Central Asia under the American security “umbrella”The second meeting of the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was a logical continuation of the dialogue in the “C5+1” format, launched in 2015 in Samarkand, where President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov delivered a farewell speech.

It was the first forum where the parties discussed the prospects of international cooperation in the Central Asia - the United States format, which encompasses cooperation in political, trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, as well as discussions on regional security issues, including Afghanistan. At the Washington meeting more specific areas of cooperation such as counter-terrorism initiatives, trade, investment, economic development and energy were reflected in the agenda. This list was presented by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his meeting with the colleagues from Central Asia. He characterized it as a new approach in Washington's regional policy towards the aforementioned region.

Thus, some analysts’ predictions of a decline in the U.S. activity in this region due to the pressure from Moscow and Beijing appear to be premature.

 

Signs of sustainable development and the worrying prospect

This far, the specified “C5+1”format of cooperation predetermined by Washington gives clear signs of sustainable progress. Rare unanimity towards the prospects of developing cooperation proposed by Washington is found in all the five regional capitals. Following the two forums, no  sceptic or dissenting opinions have been voiced by the participants.

So far, neither Moscow nor Beijing has publicly expressed their concerns on this occasion- which nevertheless does not mean that they are watching indifferently the U.S. intentions to build its own security “umbrella”. The terrorist threat constantly lingering in the region (including Afghanistan) triggers various politicians and experts to pay more attention to the alarming processes ongoingin the region with serious consequences.

 

Demonstrative isolationism and the pillar of absolute neutrality

Such must have been the spirit not only among the participants of the “C5+1”meeting in Washington but also at the recent meeting of the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan in Sochi. At the same time, the issues of regional security and combating extremism were discussed at the meeting of the Ministers of Defense of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries which include, along with Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The participant list of this event held in Astana was intended to remind of the existence of the SCO Regional Anti-terrorist structure that, in addition to Russia, includes three member-states of the CST, which has its own special forces to fight against terrorists.

Concurrently, Uzbekistan traditionally occupies a special position within the SCO. Due to its unwillingness to join military activities outside the national territory, the Uzbek troops do not take part in joint military maneuvers conducted abroad under the auspices of the SCO. Hence, the Uzbek military is not going to participate in command and staff exercises “Peace Mission-2016” to be held in Kyrgyzstan in September. There is no reason to assume that a different way of thinking will prevail in Tashkent when the American “umbrella”is fully put up over the “C5 + 1” participants. The situation in the region is developing dynamically, and demonstrative isolationism may not be as durable as President Islam Karimov believes, since even the President of Turkmenistan, this staunch adherent of neutrality, is moving slowly away from it towards a denser participation in regional cooperation frameworks such as “C5+1”.

 

The position of Belarus and the SCO anti-terrorism instruments

Besides Uzbekistan’s dissenting opinion in the SCO, some members of the CSTO also demonstrate a similar stance. Some sources report that the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has repeatedly stated that the Belarusian servicemen will not serve abroad in pacification and terror-combatting activities. However, unlike his Uzbek colleague, President Lukashenko allows his soldiers to participate in the various anti-terrorist exercises within the frameworks of both CSTO and SCO where it acquired an observer status. Therefore,its participation in the upcoming SCO “Peace Mission-2016” exercises cannot be completely excluded.

The so-called “Bakiyev shadow” that has been hanging for several years over the relations between Minsk and Bishkek does not affect their cooperation within the various integration structures. The most significant hallmark for Minsk now is President Lukashenko’s official visit to Beijing forthcoming in September. Certainly, the leaders of the both countries will discuss some SCO-related issues as Belarus does not consider itself a stranger there anymore.

It is also worth mentioning that recently Washington has denied rumors about its intention to join the SCO: it would hardly be welcomed there. The U.S. apparently will be more interesting to denote its presence in the region through consolidating the “C5+1” format followed by the disclosure of its “umbrella” of security in CAR.

That’s how the SCO- and CSTO-based counter-terrorism instruments are viewed today. According to the claims of some analysts, one of them is dominated by China and the other one by Russia seeking to preserve and even increase its influence in such an important region as Central Asia. Considering the geopolitical significance of Central Asia and emergence of a completely new alignment of forces on the international arena, the U.S. initiative as a superpower with its “C5+1” format looks natural. In addition, this format can minimize the impact of both Russia and China in the region.

Certain hopes may be nurtured that a real threat of international terrorism can foster all participants of the SCO, CSTO and the ambitious “C5+1” project to fight against terrorism together. However, the Syrian drama does not provide any grounds for optimism this far. Despite the failure to coordinate international forces fighting with the ISIS, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu in has recently declared in an interview to “Russia 24” television channel that Russia is “in a very active phase of negotiations with our U.S. counterparts in Geneva and in Amman, and almost constant in contact with Washington.”

If the Syrian issue is indeed in the active phase of the negotiations between the great powers, then the analogous cooperation over Central Asia can be expected after the U.S. presidential elections.

 

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