The Eurasian Big Bang, The Silk Road Superhighway, The South Caucasus



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The Eurasian Big Bang How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington

By Pepe Escobar

"Information Clearing House - 23/7/2015
- Let's start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on

<http://thehill.com/policy/defense/247864-pentagon-chief-to-allies-we-will-use-military-option-against-iran-if-necessary>

Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations -- the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS' New Development Bank) -- whose acronyms you're unlikely to recognize either. Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.


Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively

establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless

drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran's "nuclear weapons

program." And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally

culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO

summit in Ufa, Russia -- a place you've undoubtedly never heard of

and a

meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S. And yet sooner or later,



these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and

assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over

the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world

works crumble.


The Eurasian Silk Road
With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure

<http://atimes.com/category/pepe-escobar/> of following closely, Iranian

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the

near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician's hat: an agreement

that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric,

largely manufactured conflict.
Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan, as a

preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new

dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big

Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and

the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a

possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.


Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin's Russia to

have


merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic

Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington's

imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an

evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of

state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a

vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in

Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens

post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this

new structure.
If you read

<http://mea.gov.in/Uploads/PublicationDocs/25448_Declaration_eng.pdf> the

declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike

you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And

that's not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS

nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of

the language of sanctions



<http://rt.com/news/272764-brazil-rousseff-brics-result/>.
Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at

Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings,

President Putin, China's President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister

Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance



<http://russia-insider.com/en/news-conference-vladimir-putin-following-brics-and-shanghai-cooperative-summits/ri8665>

what


is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a

series of interlocking `new Silk Roads.' Modi approved more Chinese

investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to

solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at

least one case, led to war.
The NDB, the BRICS' response to the World Bank, was officially launched

with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major

infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating

as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur

Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other

developing nations across the Global South -- all in their own currencies,

which means bypassing the U.S. dollar. Given its membership, the NDB's

money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian

Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed

<https://soundcloud.com/radiosputnik/brics2015-ndb-new-source-of-support-luciano-coutinho-bndes-president>,

in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like

Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB's attempt to break a

Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility

of someday aiding <http://sputniknews.com/business/20150708/1024384989.html> in

the reconstruction of Syria.


You won't be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure

Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to

complement each other's efforts. At the same time, Russia's foreign

investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of

understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an

informal investment consortium in which China's Silk Road Fund and

India's

Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.


Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance
On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great

Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the

Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and

Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to

maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting

plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region.

>From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via

a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports,

pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New

Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon's

doctrine of `Full Spectrum Dominance' -- a vision that already has Chinese

corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.


For Beijing -- back to a 7% growth rate

<http://www.ibtimes.com/chinas-q2-gdp-growth-stable-7-exports-housing-sales-pick-growth-investment-2008965>

in

the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country's



stock markets -- it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise,

production will be relocated from the country's Eastern seaboard to its

cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of

just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking `belts' of

the new Silk Roads.
Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its

energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope

that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the

Eurasian Economic Union -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and

Kyrgyzstan -- will translate into myriad transportation and construction

projects for which the country's industrial and engineering know-how will

prove crucial.
As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran,

Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America's Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil,

Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration

process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as

little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field

of economic cooperation. Its countries, especially four Central Asian

`stans' (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever

more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and

the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which

they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an

alternative G8.
In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations

and the SCO have now called upon `the armed opposition to disarm, accept

the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and

other terrorist organizations.' Translation: within the framework of Afghan

national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a

future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind,

would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese,

Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction -- finally!

-- of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would

benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They

would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)


Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence

of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance

that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.

Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent

document

<http://www.scribd.com/doc/267511978/Toward-the-Great-Ocean-3-Creating-Central-Eurasia>

puts


it) to the `interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road

Economic Belt' into a `Greater Eurasia' and a =80=9Csteady, developing, safe

common neighborhood' for both Russia and China.
And don't forget Iran <http://sputniknews.com/asia/20150716/1024715212.html>.

In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to

join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif,

made clear recently to Russia's Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the

two countries strategic partners. "Russia,' he said, `has been the most

important participant in Iran's nuclear program and it will continue

under the current agreement to be Iran's major nuclear partner." The same

will, he added, be true when it comes to `oil and gas cooperation,' given

the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in `maintaining

stability in global market prices."


Got Corridor, Will Travel
Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A

developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical

example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India

and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation

corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and

the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this

corridor, while India is planning to use Iran's southern ports to improve

its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that

will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar

Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just

scratches the surface of the planning underway.
Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a `Greater

Europe'


stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of

Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington's thumb, ignored him.

Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that

would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and

then on to Berlin).
Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment

funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects

that, to date, remain largely under Washington's radar, a free-trade

Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to

Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding

development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the

ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They

represent the New Great -- emphasis on that word -- Game in Eurasia.


Location, Location, Location
Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new

Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the

head of Iran's Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy

adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses



<http://www.khabaronline.ir/detail/367227/Politics/diplomacy> that security

in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus

hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.
As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location,

location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region

apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads

for trade from the Central Asian `stans.' Little wonder then that Iran will

soon be an SCO member, even as its `partnership' with Russia is certain to

evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter

of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country's

leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they

are planning.
That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, as

TomDispatch



<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176007/tomgram:_alfred_mccoy,_washington's_great_game_and_why_it's_failing_/>

haspreviously reported



<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175935/tomgram:_pepe_escobar,_eurasian_integration_vs._the_empire_of_chaos/>,

represents Beijing's response to the Obama administration's announced

`pivot to Asia' and the U.S. Navy's urge to meddle

in the South China Sea.

Beijing is choosing to project power

<http://www.forbes.com/sites/bensimpfendorfer/2015/06/15/chinas-silk-road-policy-implications/>

via


a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines

<http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/06/china-high-speed-rail-roundup.html> that

will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion,

the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in

Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that

country on its way to the Persian Gulf.
A New World for Pentagon Planners
At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir

Putin told



<http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/watch-live-charlie-rose-interviews-vladimir-putin/>PBS's

Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine

partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats

off, then, to the `leadership' of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has

managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying

their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.


Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely -- especially given

the war hawks in Congress -- to truly end Washington's 36-year-long Great

Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from

sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to

integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington's

warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.


NATO's supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip

Breedlove, insists that the West must create



<http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2015/03/22/nato-commander-west-must-fight-russia-in-information-war/25178383/>

a

rapid-reaction force -- online -- to counteract Russia's "false



narratives.' Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously

considering



<http://www.dw.com/en/us-could-potential-deploy-missiles-in-europe-to-deter-russia/a-18497133>

unilaterally

redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly

labeled

<http://www.wsj.com/articles/joint-chiefs-chairman-nominee-says-russia-is-top-military-threat-1436463896>

Russia


America's true `existential threat'; Air Force General Paul Selva,

nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded



<http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/07/russia-not-isis-greatest-threat-us-general/117733/>

that


assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in

that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the

meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional

war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and

the Russians.
In response to the Ukrainian situation and the `threat' of

a resurgent

Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric

militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly

obsessed with what's being called

<http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/06/us-ukraine-crisis-nato-insight-idUSKCN0PG18E20150706>`strategy

rethink' -- as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European

soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out

<http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article42330.htm>, even financial

politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO's new Cold War 2.0.


In its latest National Military Strategy

<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176026/tomgram:_pepe_escobar,_the_pivot_to_eurasia/.%2520Forget%2520about%2520Eurasian%2520integration.%2520For%2520the%2520Pentagon,%2520the%2520only%2520foreseeable%2520future%2520is%2520death%2520and%2520destruction%2520%25E2%2580%2593%2520be%2520it%2520asymmetrical,%2520preemptive,%2520first%2520strike,%2520Prompt%2520Global%2520Strike%2520(PGS).>,

the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation

(as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is `growing' and identifies

<http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/2015_National_Military_Strategy.pdf>

four


nations as `threats': North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three

nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are

depicted in the document as `revisionist states,' openly defying what the

Pentagon identifies as `international security and stability'; that is, the

distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary,

turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington's brand of militarism.


The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the

Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear

weapons. And that `military option' against Iran is never

<http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/07/15/420377/US-Iran-nuclear-conclusion-nuclera-deal-Vienna-Israel-Ash-Carter>

off


the table.
So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and

the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and -- though it

was barely noticed in Washington -- the post-Ufa environment, especially

under a new White House tenant in 2017.


It will be a spectacle. Count on it. Will the next version of Washington

try to make it up to `lost' Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain

China or the `caliphate' of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or

spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or

vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran

simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?


In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of

the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing

economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin

told Xi on the record: "Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China]

will overcome all the problems before us."
Read `efforts' as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing

BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those

China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a

new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for

Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for
RT andSputnik, and a TomDispatch regular

<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175959/tomgram:_pepe_escobar,_inside_china's_%22new_normal%22/>.

His latest book is Empire of Chaos



<http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608881644/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>.

Follow him on Facebook by clicking here



<https://www.facebook.com/pepe.escobar.77377>.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook

<http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book,

Nick Turse's Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in

Africa <http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608464636/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>,

and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret



Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World

<http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>.
<http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/>

The Silk Road Superhighway: Kazakh Transportation as Geopolitics

By Matthew Crosston
journal-neo.org - 6/7/2015



It is entirely common for a federal government to make budgetary promises to improve infrastructure. Indeed, every country around the world is full with both promises and jokes lampooning said promises to ‘fix roads, fill potholes, and make it easier to get around and do business.’ Kazakhstan in 2015 is no different in that case from any other government. But there are some interesting regional, transregional, and truly global infrastructure projects Kazakhstan is including alongside the standard local fixes that could carry significant geopolitical weight moving into the future. Indeed, just how successful Kazakhstan is in ‘fixing the potholes’ across its country could become incredibly important to countries like Russia, China, Turkey, Germany, and the United States. Who knew road work could be so exciting!

First consideration goes to the Western Europe – Western China International Transit Corridor, which is a massive construction endeavor aiming to reinvigorate what is basically a modern ‘Silk Road,’ only with all the amenities of modern highway construction. The 7.5 billion USD infrastructure investment will basically connect Western Europe with an efficient superhighway to Western China (and subsequently through China’s highway system all the way, theoretically, to the Pacific Ocean) through Kazakhstan. The 2,840 km transit system has approximately 2/3 of the cost coming from the World Bank, ADB, EBRD, and IDB. Kazakhstan for its part highlights the importance of this corridor not just in its economic reports but in its foreign policy and national security briefings, with its ultimate goal to decrease the delivery of goods from China to Europe from the current road travel time of 45 days down all the way to just 10. This new Silk Road ostensibly rests on Kazakhstan for being the crucial ‘middle passage’ that makes the Europe to Asia connection possible. In its own policy briefings Kazakhstan emphasizes this need not just as a better conduit for improving business and trade but literally connecting the world via roadway in a peaceful and open endeavor. It is somewhat surprising much of the Western world has not capitalized on this massive human geopolitical transportation project more heavily.

Kazakhstan also intends to improve its national rail system, hoping to increase its operating efficiency and reach by being the main connector of the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean and the chief conduit for China to reach Central Asia and beyond to Western Europe. Many fine scholars and analysts in the past have made note of Kazakhstan’s irrefutable central location as the connection point between Europe and Asia. While history has often made reference to Istanbul (nee Constantinople) as the ‘Gateway to the East,’ that is largely a contextual reference based on a history that is now past. The true ‘gateway’ with proper infrastructural development, both economically and politically, could be Kazakhstan. It finally seems fully aware of this potential, given the new emphasis within its budget, foreign policy, and national security policies. More interesting still will be to see, if this comes to fruition, how much there will be a cascade or copy-cat effect on the rest of the Central Asian ‘Stans. Kazakhstan perhaps more than any other Central Asian country has focused on open trade, transnational communication, participation within the global economy, and the rejection of radicalization and extremism. Perhaps most importantly, it has done this with a much less heavy-handed approach when compared to its immediate neighbors in the region.

Even more fascinating has been the launch of a completely new project called the ‘Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran’ (KTI) railway. In the past decade this project could have run afoul of the United States, what with its adamant stance on keeping Iran limited and constrained in terms of economic development as long as it was still under suspicion with its nuclear energy/weapons program. Recent improvements in Iranian-American relations, or at least the prospect of those relations warming up and becoming more tenable, could prove to be of tremendous benefit to Kazakhstan and especially the KTI railway. Most in the West have viewed the softening of relations between Iran and the West strictly from the much larger perspective of global geopolitics and conflict. Much less time and attention has been paid to the numerous payoff effects such a thaw may have on the immediate region. Kazakhstan clearly has not missed this relevance and is deftly trying to position itself to capitalize on potentialities.

Kazakhstan is not without its problems. Any country that has been ruled by the same leader, and his commensurate favorites, uninterrupted since 1991 cannot be absent the typical corruption, nepotism, waste, and bureaucratic inefficiency notorious with any government so dominant and assured of its place and future. But time and accomplishment has clearly shown Kazakhstan to be a fairly ‘dull’ country. And in this case, ‘dull’ is quite positive: it means it is relatively stable, reliable, and absent the turbulence that has been seen more than once in several of its neighbors: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Iran just to name several. Kazakhstan may not be the most open or the most perfectly democratic of systems. But it clearly values calm stability and economic progress, not in the sycophantic and somewhat irrational way that Turkmenistan does, but in a way that sees its future as an active member of the global economic system and wanting to be considered a valued partner in the larger global community of politics. Until recently, only Azerbaijan in the Caspian region could consistently lay claim to that goal. Kazakhstan seems intent on making that club now a twosome. As the saying goes – once could be an accident, but twice would be a trend. If Kazakhstan continues to play out this new role as Central Asia’s stable giant, as the Caspian’s reliable ‘Stan, then it may just end up finding itself in a much more important geopolitical role: the conduit from West to East, the solidifier of a new Silk Road, and the foundation upon which a new era of communication, trade, and transportation develops between the two dominant civilizations in human history. Not bad for a strategy that basically started with a desire to just fix a few potholes.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Security and Intelligence Studies program at Bellevue University, exclusively for the online magazine

 “New Eastern Outlook”


First appeared:http://journal-neo.org/2015/07/06/the-silk-road-superhighway-kazakh-transportation-as-geopolitics/

First appeared:http://journal-neo.org/2015/07/06/the-silk-road-superhighway-kazakh-transportation-as-geopolitics/



The South Caucasus And The Limits Of Western Power

By Andrew Moffatt

brookings.edu / horizonweekly.ca - 22/7/2015

Brooking - If Russia is a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" as Churchill famously claimed, then the South Caucasus region is a conundrum cloaked in obscurity and tangled in Gordian knots. The three countries of the region--Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia--have distinct ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic, and geopolitical identities that have been shaped and hardened over a millennia-long history in the craggy Caucasus mountains. But despite the tremendous differences among the constituent countries, they are typically grouped together in Western policy considerations. This grouping has led to shortsighted policy approaches at times, but it is naive to expect the average policymaker in Washington or Brussels to appreciate the granular complexity of a South Dakota-sized region in Eurasia.


That said, the countries of the South Caucasus today share a similar and arguably unique challenge for Western policymakers.
Stability and integration in the region are clearly important to the West--the region is a strategic global crossroads and a traditional scrum of great power interests. But the region is also of relatively low priority, and the West has limited capacity for major initiatives that might solve the region's intractable problems. Within this reality, there is still much that the United States, Europe, and particularly Turkey can do "below the radar" to encourage the countries of the region onto a better trajectory. Together with my colleagues Fiona Hill and Kemal KiriÅ~_ci, we have published a new report, Retracing the Caucasian Circle--Considerations and Constraints for U.S., EU, and Turkish Engagement in the South Caucasus, that proposes a policy of "soft regionalism" that focuses on long-term efforts, mostly at the societal level, that might move toward overcoming the fragility and fragmentation of the region.
High hopes, dashed
Soft regionalism is not the traditional Western policy in the region.
Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the South Caucasus

countries drew considerable Western attention for three principal reasons: The newly independent nations held untapped potential for developing a new route for exporting Caspian hydrocarbons; the West aspired to further its associations with Euro-Atlantic institutions to enhance security and stability on the periphery of Europe; and the West had an interest in offsetting long-standing Russian and Iranian influences. The countries appeared keen to transform their states into modern democratic societies, integrate their countries into the global economy, and forge new political and security relations with the West.


In the late 1990s and early 2000s, this orientation--combined with assistance from the United States and Europe--led to considerable economic and institutional developments and reforms in the South Caucasus, including the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in May 2005 and a promise to Georgia in 2008 that it would one day join NATO.
Since 2008, however, the trajectory of the South Caucasus has radically changed. The brief Georgian-Russian war in August of that year starkly revealed Russia's interpretation of the region as part of its privileged sphere of interests. For the West, other foreign policy crises--from the Arab Spring to Syria and Iran--overwhelmed its agenda and led to an unintentional disengagement in the South Caucasus. The global economic downturn eroded its international aid financing, and the eurozone crisis diminished both the attractiveness of EU integration for aspirants and the EU's own appetite for enlargement.
Western-supported efforts to bring about greater stability and regional integration, including the EU's Eastern Partnership framework and the diplomatic push to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, have either foundered or backfired. Lastly, changes in the global energy market, including diminished European demand for gas, have revised strategic calculations about the value of Caspian resources for European energy security.
More recently, Russia's annexation of Crimea and its backing of separatists in Eastern Ukraine have heightened the sense of insecurity and instability in the South Caucasus and exposed the risks for post-Soviet states of pursuing a Western orientation. Russian assertiveness has also reignited long simmering tensions surrounding the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh where violence has reached its highest level since the ceasefire was signed in 1994.
Ready for the long haul?
The West now finds itself looking toward the South Caucasus with fewer resources and less overall foreign policy capacity, while the three countries themselves no longer share an unambiguous orientation toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Across the region, government officials and

the foreign policy elites have become cynical about Western intentions and commitment after the failure of past policy initiatives. The United States and Europe have struggled to formulate a sustainable policy approach that adapts its vision for the region and the tools available to engage it with the changing geopolitical realities.


This reality means that the United States and EU need to resist the urge to "fix" the region through grand gestures that will ultimately lack sustainability. To make the most of limited capacity and sustain efforts over the long term, U.S. and EU engagement should complement and potentially build upon Turkey's regional involvement. More generally, for the countries to move forward in resolving conflicts and improving internal and external relations, an informal regional understanding needs to be created that could encourage trade, civil society contacts, and conflict management exercises. The absence of formal regional institutions, or even a shared sense of belonging, remains a fundamental impediment to untangling the knots of the South Caucasus and realizing its potential.
This is a long-term policy, requiring great strategic patience. It lacks the satisfaction of grand pronouncements and media-friendly summits. But it is a realistic expression of both Western interests and Western capacities, and it holds out hope of effectively promoting regional integration into a more stable order.
http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2015/07/17-south-caucasus-western-power-moffatt
http://www.horizonweekly.ca/news/details/70468




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