NATO Advanced Research Workshop: Towards Social Stability and Democratic Governance in Central Eurasia
8 September 2004
Report by Dr Irina Morozova
During the NATO ARW the participants critically assessed existing knowledge on soft security issues in the eight newly independent states of Central Asia, the Southern Caucasus, and Mongolia. The workshop focused on: (1) the risks faced, and in turn posed, by societies threatened by economic collapse, unemployment, disintegration and marginalisation; and (2) the ability of governments and elites to deal effectively with these threats.
Socio-economic indicators and political tendencies of ethnic fragmentation signal about general peripherisation of Central Eurasia in the current world system. However, its geo-strategic location, natural resources, and above all the large hydrocarbon reserves of the Caspian Sea return the lost historical centrality to this huge region. The new ‘centrality' of Central Eurasia brings along new security threats to the regional population, to Europe and the world. Repressive political regimes and marginalisation of the whole groups of the population inflame consequences spilling across national borders. Migration, both legal and illegal, to Europe is the direct outcome of social-economic destabilization in Central Eurasia. The illicit production and trade of drugs add up to the complexity of security problems in the region.
The end of the Cold war, the disintegration of the USSR and the current globalization have opened the doors to the region for various international actors - international monetary organizations, strategic alliances, TNC, NGO, regional blocks, as well as criminal groupings and ethno-religious movements. To resist the rapid penetration of all these groups of interests and to prevent the newly established states from falling apart along ethnic lines the current governments have launched nation-building policies. Nation-building in Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus has a complicated and controversial history that goes back to the late period of the Russian Empire and the Soviet creation of nations. Together with the historical legacy, the old ethnic conflicts resurfaced and shaped the nation-centric state concepts. The nationalistic nature of these concepts creates a serious obstacle to regional integration processes and security. Border conflicts and competition for water resources among the Central Asian ethnicities have become the unfortunate reality. Territorial disputes, especially in the Southern Caucasus, leave much doubt that the wealth accumulated by the realization of the international oil contracts is likely to be used for political and peaceful solutions to these conflicts. The ways to reach political agreement towards the regional environmental cooperation were on the workshop agenda.
The official appellation to democratic principles of governance, expressed in the Constitutions of all the Republics, turns out to be very weak in every-day political practices. The unofficial clan politics complicate the development of democratic institutions in the region. The local politics, the struggle of the elites and the possible scenarios of the upcoming elections in a number of Central Asian counties were the issues of the ARW discussions. The workshop underlined the importance of deeper study of the local cultures and history in order to predict these scenarios and re-evaluate the Western measurements of Central Asian politics.