The Changing Security Policy Challenges in Central Asia

Article excerpt


Allison, Roy, and Lena jonson, eds. Central Asian Security: The New International Context. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2001. 279pp. $18.95

To date, relatively few studies have appeared concerning the domestic and external security environments of the five new independent states of Central Asia or on relations with their neighbors to the north, south, east, and west. This volume, with contributions by some of the leading scholars in the field, seeks to fill in the lacunae in both areas. It does an admirable job.

The book begins by putting into context the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on these new independent states. Initially, the assumption within Russia, the West, and among the elites of the new republics was that the new Central Asian republics would maintain a close alignment with the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia had vast economic, security, and military interests in the region and clearly aspired to maintain a leading position in that area. Western observers were generally convinced that Russia would be able to maintain its position in the "stans." As for the elites, their natural inclination was to maintain strong and tight links with the former ruler, a tendency reinforced by the "Soviet-era socialization" and the looming presence of Russia in Central Asia, often in the form of military forces and bases. However, Russia failed to maintain its position there, because of its chronic domestic weaknesses, its inability to formulate a coherent national security policy, and its lack of resources.

By the mid- 1990s it was recognized by all parties concerned that no tight strategic nexus would exist between Russia and the Central Asian republics. The elites also realized that their post-Soviet security environment was a complex one, with many issues that could not be addressed by simply maintaining a strong strategic relationship with the former Soviet Union. Indeed, there was a growing desire on the part of the elites to focus on their internal security problems, diversify their security policy relations away from Russia, and form new partnerships with other nations, both near and far. In light of this emerging strategic reconfiguration, the purpose of this work is to "analyse the changing security policy challenges in Central Asia since Russia became more disengaged from the region in the mid to late 1990s" and to "discuss the security policy relevance of the expanding network of relationships between Central Asia and regional and international powers."

Some of the contributors to this work address the cooperative and conflictual processes that are relevant for the security orientation of the region. There are numerous cooperative processes in Central Asia. The states have a common legacy and cultural and historical commonalities. The Soviet era provided them with a common interlocking transportation system, energy grids, and irrigation systems. …