State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic and International Politics in Central Asia

By Glantz, Michael H. | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic and International Politics in Central Asia


Glantz, Michael H., The Middle East Journal


State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic and International Politics in Central Asia, by Erika Weinthal. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. ix + 224 pages. Appends. to p. 226. Notes to p. 249. Refs. to p. 269. Index to p. 274. $25.

Reviewed by Michael H. Glantz

The goal of Erika Weinthal's work is to "explain and understand why rapid regional environmental cooperation emerged where we would least expect to find it - between new states with a history of ethnic tension and over an international river system - and what form that cooperation took" (p. 9). She notes that "the regional cooperation that ensued in the Aral basin contrasts with the historical record" (p. 9).

The research is focused on a very specific period, the time between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the early years of new-found national independence of five former Soviet Central Asian Republics Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In Weinthal's words "the overarching question that this book seeks to address is this: Why was there interstate environmental cooperation rather than acute conflict in Central Asia immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union?"

The book is divided into eight chapters, beginning with an overview of "the Aral sea crisis." The chapters that follow address "international riparian politics," "building environmental cooperation under conditions of transformation," "cotton monoculture as a system of social control," "the need for aid," "the willingness to intervene," "reconstructing cooperation in the Aral basin," "making states through cooperation." The endnotes and references are quite robust, encompassing international relations theory, non-governmental and international organizations, as well as references for factual accounts of the exploitation of water resources in the Aral basin.

With respect to water resources and land use, the Aral Sea situation is an ongoing saga. Indeed, it has been a crisis-in-the-making for the past 40 years, one which Soviet researchers had foreseen from the outset of implementing Soviet Politburo plans to just about double the amount of irrigated land used for cotton production in the Central Asia Republics in the 1950s.

The quality of the research methods and findings are quite high. To get at answers to this and concerns related to domestic and international political linkages, Weinthal relied on 150 interviews in the region as well as on archival and library research. The information contained is not only factually accurate, but also captures through the results of the interviews the "spirit of the times" (i.e., the period of transition and transformation from having been ruled by the Politburo of the Soviet Union to newly independent states). Weinthal provides considerable detail about the development of national and regional institutional structures and their functions related to water management in the basin.

The water situation in the Aral Basin is not really well served by using the term "environment." The latter term implies a broader range of issues related to land, air, vegetation, and water. To be sure there are toxic dust storms, contaminated soils and ground and surface waters, and adverse health effects related to cotton production throughout the region. Yet, the key environmental factor for survival in Central Asia is "water." In the region, slogans such as "Water is Life" are not uncommon. …

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