Flashpoint: Central Asia
Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies (a joint appointment at Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), and Director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies (PAWSS), a position he has held since 1985. Before assuming his present post, he served as Director of the Program on Militarism and Disarmament at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. (1977-84).
Professor Klare has written widely on U.S. defense policy, the arms trade, and world security affairs. He is the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum (Metropolitan Books, 2004), along with many other books. He is also the defense correspondent of The Nation, a Contributing Editor of Current History, and has contrbuted to numerous publications.
Michael Klare serves on the board of directors of the Arms Control Association, and the advisory board of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch; he is also a member of the Committee on International Security Studies of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Question: What will a conflict in Central Asia look like?
Michael Klare: Now, remember central Asia was under Soviet rule for many decades and before that it was part of the Czar’s empire. This is an area of many different ethnic groups the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Kazaks, the Kyrgys and to some degree the territories that these groups inhabited were never really clearly demarcated. They're nomadic people, so they have traditional lands, but the Czars came in and said okay, this is where we are going to draw the lines and then the Soviets came in and drew the lines, and they don’t really bear close approximation to where the particular people live. So, there are a lot of competing claims to where their territory should be. In these areas lie uranium, lie natural gas, and coal and oil. So, there are some struggles underway as to who should control what of these valuable areas. So, you could have fights in the future that a territorial over, who should get these prized areas. Now, on top of that you have a situation where most of the governments in these areas are control by people who were once part of the Soviet bureaucratic machine. They look and smell like old Soviet bureaucrats, right? They claim to be democrats, but they are really not, they are really very authoritarian and with the new wealth coming from oil and natural gas, well most of that money winds up in the hands of their friends, relatives, and cronies and a lot of the wealth disappears into hidden bank accounts somewhere, I am thinking particularly of the family of Nursultan Nazarbayev,the President of Kazakhstan, which is the wealthiest of these countries. Meanwhile most of the people in these countries are not getting any wealthier, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. These are also predominantly Muslim countries. They have been a target of the Muslim, Islamic fundamentalist movements of past decade or so. I am talking of groups associated with Osama Bin Laden and Al-Quaeda and some of the other extremist movements that we've heard of. And these groups are finding some sympathy among the people of these areas who find the governments to be corrupt, to be insensitive to their needs, to be pocketing all the money and giving it to their cronies. So in the future, you could have uprisings like the kind we've had another countries that are fueled by Islamic propaganda, but really at heart are about the mal-distribution of resource wealth, kind of life what I was talking about in the Niger delta area where the elites claim all of the resource wealth, conditions of deteriorating, the masses of the people are getting worse off, not better, conditions of deteriorating and this is exactly the kind of fertile atmosphere in which extremist movements take off and this is what I worry about. This is an area of geopolitical competition between three great powers. This is the one part of the globe in which the United States, Russia and China are all competing for influence at the same time. The United States, after the break up the Soviet Union, saw this is an area to gain geopolitical advantage and new sources of energy. So, first President Clinton and now President Bush have made an all-out effort to gain influence in the stands as their called Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, if I get them all right, but Russia which use to control this area under the Soviets and before that Czars also wants to control this area, but now you have the third factor in here, China which is very worried about instability at its back door, the Chinese region of Xianxang, which is the Muslim majority area in it is extreme west and it is one part of China that is predominantly Muslim, they are very worried about instability in this area, so it wants to have a see on what goes on the Central Asia and it has growing economic interests in this area, also wants to tap into the resource riches of central Asia has also become involved. So, you have three great powers all seeking geopolitical influence at once. The United States is providing military aid, Russia is providing military aid and now China has stepped in collaborating often with Russia through a new organization known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or the SCO. And the SCO jointly with China and Russia together provide military aid to this Stans. If this isn’t enough, both the United States and Russia have established military bases in region, namely in Kyrgyzstan, they have about 50 miles apart a US base on one side of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and a Russian base on the other side. I mentioned all of this, because you have to imagine a situation in the future with the some kind of upheaval in Kyrgyzstan between one political faction against the other, the military breaks apart and somehow or another Americans soldiers and Russian soldiers get caught up in the conflict and overnight we have a shooting war.
Geopolitical jockeying for oil, gas and uranium will cause friction here, Klare says.