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Uzbekistan as anchor of stability in Central Eurasia

If one looks at a world map, Uzbekistan is located at the centre of the Eurasian continent. « Central Eurasia » would therefore be a more appropriate term than « Central Asia ». Both internally and externally, Uzbekistan is contributing to the geopolitical stability and peace in Central Asia but also in the whole Eurasian continent.

The internal challenge

During the last parliamentary elections in December 2019, popular support for gradual reforms was expressed in Uzbekistan.

On December 22nd, citizens of Uzbekistan participated in the first legislative elections since President Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev launched a policy of reforms and openness of Uzbekistan, after his election in September 2016.

The voters expressed a wish for political stability and the will to go in the same direction. From the start of his mandate, President Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev had announced that his priority would be to pursue reforms in a consistent and resolute manner. This is a popular approach because Uzbekistan has steadily modernized in a balanced, slow and gradual process, rather than through shock therapy, which satisfies a large part of the population. These reforms gradually cover all spheres of society and there will be no turning back in the face of increasing demands of the citizens.

Uzbekistan is always keen on importing new inspiring ideas from abroad, but also keen on building its own model adapted to its specific history, culture, and geographical position.

The vote of Uzbek citizens also expressed that the majority is satisfied with peace being preserved in a very difficult regional environment. The conflict in Afghanistan, at its borders, is ongoing and complicated relations between Central Asian countries, as well as global geopolitical rivalries are converging in this pivotal region of Eurasia.

The external challenge: Uzbekistan as the new geopolitical laboratory for stability and peace in Eurasia

Uzbekistan also occupies a very pivotal geopolitical position in the middle of Central Eurasia and plays an important role in maintaining stability on the Eurasian landmass: the country has the largest population in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is also a geopolitical lock to prevent instability from Afghanistan to spread to the whole of Central Asia, and therefore to Russia and China.

Two years ago, Uzbekistan took an initiative on Afghanistan for Central Asian and European security. The Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan, “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and regional Connectivity” took place on the 27th of March 2018. It should be noted that the representatives of all permanent Member States of the UN Security Council and countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization were represented.

Unsurprisingly, the Afghan conflict remains the biggest security threat for Uzbekistan. The geographical position of Uzbekistan as a neighbor of Afghanistan and a pivot in central Asia, gives the country a particular role, which is to contain instability and contribute to a more secure future for the entire Eurasian continent.

In the recent past, Uzbekistan has already been at the forefront to propose initiatives to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. The meeting of the Group «6+2» took place in Tashkent in 1999 on the level of heads of foreign policy institutions of states neighbouring on Afghanistan, as well as Russia and the United States.

Uzbekistan has also started to implement major infrastructure projects such as « Surkhan-Puli Khumri » power line and the construction of a railway from Mazar-i-Sharif  to the sea ports of the Indian Ocean. The objective is to involve Afghanistan in the process of economic integration in the region.

Very recently, on the occasion of the 75th UN general assembly, held on the 23rd of September 2020, president of Uzbekistan Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed the creation of a permanent UN commission on Afghanistan that would promote and facilitate the economic and social development of Afghanistan.

The measures taken by the Republic of Uzbekistan in the field of combating terrorism were highly appreciated by the world community. For over 10 years, there were no terrorist acts on its territory and many terrorist attacks were prevented in close cooperation with partner special services in the CIS space. In the field of ensuring security, including that of foreign tourists, Uzbekistan is a leader, ranking among the safest countries for the third year in a row.

This is also of decisive importance for Europe: if there is no peace and stability in the central and eastern part of Eurasia, there is no chance for peace and stability on the western part either because of the growing interdependences in security, energy, commerce, migration flows, terrorism and criminal activity.

Central Asia, and especially Uzbekistan as a double land-lock country also face a very important strategic task, which is to ensure deep integration of the region into global economic, transport and transit corridors. Uzbekistan’s objective is to make Central Asian States more influential and prosperous, as well as to take better advantage of the New Silk Road initiative launched by China. The future east-west transport, economic and energetic corridors also offer a new horizon for Europe on its eastern flank.

It is therefore important to address the missing links in the security architecture of the European, Eurasian and Central Asian spaces that need to be fixed in order to avoid a further fragmentation of the European continent between Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian alliances.

The role of Uzbekistan, as well as that of its Central Asian partners, is therefore very important. It can enable the emergence of a new successful security architecture.

Uzbekistan has made decisions to move in this direction.

New observer status of Uzbekistan in the Eurasian economic union

In this respect, Uzbekistan’s most recent step was the decision to get a new observer status in the Eurasian economic Union (EAEU).  On April 28th, the parliament of Uzbekistan approved the government’s proposal. Its full member states are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

Uzbekistan’s participation as an observer will allow the government to examine the opportunities the organization can offer. Five areas will potentially economically benefit Uzbekistan:

1) obtaining new markets for its products since the majority of its trade partners are EAEU members

2) becoming more attractive to external investors wanting to have access to the markets of other EAEU countries

3) reduction of transportation costs through the EAEU countries

4) cooperation with EAEU, which can bring relief to the 2.3 million Uzbek migrants working in EAEU countries (mainly Russia and Kazakhstan)

5) potential reduction of oil prices, because Uzbekistan imports up to 400,000 tons of crude oil from EAEU countries each year

This decision is fully in line with the Uzbek foreign policy doctrine. The Uzbek foreign policy based on a multivector foreign-policy doctrine is concerned with maintaining geopolitical balance.

The new Central Asia platform

Since the election of the president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Central Asia has also become the core priority of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy, and the new doctrinal focus is about creating stability, security and a good-neighbourliness belt around Uzbekistan. The objective is to take advantage of the huge unrealized potential of the region. Uzbekistan has a common border with all other Central Asian states.

The idea is to achieve more stability and improve security in the Central Asian region through regional cooperation in order to take full advantage of its potential. The main objective is to transform Central Asia into a geopolitical hub.

In this respect, 2017 was a historical year for Central Asia. Central Asian states (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) inaugurated an ambitious cooperation process to become once again, the centre of geopolitics and the hub for transport and transit corridors in Eurasia, as it once was the case during the epochs of the ancient Silk Road. (See map :  Uzbekistan – Central Asia as a stabilising factor for Eurasia)

This new approach is also about promoting the region as a single cultural and civilizational space, in order to position it in the context of the shifting Eurasian balance of power.

An International Conference on Security and Sustainable Development in Central Asia under the auspices of the United Nations, « Central Asia: Shared Past and Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity », was organised on the 10th and 11th of November 2017 to add some flesh to this new approach and raise awareness among the international community regarding the great geopolitical stakes.

 

The idea is to achieve more stability and improve security in the Central Asian region through regional cooperation. Security is to be understood as a very wide concept that includes hard security, but also economy, energy, environmental issues, demography, technology, culture and identity. The main objective is to transform Central Asia into a geopolitical hub.

This new process is not about creating a new international organisation in Central Asia or any integration structure with supranational bodies, but to organize first regular meetings of the Heads of Central Asian states, as well as Central Asian foreign ministers.  A decision was made to implement a program of cooperation on border security, terrorism, distribution of water resources, trade, transport and energy infrastructures (Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China;  Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman corridors…), but also in education, science, tourism and culture. A first programme for the years 2018-2019 was signed on the sidelines of the Samarkand conference.

In this regard, president of Uzbekistan Mr Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed to establish a Regional Center for the Development of Transport and Communications, with support of the United Nations during the session of the 75th UN general assembly on the 23 September 2020.

Uzbekistan as a laboratory for a new overlapping circles doctrine 

In order to achieve geopolitical stability on the Eurasian continent, synergy is needed between the various actors. On a longer term basis, a new Eurasian geopolitical architecture based on a new doctrine of overlapping circles of international organizations would be a major factor for developing and improving Eurasian security in the context of an emerging global multipolarity. (Diagram: Overlapping Circles of World stability and Peace)

This netting of institutions resembles the « Olympic circles ». The described configuration would be adapted to the emerging multipolar world, in order to maintain a balance between the different states, alliances and political and security institutions. This architecture is aimed at promoting synergies between interleaved organisations like NATO, EU, OSCE, SCO, CIS, OTSC, OIC, as well as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and should lead to greater levels of stability. In-between spaces between these structures would be subject to common stabilization policies or « non-aggression agreements ».

The idea is to stabilize the overlapping security spaces from « Vancouver to Vladivostok » (NATO and OSCE, USA-EU-Russia), « Lisbon to Vladivostok » (UE-Russia), « St Petersburg to Peking » (OCS), « Minsk-Dushanbe » (CSTO), Central Eurasia around the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)  and the Central Asian space around Ashgabat, Nursultan, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent and Dushanbe (new Central Asia platform).

This new doctrine of « overlapping circles » supposes that international actors accept the emergence of a variety of international organizations whose objectives are contributing to Eurasian and world stability.

The new observer status of Uzbekistan in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) but also the new process of cooperation in Central Asia (new Central Asia platform) are milestones that contribute to this new Eurasian architecture. Uzbekistan is willing to prove it is contributing to stability and to the reduction of rivalry between the great powers.

Uzbekistan is already member of SCO, a partner of the NATO Partnership for Peace, a major actor of the EU-Central Asia strategy, a member of OSCE, CIS and OIC, and now has a new observer status in EAEU.

Uzbekistan, as well as its Central Asian partners, have therefore a strong interest in promoting cooperation and synergies between these organizations.

These initiatives undertaken by Uzbekistan can be seen as a new geopolitical laboratory to strengthen synergies between international organizations like EU, NATO, OSCE, SCO, CIS, EAEU under UN coordination and reinforce bilateral relations, to achieve stability under the principle of «indivisibility of security», on the Eurasian continent with a better balance of interests.

Conclusion

The new observer status of Uzbekistan in the Eurasian economic union confirms both the regionalization and multipolarization process at work in the Eurasian continent. This initiative should be seen as a constructive development and a new geopolitical laboratory to strengthen synergies between international organizations, in order to achieve stability under the principle of «indivisibility of security», on the Eurasian continent with a better balance of interests.

The European Union (EU) would be wise to take advantage of the new multipolar process at global and Eurasian level. EU could engage both in a reinforced cooperation process with Central Asian states and Uzbekistan in particular, but also in a new cooperation process with the Eurasian Economic Union (EUEU). (See map : European security-Geopolitical diagnosis)

Both EU and Central Asian states have to position themselves between competing global geopolitical projects. In the context of a greater competition between the United States and China, better cooperation at Eurasian level between EU member states, Central Asian states and Russia would be useful as part of a « non-alignment » doctrine. This would avoid a new dividing line in Eurasia between the two major emerging alliances around the United States and China, where both Europe and Central Asia would risk becoming more fragmented

 

 

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