Tuesday, 15 December 2015 21:16

The EU, Central Asia, and the Development of Continental Transport and Trade Featured

 

1512TransportBy S. Frederick Starr, Svante E. Cornell, and Nicklas Norling

Silk Road Paper, December 2015.

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kz-cn-rail

 

Executive Summary

Since the collapse of the USSR, a number of initiatives have embarked on the momentous task of rebuilding trade and transportation arteries between Europe and Asia across Central Asia and the Caucasus. The underlying logic has been two-fold: by reconnecting the landlocked new states of the region to their neighbors and historic trading partners, the heart of Asia can become a land corridor connecting Europe to Asia. This was the rationale behind the EU’s visionary but poorly implemented TRACECA project (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia). Since 1998, when the EU co-hosted a conference in Baku on the “Restoration of the Historical Silk Road,” the term “New Silk Road” has gradually gained currency in various projects. Indeed, the past several years have seen a competition of initiatives. The U.S. launched its New Silk Road (NSR) initiative in 2010, which nevertheless failed to get the endorsement from the Presidential level needed for its success. Three years later, China launched the Silk Road Economic Belt, itself part of China’s broader “One Belt, One Road” initiative. More recently, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the region, India has also begun to formulate its own version of Eurasia’s emerging web of transport while Pakistan is pursuing a similar but as yet uncoordinated course. It is remarkable that the EU, which pioneered the concept of reopening continental transport a generation ago, is now absent from the list of leaders of this grand project.
Overland trade links offer great potential benefits, but the future corridors are still only in a formative stage. Approximately 90% of the cargo from Europe to China is transported by ship via the Suez Canal; most of the remaining volume is flown by air, without stopping in Central Asia. The overland corridors tra-versing Central Asia are shorter compared to sea routes, but are presently inefficient and, in some cases, relatively expensive. Several obstacles must be overcome in order to make overland transport corridors genuinely competitive. Notable among these are slow borders, but other causes for delay range from impediments in the legal, economic, tax, organizational, and banking sectors to issues with security and communications. Furthermore, there is to create integrated and competitive intermodal transportation and logistics networks across the region. The fact that Central Asia is landlocked compounds these problems, but the heart of the problem is that bottlenecks in one section of a given route end up affecting the entire route and those trading along it.
Thus, overland trade is still in its infancy. This is in spite of China’s increasing trading ties with Eastern and Central Europe, which would be particularly suitable for overland or intermodal transport. China’s trade with Eastern and Central Europe increased nearly tenfold from 2002 to 2013, from $6.8 billion to $58 billion, while its trade with all CIS countries together expanded from $16 billion to $153.5 billion during the same period of time.
Initiatives to ameliorate the situation have been many. But importantly, initia-tives from within the region itself have played a crucial role. All Central Asian states have formulated and begun to implement transport plans and strategies, which have resulted in improved connectivity within the region and new links to Afghanistan. The integration of road and rail networks stands out as particularly promising. Examples include the recently inaugurated Zhezkazgan-Beineu and Arkalyk-Shubarkol rail links in Kazakhstan, completed at a cost of $2.7 billion. The section between Shalkar and Beyneu alone will reduce the transport distance between China and Europe by more than 1,000 kilometers (625mi).
A second and equally important Eurasian land corridor is that which connects India/Pakistan with Europe and the Middle East. Traditionally, Central Asia played a significant role in this ‘southern corridor.’ while development of this route lags at least a decade behind the China-Europe corridor, its long-term potential may be even greater, given the striking demographic characteristics of the Indian Subcontinent as compared with China. Turkmenistan’s new road and railroad, the Pakistan port of Gwadar, Afghanistan’s ring road, and the TAPI pipeline are all elements in this future emerging and vitally important corridor.
In 2011, Kazakhstan completed construction of the 293km (182mi) Zhetygen-Korgas rail link, which connects southern Kazakhstan with the Chinese bor-der—thereby opening a second China-Europe link across its territory in addi-tion to the Alashankou border crossing. The construction of the $1.9 billion Angren-Pap rail link in Uzbekistan, which will connect Uzbekistan’s portion of the Ferghana Valley with the rest of the country, has been approved, and the 928km (576mi) Uzen-Bereket-Gorgan railway now links Kazakhstan and Iran via Turkmenistan.
To the West, opportunities for transit across the Caspian Sea have increased considerably. Kazakhstan has developed the port of Aqtau; Turkmenistan has substantially upgraded the port at Turkmenbashi; and Azerbaijan has built a major new port facility at Alat, south of Baku. Together, these three states have invested tens of billions of dollars in port development. Adding to this are the newly expanded Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi, and the projected port of Anaklia.
These developments dovetail with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, which will connect the Azerbaijani and Georgian railroads directly to the Turkish rail net-work; and the Marmaray project, which is digging a tunnel beneath the Bospo-rus that will connect the European and Asian sections of the Turkish railroad system. When these two projects are completed, a high-capacity railroad link from the shores of the Caspian to the European Union will be operational. Fur-thermore, the existing railroad connections to Georgia’s Black Sea coast provide the opportunity to develop the maritime linkages to the Central and East European railroad system, particularly the Viking Railroad. This Railroad, forming a Baltic-Black Sea link, connects Lithuania with Ukraine via Belarus, a 1776km-run over 52 hours.
From a European perspective, a number of steps can be taken to further the development of continental trade. A key question is the placement of logistics hubs in the region. Being centrally located and bordering every Central Asian country including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has considerable potential. And for future links between Europe and South Asia, Turkmenistan is also centrally located. Yet as European leaders consider the expansion of trade and transportation links, Kazakhstan occupies a unique position in at least three ways. First, by virtue of geography, Kazakhstan forms a one-country link between China and the Caspian Sea. Second, Kazakhstan is the Central Asian country that has gone the farthest in terms of deepening institutional cooperation with the EU, as evidenced by the signing of an enhanced EU-Kazakhstan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement this week. Third, in a regional context Kazakhstan offers an improving business environment crucial to the establishment of a trading hub: In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 ranking, Kazakhstan jumped 12 positions from 53rd the previous year up to 41st. If the EU were to take a more strategic approach to continental transport and trade, it will be natural to focus initially on the partnership with Kazakhstan. Importantly, this should not occur at the expense of a focus on other regional countries, but as a first step in what must ultimately be a regional effort that includes all Central Asian states, including Afghanistan.
The heady potential has fed the prevailing enthusiasm, but it has also caused all parties involved to underestimate the challenges that must be addressed before such potential can be achieved. Four issues in particular deserve greater attention.
While the program thus far has been dominated by governmental initiatives, future success will be determined as much or more by market realities, and will depend on the private sector. Therefore, the first challenge is to embrace and build upon the inevitable shift from activities initiated and funded by governments to market-driven activities in many spheres, which must exist for the project as a whole to succeed.
Second, it will be necessary to develop “soft infrastructures” along the route itself. Given its location and its status as the largest transit country between Europe and China, Kazakhstan is a likely and suitable locus for such activities, which should be developed both by Kazakhstan-based businesses and by Ka-zakhstan-Europe partnerships in many fields. The development of such busi-nesses will benefit shippers in the East and West and at the same time be essen-tial to garnering the local support within Kazakhstan, which will be instrumental if the New Silk Road is to be sustainable.
Third, the geopolitics of transport and trade must be fully understood and their importance acknowledged by clear-headed policies. It is in the interest of both Europe and Central Asia to ensure that no power gains the ability to monopolize or control the emerging East-West transport corridors. This means utilizing the existing road and rail links to Northern Europe via the Russian Federation. But it also calls for balancing that route with the emerging corridor to Europe via the Caucasus and Turkey. Failure to achieve such balance will imperil the success of the entire project.
Finally, to assure that both present and future phases of the project are informed by the insights to be gained from the analysis of longer-term developments on the Eurasian continent, and specifically the likely rise of the Indian sub-continent as a major economic force by the year 2040. Acknowledging this emerging reality, the European Union, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian states should combine forces to advance the opening of the most direct and efficient transit corridors between Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. These should be understood as an essential but separate supplement to the Silk Road Corridor, and their creation should be a task for the transit countries themselves.
The successful development of continental trade requires close and effective coordination between the European Union and the transit countries of Central Asia. Such coordination must be based on their common interests as defined through careful analyses by both sides and by close consultation between them. Rather than define their common interests narrowly in terms of trade, the two sides should extend the inquiry into all matters that will be affected by the opening of Eurasian land corridors, including nearly all sectors of their economies, diversification, governmental institutions, national and regional security, and demography.

 

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  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
     
    Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
     
    But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
     
    Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
     
    To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
     
    Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
     
    Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
     
    Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
     
    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
     
    By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
     
    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
     
    Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
     
    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
     
    Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
     
    Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
     
    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 
     

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...