer defined by their interest in maintaining their status quo in the framework of the CIS but, rather, the need, to shape “a new regional system in [an] atmosphere of heightened security risks”. In this sense, every republic is working to regulate its international communication bilaterally as well as regionally.
Thus, the Central Asian geopolitical situation triggered the need to create a structure that would represent the main regional agents while also evolving into a mechanism of multilateral consultations and agreements. Naturally, the main objective of such a structure lay in ensuring regional security, because this is exactly why the world as a whole is interested in Central Asia with its plentiful energy resources, securing a major role for it in Eurasian geopolitics and geo-economics.
The prerequisite for this was the border negotiations initiated by the Soviet Union and China in 1989, which later developed into a discussion of methods for increasing trust and the reduction of arms, with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on one side and China on the other. Relations between Russia and China were the key to this process, as founding a joint organisation created the opportunity to bring together the potential of Central Asian countries so as to prevent the expansion of other internationally important countries into Central Asia and curb their increasing influence. In addition, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have a total of over 7,300 kilometres of shared borders. The cooperation acquired a special significance in this context, ensuring the security of the borders and stability in border regions.
The starting point for this organisation could be traced to the meeting of five leaders in April 1996 in Shanghai, which culminated in the signing of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions by the heads of China, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.5 Thus, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was founded.
A Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions was signed at the next meeting of the five leaders in April 1997 in Moscow. This meeting also involved detailed discussion of the matters under negotiation by addressing questions of military and economic cooperation.
The next meetings of the so-called Shanghai Five took place on 3 July 1998 in Almaty and August 1999 in Bishkek, where the states’ foreign ministers signed the Declarations of Almaty and Bishkek respectively.6
The creation of the structures of the SCO also began. Coordinators were appointed in every country, and the leaders of the five countries’ law-enforcement bodies and special services formed the so-called Bishkek Group with the objective of fighting crime in border regions. The foreign ministers met on 5 July 2000 in Dushanbe and signed the Dushanbe Declaration, which dealt with cooperation in counter-terrorism training within the SCO framework.
Uzbekistan joined the organisation on 14 June 2001 at a summit in Shanghai. The same meeting defined the organisation’s tasks as supporting regional stability and fighting religious extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking, and the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism was also signed.7
In June 2002 the heads of state met in St Petersburg, where they signed the Declaration of the Heads of State and the SCO Charter, which essentially constituted the organisation’s statutes. On 29 May 2003 a decision was made in Moscow to establish the SCO Secretariat in Beijing and the headquarters of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent. The SCO’s coat of arms and flag were also endorsed.
In August 2003 the SCO states held their first joint anti-terror military exercise, “Coalition 2003”, in Kazakhstan and China, with the aim to increase the combat readiness of the member states’ armed forces, exchange experiences and practice organising joint anti-terrorist operations.8
At an SCO summit on 23 September 2004 in Bishkek, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, stressed that:
We must persist in moving towards increasing economic cooperation within the framework of the SCO. We have to systematically form closer economic ties. The SCO’s task is to boost cooperation in humanitarian fields and promote mutual acknowledgement among the member states and the friendship of people. The main objectives of the organisation are mutual trust, mutual advantage, peace, consistency, respect for cultural variety, aspiration to general development.
Security questions came into special focus once again with preparations for the 2005 SCO summit in Astana. Events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan changed the attitudes of the leaders and considerably influenced China’s policy on the SCO. At the same time, the tensions that had occurred in the region provided an additional incentive for development.9
There are currently no other international structures that could provide the Central Asian countries with the opportunity to devise the best model for communicating with each other as well as external powers, while also guaranteeing their security and development. The SCO offers the best mechanism for regional agents because it creates conditions for supporting the stability of political regimes in Central Asia and the emergence of a cost-effective and constructive economic climate, not to mention an increase in military and political security.
The SCO member states were brought together by an increase in threats to the region’s stability. In that sense, the organisation has managed to avoid the possible activation of external agents and factors that would destabilise the development of Central Asian countries. Due to the risk of this scenario, a clause suggesting that the US should specify how long it would operate its military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan was added to the Declaration of Astana.
The greatest significance of the Astana summit was political: the wish to establish a regional political centre of influence was explicitly stated for the first time. The results of the summit demonstrate several significant trends that will determine the development of the SCO in the near future. The Declaration of Astana was a new type of political document for the SCO. It assesses every structural unit of the SCO, lays down the orientation of the organisation for a year, evaluates the international situation, etc.
The Astana summit also saw the adoption of the concept of SCO member states cooperating to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, which can be seen as the basis for the fight against “the three evils”. In general, the development of the SCO follows the pattern of fulfilling the main tasks set at the summit: strengthening the role of the SCO Secretariat and the partial reform of its activities, appointing member states’ permanent representatives to the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), the establishment of the SCO Business Council, the founding of the SCO Development Fund and forming closer contacts with other international organisations.
The organisational development of the SCO continues, with its structural units being enhanced and new ones created. In addition to matters of political security, questions of economic and cultural security are also raised. However, increasing the organisation’s overall potential and promoting its further development remains of utmost importance. Without this, the security situation in Central Asia would remain uncontrollable and riddled with new risks and threats.
One of the SCO’s most pressing tasks is to develop an optimal and effective mechanism for eliminating threats to member states’ security. As events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan showed, terrorism may not be the only concern. In this light, the SCO was faced with the need to coordinate questions of how to stand up to unconventional risks in practice. This facilitates the implementation of the “Chinese approach” in the SCO’s activity, which involves the overall expansion of functions and fields of responsibility.10
The next round of issues regarding the SCO’s prospective development relates to the organisation’s international activity. It has already been granted observer status at the UN General Assembly and has established partnerships with the secretariats of the CIS and ASEAN. The US, Turkey, South Korea, Japan and the EU states, as well as organisations such as ASEAN, NATO and the OSCE, are also currently showing considerable interest in SCO activities. India, Iran and Pakistan obtained observer status in the organisation after the Astana summit.
SCO members continue to strive for full convergence of views on international issues, especially in connection with the role of the US in the region. The most recent summit (July 2015) left the impression that the member countries’ heads of state are closely united on these questions.
The founding of the SCO brought China, Russia and Central Asian countries together for the first time in history, creating a multilateral mechanism for regional security and economic cooperation. In the space of a few years, the SCO’s members have managed to regulate conflict-prone territorial problems, while 9/11 and the subsequent anti-terrorism campaign led by the US have opened up new possibilities for the regional organisation, although also posing new challenges. The Declaration of Astana notes member states’ readiness to make a joint effort to combat terrorism and stresses the need to take immediate measures to stand up against all forms of global terrorism.
One of the leading Chinese newspapers, Zhongguo Ribao (China Daily), placed the founding of the SCO among the ten most important events in 2001, while the then Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, saw its creation as the second-most significant achievement in Russian external policy in 2001 after developing relations with the US.11 Ivanov said:
The SCO currently provides a framework for testing practical methods for increasing trust in different spheres: political, economic, cultural, etc. The SCO, which unites like-minded neighbouring countries linked by long-standing traditions, is destined to develop into the main component of ensuring the security and development in the region.
Ivanov believes that the SCO supports the efforts of the UN and the international anti-terrorist coalition in eliminating terrorism on a regional scale.12 Erlan Idrisov, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, has said that the organisation should be regarded as the core of a future pan-Asian process.
In the long term, SCO members would like to see the organisation as one of the “world polarities”, part of the so-called axis of stability. Today, the SCO has become an authoritative regional organisation, setting the example for a new type of union. As its structure solidifies and the organisation’s field of activity grows through the admission of new members and an increase in international dialogue, it could develop into an important element of the future global security system.
Eurasian Customs Union
The Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), founded by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia in 2010 and expanded in 2015 to include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, is a form of trade and economic integration between these countries that provides a common customs area, which does not impose customs and economic restrictions on goods in mutual trade, apart from special protection, anti-dumping and compensation measures. The members of the EACU use unified tariffs and other measures in organising trade with third countries. The EACU should become a solid base for Kazakhstan through which to link its economy with the international system overseen by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The current intensive and large-scale development of the world economy is characterised by the diversity of the relationships between economic agents on different levels. This includes regional integrated unions and intra-regional groups. The development of integration processes goes hand in hand with individual countries fostering stronger foreign economic ties, growth in the international exchange of goods and services, and the growing importance of international production-oriented and scientific–technical specialisation. International economic ties can thereby be maintained at a high level and further developed.
The most important condition for the CIS countries’ economic integration is the free movement of the main factors for production, which results in cooperation between the intra-regional groups of the CIS (especially on the level of the EACU), allowing member states to direct their efforts towards increasing the efficiency of their own economies. Joining the WTO, which is of the highest priority for members of the EACU, plays a special role in this. This is a complicated and multifaceted process, and the main task for EACU members lies in ensuring that participation in the WTO’s work would not seriously harm the economies of EACU states.
All parties in the EACU are interested in coordinating their positions in respect of joining the WTO, even more so as the member states will be able to continue with the preferential free-trade regime after joining. Coordinating the development of the preferential regime in the EACU’s trade-oriented and economic cooperation is one of the main arguments for boosting the economic integration of the CIS, which ensures integrational cooperation at the level of businesses, companies, and even states that show a direct interest in deepening and expanding the whole range of EACU foreign economic cooperation.
Consequently, the study and assessment of the problems related to the integrating cooperation of the EACU as the Eurasian Economic Union and the fundamental basis for realising the opportunities for joining the WTO is becoming increasingly relevant. Such an approach allows Kazakhstan, as a member of the EACU, to maintain the preferential trade-oriented and economic regime with other member states, supposedly without the obligation of expanding such a regime to other countries, including members of the WTO.
All this shows that the Eurasia strategy has been a crucial component of Kazakhstan’s geopolitics, and will remain so. The increasing relevance of this strategy is primarily related to key factors such as the country’s position at the heart of the continent, being landlocked and away from the world’s transport and communication arteries, and its multi-ethnic and religiously diverse population.
1 К. К. Токаев, Исторический ракурс – Казахстанская правда, 1 June 2002.
2 Т. Жумагулов, Новое СВМДА – Континент, 2003, 3, p 37.
3 Ж. Абдильдин, СВМДА: путь в пространство безопасности – Казахстанская правда, 10 June 2002.
4 Б. Р. Ахметкалиев, 10 лет: Казахстан и интеграции. Almaty, 2001.
5 Г. Киреев, Долгий путь к «Шанхайской пятерке» – Международная жизнь, 2003, 3, pp 75–82.
6 Ю. Р. Тихонравов, Геополитика. Moscow, 1998.
7 Ф. Толипов, К вопросу о самостоятельной роли организации Центральноазиатского сотрудничества в рамках ШОС – Центральная Азия и Кавказ, 2004, 3.
8 А. Лукин, Шанхайская организация сотрудничества: проблемы и перспективы – Международная жизнь, 2004, 3.
9 A. Moravcsik, Liberalism and International Relations Theory – Harvard University Center for International Affairs, Paper 92–6, pp 7, 11, 13.
10 Т. Шаймергенов, Т. Тусупбаева, Роль ШОС в формировании центрально-азиатской безопасности: геополитические аспекты – Центральная Азия и Кавказ, 2006, 2(44), pp 7–18.
11 К. Г. Шерьязданова, Предпосылки центральноазиатской интеграции в контексте антитеррористической деятельности – Евразийское сообщество, 2007, 1(57), pp 20–26.
12 К. Г. Шерьязданова, Шанхайская Организация Сотрудничества: проблемы и перспективы развития – Analytic, 2007, 3, pp 28–37.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.