The Caspian Region

The Wider Caspian Region

The Caspian region has become the commonplace term used to refer to the Southern newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. We nevertheless use the term "the Caspian Region" to signify a wider group of states whose security relations are tied together by the Caucasus and Central Asia. These include the Caucasian states of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia; the post-Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but also Afghanistan, the historic heart of Central Asia, as well as regional powers bordering them, such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China, and Russia.

Even before the events of September 11, the Caspian region was important to western and other state and corporate actors for several interrelated reasons. These reasons have all been amplified by the war on terrorism. Firstly, The Caspian region is home to largely untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that, although they are far from approaching the size of Persian Gulf Reserves, are a significant addition to the global hydrocarbon market. Even the most restrictive estimates of oil reserves in the Caspian (ca. 70 billion barrels) surpass the proven oil reserves of either Europe, Africa, or the rest of Asia. Secondly, lying at the heart of Asia, between Russia and the Islamic Crescent to its South and stretching from NATO member Turkey in the West to China in the East, the Caspian region's strategic importance would be significant even without its oil and gas resources. Central Asia, for example, is surrounded by five present or forthcoming nuclear weapon states: Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran. What happens in the Caspian region significantly affects the future of Eurasia, the heartland, and thereby also the United States. Thirdly, the region is the core of a zone of instability, with severe existing as well as numerous potential ethnic and sectarian conflicts. In the 1990s, the region was marred by wars in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Chechnya, southeastern Turkey, and between Azerbaijan and Armenia. None of the problems has found a lasting solution. The region remains an area of unrest with weak state structures and governments that often fail to control their territory. This has attracted religious and political extremist organizations to the region, as well as significant transnational crime, most prominently the drug trade. The region, through its structural instability, therefore presents a threat in terms both of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism.

September 11 drove home to policy-makers in the United States and the West in general that the wider Caspian region is a region of their vital interests, and that being absent from the region, allowing its instability to deepen, was a direct security threat to the West. The turmoil there had bred extremism and had allowed terrorist groups to root themself in various parts of the region, even to the point of controlling a state, Afghanistan. It threatened to take over parts of other states, such as Chechnya in Russia, the Pankisi gorge in Georgia, parts of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, transnational crime is rising in importance throughout the region, with the drug trade and human trafficking becoming an increasing security concern for Europe. It in turn worsens the security situation in the region itself and challenges attempts to stabilize an pacify the region.

The predicament in the wider Caspian region is clearly a priority issue in international security. However, the region, its history, cultures and politics are little known in the west or other parts of the globe. As these states increasingly take part in global economic and political interaction, the need for accurate analysis of the developments and security issues in the region is growing. With the national and regional complexities surrounding the states around the Caspian, governmental, international, and corporate actors operating in the region need solid analysis and advice relevant to their specific spheres of activity in the region. Cornell Caspian Consulting provides this analysis and advice