Problems and prospects of central Asian integration

Abstract. The article considers points of view expressed by various scholars on problems and perspectives of Central Asia region integration. The influence of globalization and regionalization on integration processes is evaluated. There are examples of evaluations of opportunities and obstacles for region integration. The significance of Central Asia region for integration on Eurasian space is showed. Ways by which integration of the region can be implemented are emphasized.

Central Asia is the biggest bloc of post – Soviet space after Russia. It has a binding position between Eastern and Western parts of Eurasia, and also is an intermediate between developed North and developing South. It is one of the world’s richest in resources region. Geographical location and availability of resources make Central Asia a significant theatre of global political game. In order to better understand the essence of the problem, let’s take a look at those processes, which, to our opinion, come into conflict with the process of globalization. In order to do this let’s use the scheme of analysis of Central Asia modernization, offered by M. Cheshkov considers processes of modernization of Central Asian States in postSoviet period through a prism of three possible trajectories of development: traditionalization, peripherization, and globalization [1].

Process of traditionalization means a return or revival of pre-Soviet historical and cultural traditions. Peripherization is understood as an inclusion into global distribution of labor, dependence on global market, and especially foreign capital. Globalization is conceived as retraction into structures of global commonality of mankind. Current transformation of post – Soviet Central Asia is deployed in such way, that this region kind of simultaneously dives into three different spaces (East, South, World) and into three different time periods (past, present, future).

Revival of traditions is increasingly mainstreamed on a range of parameters – from statehood and national identity, culture and religion to different types of particularisms (ethnic, patrimonial, territorial). Process of traditions revival has at least two historical senses: firstly, return to the past as a movement backwards, or, secondly, revival of the past is not a movement backwards, but a movement forward. These two senses of the revival have different interpretations of transformational processes. Revival of statehood, national and cultural identity traditions looks like a deepening movement, and has a positive influence on transformation processes. Revival of religion contains both return to the past and moment of revival, necessary for transformation, and, therefore, revival of religion (including fundamentalism) is an ambivalent phenomenon. In this regard processes of traditionalization and transformation don’t look like mutually exclusive. They are quite compatible. The revival of pre – Soviet traditions generates various options for current transformations, creating obstacles only in exceptional cases. Traditionalization in this regard cannot be fully identified with demodernization, but, at the same time, the fact that in some cases traditionalization leads to “increase of backwardness”, because it is related to reduction of economic activity and exodus of Russian speaking population from Central Asia. Processes of traditionalization take place in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Peripherization of the region was originally connected with a relatively low level of its social and economic development, which was increased by the collapse of USSR. It is an obstacle, which countries of Central Asia need to overcome during the process of transformation. Preservation of the region as merely a source of resources for a long period of time will only maintain a backwardness, creating new sources of social tension and political extremism. At the same time under certain conditions and well directed state policy commodity focus of economy can be a vehicle for development and This will lead to strengthening of dependence on transnational capital as a main source of development, but at the same time will have a positive influence on transformation processes. Peripherization takes place in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Globalization means an integration of Central Asian countries into global economy, policy, and culture. Globalization will undoubtedly accelerate transformation processes, but at the same time will have a strong influence on system of power relations and national culture. Globalization can be a significant source of region development, especially since China and Russia are actively engaged in it.

Process of globalization has certain threats not just for sovereignty of a state, but for a national culture, therefore reactions for globalization challenges are not of the same nature. Tendency to minimize the dependence of society and state on globalization with the purpose to preserve, for example, identity of culture or national sovereignty goes along with conscious choice of inclusion to the globalization processes. But the main tendency of modernity is the strengthening of integration processes. Modern world economy, being global by nature, increasingly develops in the direction of strengthening of integration processes on the global and regional (subregional) levels [2]. All countries of the world strive to more fully implement their economic interests, expand spheres of influence, and form new opportunities through cooperation with partners in the framework of regional integration organizations.

Research of social and economic processes in global economy in the last quarter of XX century and in the beginning of XXI century clearly shows the following. Countries, which more actively participated in integration processes on subregional and regional levels, cooperated not only in the framework of one integration organization, but with other ones as subjects of world economic linkages, formed more significant opportunities for sustainable development of national economic systems. New realities of a globalizing world make us evaluate the significance of integration on post – Soviet space in a different way. In conditions, when system of international relations is in search of new balance, and overall balance in the world is characterized by predominance of one pole represented by the USA and NATO, imposed stereotypes and euphoria of first years after Cold War were changed by anxiety over future. Not just traditional threats of national security, connected mainly with armed international conflicts, were preserved, but new threats like international terrorism, dissemination of drug trafficking, ecological threats were added. Preservation of national identity and right for independent foreign policy remain one of the most important tasks, faced by countries, situated on Eurasian space. But not all countries of the region are equally interested in development of integration processes. In some of the Central Asian countries processes, having contradiction interactions with globalization demands, were developed.

Kazakhstan is an only country in Central Asia, which sticks to globalization policy, initiating processes of regional integration along with Russia and China. In March 1994, president of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev floated the idea of Eurasian Union creation. There is a need to understand that processes, which define contours of geopolitical relations on Eurasian space, are linked with restructuring of the whole system of international relations – transition from bipolar geopolitical environment to multipolar international relations.

If traditionalization and globalization are the result of conscious choice of political actors, peripherization is a result of social processes determinacy. Traditionalization with reliance to the past and globalization with reliance to the future require political will. These processes are similar to each other in this regard. But if traditionalization doesn’t suppose inclusion of people in social transformations, globalization, on the contrary, doesn’t make sense if citizens don’t have a right for civil and political activity. In this regard process of globalization is closely intertwined with democratization, but is not identical to it. In contrast to traditionalization and globalization, peripherization limits freedom of choice of social agents, leaving to them the right to choose one or another modernization option or development model in the framework of peripheral development. Therefore, we can make a conclusion that only Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are interested in integration of Eurasian space. Other countries are either in a state of choice of national development priorities, or pursue the path of traditionalization or peripherization.

In current conditions integration of Eurasian space for both Kazakhstan and Russia is a priority foreign policy task. The development of integration processes means, above all, strategic solution of national security problem. From a viewpoint of strategic interests, practical realization of Eurasianism could increase centripetal tendencies both in political and economic scale. President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev says about the importance of regional cooperation in Central Asia: “Of course, the best option will be to create a Union of Central Asian States, where I include Kazakhstan and Central Asia. We’ve got a lot in common: 55 million people, no language barriers, mutually complementary economies, we are situated at one space, there are transport and economic links. This market can provide itself with food without an entry to external markets, can fully provide itself with energy and etc. What else do we need? We respect each other. Population will only benefit from it. We just need to talk about it more. Media must say about our cultural, historical proximity, and future of our kids. This integration will be economically beneficial and contribute to our security in general” [3].

Really, integration of Central Asia is necessary in order to maintain stability and peace in the region provide national security, increase its role in CIS problems solution. Social stability of Central Asia is guaranteed by cultural union of Turkic, Iranian, Tajik and Slavic peoples, their ability to get along and tolerate each other, becoming a part of Eurasian culture. In addition, as Uzbek researcher F. Tolipov said: “in Central Asia overlap interests of many global and regional powers, this allows to avoid hegemony of one of them. Therefore, Central Asia can play an active role in global geopolitical restructuring, which might happen in XXI century” [4].

German researcher M. Kaizer reminds that Central Asia is a region, where from ancient times coexisted many groups with different identities. Eurasia always distinguished by high mobility of population. In the region of Central Asia exist many examples of formation and strengthening of interethnic links. According to Kaizer, interlocking of ethnic and religious links, modern mass media create one world. Discussions on globalization showed that policy cannot be implemented only in framework of one state: “new context of social life and activity, new social spaces, crossing borders of national states” [5].

Bruno De Cordier offers countries of Central Asia to take Islam as a basis of regional identity. Majority of population strives for decent life, and faces a lot of competing ideas on regional identity. And also he asked a question: “Does the Eurasian form of Islam have enough potential to not just be a classical religion and political system, but also form of identity and social system, hence becoming an Islamic society?” He thinks that Islam could contribute to the solution of such problems like healthcare, alcoholism, and drug addiction. He says: “Of course, historical and geographical factors led to differences between Arab, Malay, and European Muslims, and population of Central Asia can offer something peculiar to world community of believers” [6].

Erkesheva points out peculiarity of integration processes on post – Soviet space of Central Asia: “In order for integration to be effective, there is a need to have all key pieces of integration – independent states, ready for the integration. In order to achieve that states have to go through stage of statehood establishment and state development. In conditions of change of world culture, beginning from the collapse of bipolar system, everything was involved in disintegration processes. Exactly in this aspect we need to consider the provision about disintegration – as one of the formula’s element, which leads to integration. Other integral parts of this formula are processes of erosion and strengthening of identity” [7].

So, regional integration of Central Asia is in the process of establishment on the basis of many factors: cultural, civilizational, political, religious, economic and etc. From one side, region has a big potential for integration, from the other side, there are objective factors, which are obstacles to this process. In order to establish and maintain general security and prosperity of the whole region, and not just separate states, much attention should be paid to issues of regional identity construction, based on common ground of Central Asian countries, because there are objective prerequisites to integration of the region. Process of gradual integration of separate countries of the region, based on economic and cultural aspects, can be evaluated as a positive phenomenon [8]. Now the Central Asian countries need to understand that without integration and supranational authority in any form, which could regulate contradictions in the country and the whole region, the economic, cultural, human development will be relatively slow. Countries of Central Asia should use this favorable chance to consolidate the region on the basis of regional identity and common regional interests. Because history might not give the second chance to turn from raw materials suppliers into developed region.



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  8. Kaliyeva A.A., Berdibekova Zh. Neobhodimost’ integracii v Central’noi Azii: mif ili realnost’// Izvestiya KazUMOiMYA imeni Abylai khana. Seriya “Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya i Regionovedenie”. – 2016. № 3 (25). S.49-57 [in Rus.].
Year: 2016
City: Almaty