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понедельник, 5 ноября 2007 г.

Kyrgyzstan – NATO: Perspectives on Prospects

Beshimov Bakyt

In the 16 years of its independence, Kyrgyzstan has made dramatic leaps and bounce to democracy, exceeding early expectations of even some very shrewd observers. This is not to say, however, that the country’s path to its fledgling democratic life has been steady and unerringly robust. In the early years of its independence, unlike their counterparts in the other “stans” of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan’s ruling elites have smartly avoided resisting the zeitgeist of democracy and actively, or at least visibly, embarked on promoting the development of democratic institutions. That gung-ho embarkation on the democratic project turned out to be a masterful pretense, as later movement of the political current showed. Realizing how democratization runs counter to the stability of the enjoyment of power, Kyrgyzstan’s ruling elites also realized that they “can of worms” they opened with their cunning acceptance of democratic ideas cannot be shut or kept tight by subtle or invisible means. From that realization on, especially given Kyrgyzstan’s critically deteriorating economy at the time, the country’s political development has been characterized by systematic attempts by ruling elites to increase their hold on power. This in turn led to systematic conflicts within an already fragmented political system as well as to growing tensions with Kyrgyzstan’s rapidly burgeoning civil society.

Although spurred by a sudden government overthrow in March 2005, Kyrgyzstan is building a real foundation for peaceful and democratic power transitions in the future. Now all ruling elites take open political competition for granted and understand that adherence to constitutional norms is critical to their survival. That is why constitutional reform has been one of the key points of debate and confrontation between government, opposition, and civil society.

Like in every other Central Asian nation, the question of national security is of vital importance in Kyrgyzstan. Despite constant and serious security challenges, there is no system of regional security in Central Asia to speak of. Nevertheless, some visible approaches to regional security are beginning to take shape in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Notably, the nature of these two organizations is that their members’ geostrategic capabilities are highly uneven. Thus, smaller countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan risk the involvement into promoting various interests that run at the expense of their own security and political agendas. Russia and China are vocally apprehensive about NATO’s eastward movement. But can we discount the possibility that increasing and diversifying cooperation with NATO could allow the Central Asian states to better integrate into the international security architecture?

Within Central Asia, back and forth leadership battles between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and complicated disputes (e.g. border demarcation) between all the region’s states undermines efforts to build collective security measures that respond equally well to the interests of all states. Such a situation cannot but tempt the larger powers into pursuing divide-and-rule tactics for strengthening their control over the region, with the unavoidable consequences of strengthening regional disintegration processes, further deepening inter-state tensions, and ultimately exacerbating the entire security situation in the region.

Healthy relations between NATO and Russia, void of geostrategic suspicions and jealousy, as well as the freedom for and the striving by the states of Central Asia to build their relations with NATO without having to worrying too much about Russia’s opinion will be key for improving security in Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Policy
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy is directly affected by its complex internal politics. What is important to note is that geopolitical vision of Kyrgyzstan’s ruling elites is by far not the only determinant of the country’s foreign policy. Civil society and public opinion, too, play a key foreign policy role.

The initial principles of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy have been established by the then President Askar Akaev who advocated multi-vector diplomacy to be achieved and maintained through both bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. This diplomacy implied the establishment of fruitful partnerships with all major powers without perceptible preference one way or the other. In addition, this diplomacy aimed at building friendly, cooperative relations with its neighbors and regional powers.

With the change of ruling regime in 2005 the country’s foreign policy experienced a noticeable turn. Without totally abandoning multi-vector diplomacy, Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy has transformed into diplomacy of preference for a partnership with a single power -- Russia. This turn occurred not only as a result of particular geopolitical and geocultural understandings of the new decision-makers. Another factor was popular dissatisfaction with the outcomes of Kyrgyzstan’s Westward dynamic in its first 15 years of independence. There is a prevalent notion that Kyrgyzstan’s staggering corruption has been strongly influenced by such Western institutions as the World Bank and the IMF.

Another important factor precipitating the change in Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy has been the increased pressure exerted by the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, advocating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

Allegedly supported by Russia, the Movement for Withdrawal of the US Airbase is tilting the country’s foreign policy further in the direction consonant with that of the new elites. Furthermore, in 2006 two American diplomats in Kyrgyzstan have been declared persona non grata for accusation of espionage. Recently, a Chinese citizen was arrested in Bishkek for allegations of espionage.

In all likelihood, the upcoming meeting of the members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be held in Bishkek this August will continue the same pressure on Kyrgyzstan to present the U.S. troops with a departure notice.

What are the decisive factors for Kyrgyzstan’s relations with NATO?
1. National Security. The threat of invasion into Kyrgyzstan’s of terrorist forces like it happened in 1999 remains there.
2. Drug Traffic. Kyrgyzstan is a transit station for the drug trade coming from Afghanistan. The criminalization of society caused by the drug trade remains severe.
3. Difficult Character of Relations with Neighboring Countries. Kyrgyzstan does not have agreements on the status of borders and their demarcation neither with Kazakhstan, nor with Uzbekistan, nor with Tajikistan. Various confrontations on the borders now carry a permanent character. There is a risk that one of these confrontations may grow into a serious inter-state conflict.
4. Tough Competition for Water and Hydro Energy Resources.
5. Religious Extremism. The spread and influence of such organizations as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, despite Central Asian police forces’ constant struggle against them, is growing unabated.
6. Interethnic Conflicts. Interethnic conflict has transformed from that of being based on identity and minority representation issues into that of being based on conflicts around control of land and economic markets.

Thus, conflict potential in Central Asia, in particular in such regions as the Ferghana Valley, is very high. One or more of the aforementioned factors can become sources of inter-state conflict in Central Asia.

All aforementioned factors have direct connection to regional security and their solutions can be found on the basis of international cooperation and experience for addressing such challenges. NATO possesses broad experience in this matter and its participation in Central Asia’s security processes can take place on multiple levels – multilateral as well as bilateral.

Today, in light of the situation in Afghanistan, there is clear potential and even need to discuss Central Asia’s security in the framework of a possible cooperation between SCO and NATO.

Scenarios for NATO-Kyrgyzstan Relations
1. Possible Scenario. Continuation of current relations characterized by cooperation without deep, multilevel relations. In this scenario, every action taken by Kyrgyzstan toward NATO will always take Russia into consideration. Russia and China will continue to put pressure on Kyrgyzstan to evict the American airbase. The positive or negative nature of this scenario depends on the quality of relations between NATO and Russia and China. If these parties have favorable relations, Kyrgyzstan and NATO will have a chance for a deeper partnership. Otherwise, Kyrgyzstan may face a severe choice.
Russia without good relations with Central Asia will be significantly weakened. China without access to energy resources of Central Asia will be compromised, too. The West, on its part, should not ignore the growing importance of this vital region of crossroads. If every player will only play his game, Central Asia will become a stage for the powers’ battles. The key cause of confrontation today is the desire by both Russia and China to hold an increasingly tighter control over the region.

2. Best Scenario. A gradual transition to global partnership away from loggerheaded confrontation between powers and a growing focus on global problems (climate change, terrorism, WMD) is definitely the best scenario for all parties. On the way to realization of this scenario there are serious obstacles. First, the strong sentiment on part of the Russian elite that NATO “lied” to them in lieu of the 9/11 attacks. Second, China believes that NATO’s continuous eastward movement is a threat to China’s national security. The ideology of narrow national interests dominates over the ideology of rational global balance. In such conditions, Central Asian states are forced to make a clear geostrategic choice in favor of their closest neighbors. Even such country as Kazakhstan, while increasing its ties with NATO, continues to emphasize the priority of its relations with Russia.

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