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1. Introduction: The Geopolitical Context

When the cartographers of 17th century Lisbon or Paris or London were faced with the task of how to fill in the blank parts of their maps, they relied on one of two principles - the principle of land, or the principle of ocean. If they assumed the world was ocean it was easy enough to leave the blue of the huge encompassing sea as dominant, surrounding the continents as if islands. Alternatively, the principle of land ensured that all the unknown areas must be extensions of the continents, with uncharted coasts which would one day be encountered by hapless mariners.

We can see two important examples of this. Using the principles of land, navigators who first touched the coasts of Western Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand were tempted to assume a huge Great Southern Land, which in reality turned out to be a somewhat smaller Australia. Another crucial example for explorers was whether Siberia and North America were joined by a land bridge or not. Those using the principle of sea assumed that there must be a navigable passage which would separate the two lands, and allow the possibility of a northeast summer passage from Russia down to Japan and China (see Bobrick 1992). This latter hypothesis turned out to be true, but due to the icebound nature of the Arctic Seas, the passage is only partly useable for a short time of the year. The Soviet Union for a time invested considerable effort in trying to develop this naval route and its coastlines, at one stage even envisaging a Arctic Sea coast railway that would help develop the Siberian north (Bobrick 1992). This proved to be impractical, while the development of fleets of icebreakers, including nuclear powered ones, made this north-eastern passage only partly useable for high volume trade. The strategic implications of this limited passage remained serious, in that the Soviet Union and then Russia were still forced to maintain separate fleets (in the Baltic/Atlantic, Black Sea/Mediterranean, Caspian, and Pacific) with little ability to bring them together for strategic operations. It was precisely this limitation which allowed the US and its allies to conceive of a policy of global containment for Soviet forces during the Cold War.

In the 19-20th centuries, with the seas covering more area than the land, sea power (combined with air power in the 20th century) became dominant in generating large empires. Sea power was important in the ancient Greek, Carthaginian and Roman spheres of influence, and indeed the Romans, traditionally a land-power, could only beat the Carthaginians in three major wars by becoming dominant naval powers (Goldsworthy 2001). Sea power became the crucial resource by which the European powers spilled out of Europe to dominate the globe. It was at first a central aspect in the integration of the Mediterranean economies from the 15-17th centuries, then created Atlantic and Pacific empires which were the source of much of the wealth of industrialised Europe. The classic analysis of sea power remains Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, originally published from 1890-1893, but a number of other major works have shown the economic and military significance of sea power in several crucial phases of history (Braudel 1984; Hanks 1985; Ross 1990; Staley 1992). In the negative sense, of course, such navies can be used for 'gun-boat' diplomacy, as they were often used by European colonial powers in Africa and Asia, or to control and break up earlier trading networks, as occurred in the Indo-Pacific region with the arrival of Portuguese, Dutch and English fleets.

In both World Wars there were decisive battles for the control of the oceans, the Atlantic being crucial in both conflicts, and with control of the Mediterranean and Pacific being of major significance in the Second World War. In the Cold War, control of the seas, the development of airpower (see Ball 1988; Mason 1987; Quester 1986), and finally control of orbital space (implied through the development of satellites and through research on missile defence technology) became crucial aspects of global dominance. This has now been merged with a 'revolution in military affairs' based on the control of information within a conflict or battlefield. Indeed, the Soviets during the period from the sixties through to the eighties pushed their entire technological base to extreme degrees to be able to challenge the US at sea throughout most of the world's oceans. Even today, with Russia operating a much smaller if modern fleet, the US still wields enormous influence through its ability to send massive carrier groups to any region it wishes to impress with its power; whether off the coast of Libya, Syria, in the Persian Gulf, or in Northeast Asian waters. As late as 1994, a major carrier group off the coast of China, engaging in war-games, found itself in an almost hot confrontation with Chinese naval and air units (Bearman 1995, p165). This was only dress rehearsal for the deployment of two-carrier groups off Taiwan in March 1996 in response to Chinese missile tests and exercises designed to influence Taiwan's foreign policy in the lead up to their presidential elections. In the American case in particular, at least parity at sea has been crucial in maintaining her NATO alliance, in her indirect dominance of Latin and South America, and her ability to 'hold the ring' in influencing all of East and Southeast Asia (Pollack 1993). Air and sea power remain crucial in US policy towards Iraq, and towards the Middle East in general. Air power, likewise, was crucial in the strikes on Afghanistan through late 2001 and early 2002, and indeed tilted the balance of forces towards the Northern Alliance much more effectively than the infiltration by small numbers of U.S., British and Australian special forces troops. Likewise, operations in Iraq have been support by coalition ability to retain open waterways through the Persian Gulf (in spite of some Iranian counter-claims), while in North-East Asia the U.S. and Japanese navies have not yet been offset by modernising Chinese forces, now viewed as a 'green-water' navy with sizeable submarine and missile capabilities.

Likewise, in trade terms, oceanic trade has been a crucial basis of economic wealth for Britain, Japan and the United States. Even in Europe, the cost of longer sea-routes is often lower than road, rail or even barge transport costs, e.g. most freight from the Danube basin still passes by sea through the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean into northern Europe, in spite of the new canal joining the Danube and Rhine River basins. Approximately half the goods sent from Siberia back to European Russia go by extremely long sea routes rather than by over-crowded rail routes. In fact, only highly developed and efficient rail networks can even begin to compare with the bulk handling capacity of naval bulk transport. To date, even with the development of extensive rail networks in Europe, North America, and very long lines in China, Central Asia, and Russia, such networks are far from fully developed. Likewise, extensive canal systems linking the Danube and Rhine River basins, as well as river canals interlinking the Baltic, Arctic, Black Sea and Volga river systems are still unable to provide the volume of through trade to compare with ocean-going transport. Although efforts have been made to modernise trans-continental railways across Eurasia, these have yet to displace longer trips by bulk carriers. This emphasis on sea-going trade has also heightened the strategic of certain parts of the world, especially on 'choke points' along sea-lanes-of-communication (SLOCs), e.g. in the Sea of Japan, in the south China Sea, the Malacca Strait, the Persian Gulf, the rock of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, the entrance to the Black Sea, and the Suez and Panama Canals.

However, this was not always the case. Once one of the main economic and cultural routes passed over thousands of kilometres of mountains, deserts and steppes to connect distant civilisations. For almost four thousand years, though most notably from the 3rd century B.C. onwards, the old Silk Road connected a dozen cultures on the swaying backs of camels carrying silk, incense, gold and rumours between China, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Levant (see Boulnois 2004; Franck & Brownstone 1986). The term 'Silk Road' itself (die Seidenstrassen) was first used by the German geographer, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (d. 1905), due to fact that silk was one of the main products that travelled the full length of the route (Christian 2000, p1). Down this road also flowed religious ideas: Gnosticism, Manicheanism, Nestorian Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam all flowed along this route, influencing major civilisations including Persia, India and China (Franck & Brownstone 1986; Puri 1987; Wallis 1928; Klimkeit 1993).

Power and wealth in Eurasia was often related to an ability to control at least part of the Silk Road, which was important to Persians, Parthians, the Kushans, and to Tang China. The open access to the road depended in part on the stability and policies of key powers along the route: from about 100 B.C. - 100 A.D., during the second and third centuries A.D., during the Tang period and the early Islamic era (7th-8th centuries), and in the Mongol period trade flourished (Christian 2000, p3). For the Mongols control of these routes helped the creation of their empire, and for central Asia it created an oikoumene (a unified cultural world) more extensive than the Mediterranean civilisation of the Romans and Christendom (see MacNeill 1963; MacNeill 1986). Indeed, for a short time the Mongols controlled the heartland of Eurasia, giving them privileged strategic access into East Asia, Eastern Europe and South Asia.

The traffic on the road was lessened by two trends - the conflict which developed between Islam and Christendom, and then the alternative sea route around Africa which brought ships from Portugal, Spain, then Holland and England around the Cape of Good Hope then into the Indian and Pacific Oceans. By the 18th century the Silk Road had been reduced to secondary importance, with more significance for regional trade rather than the exchange between Europe and Asia. It was this intrusion of European naval powers into Arabic, Indian and Asian waters which destroyed sophisticated existing trade networks and an international system which was relatively stable (Amin 1992; Chaudhuri 1990; Frank 1994).

The dominance of the sea routes, first because of their load carrying capacity, then as a strategic doctrine, means that sea-power came to dominate the world-view of the European conquerors, then of the nation-states of the modern world (Li 1990). With the understanding of the need to control the air over strategic assets and battlefield, which clearly emerged during the course of World War II, the doctrine was reborn as a combined air-sea power strategy. Reaffirmed in the first Gulf War, in NATO operations in the Balkans, and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this doctrine remains with us in the 21st century as a rarely challenged dogma. However, as we shall see, there are rather different ways to conceptualise economic and military power. The heartland, world-island and associated rim-land concepts developed by H.J. Mackinder and others reacting to him have a posed a wider framework these air-sea power approaches.

With the 1990s eclipse of the Cold War, with renewed economic growth in East Asia, and a transformed political landscape in Central Asia, the time seems ripe to reconsider these doctrines. This remains true in spite of the breakup of the Soviet 'Empire' (contra the view expressed in Hauner 1992, pp253-254, originally formulated in 1990). The Soviet Union was once held together by centralised authoritarian government, by concerns for a central administration of resources, and secured by military forces guaranteeing internal and external security throughout the region. As a result, the Central Asia region was artificially linked into the Soviet economy, and cut off from eastern and southern trade routes.

Central Asia has re-emerged as a region more integrated into global economic and energy flows, but also a region buffeted by indigenous nationalistic and religious expectations. While the borders with Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and China remained closed, Central Asia could be nothing more than a periphery to Moscow. True economic efficiency remained elusive, as did the development of sympathetic cultural and social resources. Today, this trend is slowly being reversed in spite of the interruption posed by 2001 and by authoritarian governments in most of the Central Asian states. The potential for resource development, more balanced agricultural planning, and industrial development is so high that some commentators have spoken of a new Silk Road (Jones 1995; Ma 1984). The EU, Central Asian states, and China (see Xinhua 2003a) have used this metaphor of a modern 'Silk Road', hoping that resources, manufactured goods, and services to flow along improved east-west infrastructure. However, as we shall see, these routes can also be conduits for transnational threats: organised crime, drug and illegal arms flows, illegal migration, international terrorism as well renewed forms of national competition. Thus from the late 1990s the US recognised via the Silk Road Strategy Act that US interests in the region, including access to energy resources to diversify dependence away from the Persian Gulf, might be compromised if the region became too unstable, or subject to too much control from 'regional hegemonic powers' such as Russia or Iran (Leech 2006, pp55-56).

It must be stressed, however, that this new regional development cannot be entirely based east-west inter-linkages. To date the Russians have found that even with the re-development of the trans-Siberian railway and the recent completion of the BAM linkup, this is too weak a trend to create a unified economic and cultural space. New east-west and north-south connectivities, both in terms of trade and culture, is needed to create a powerful focus of interactions between Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India, as well as to China and the Pacific Ocean. As we have seen, such economic and cultural interactions have already begun, e.g. Turkish trade into Central Asia and Iran and Kazakhstan relations with China, but have yet to be deeply entrenched (see Henze 2001). The rebuilding of Afghanistan from 2002 may also offer opportunities for new north-south linkages through Pakistan and westwards through Iran.

We can now turn around the sea and heartland doctrines proposed by Mahan and Mackinder to suggest that the doctrine of land, (continental integration) combined with air-power and communication technologies, can once again play a significant role for the future of Europe and Asia. The issue here is of complementarity. This means that the region of Greater Central Asia will remain crucial for Eurasia as a whole, with a continued strategic significance (in economic, cultural and security terms) for Europe, Russia, the Middle East and China. Indeed, the wider region of Eurasia remains a crucial security complex (see Buzan 1983; Buzan & Waever 2003) that has shaped core global agenda over the last decade. Indeed, only if Central Asia develops adequately (economically, politically and culturally), will Eurasia become a genuine super-region with a high level of positive interaction, as distinct from a loose historical and geographical unit.

In order to clarify this trend it will be helpful to look at the way the modern-nation state has operated amid the parallel trends of regionalism (see Ohmae 1993; Rubenstein & Smolansky 1995) and incomplete or uneven globalisation (Holm 1995). Alongside the newly independent states of the region, the policies of several key international players are very important in stabilising world affairs. The US, Russia, Turkey (a member of NATO and aspirant to the EU), Iran, and China all play an important role in the future of Eurasia as a whole. Furthermore, Central Asia and Siberia are two of the few resource-rich regions that have not yet been fully exploited by the world economy, and represent a reserve which may become even more strategically significant in the twenty-first century. Likewise, the trade potential and cultural resources of Greater Central Asia are only now becoming widely recognised, with particular concern from UNESCO, the EU and China that these resources be protected and developed. UNESCO in particular has sponsored research and public awareness programs designed to enhance and protect the cultural legacies of Greater Central Asia. UNESCO also hopes to promote responsible tourism in the region, and has helped provided guidelines and funding in repairing historic buildings, recognising tourism in countries such as Uzbekistan have been little developed (Rao 2001).

To understand the full drift towards a re-balanced world system, we will need to examine the interaction between the 'principle of land' and the 'principle of ocean' in more detail. A parallel question is the relationship of sea-power (Mahan) to the theories concerning the heartland and rimland of Eurasia (as developed by Mackinder). It turns out that these theories are not so much in opposition as complementary (as noted by Hauner 1992; see more on this below), and are crucial for the future of Eurasia. What role this Eurasian region will play in reacting with the emerging Pacific-Rim dominant economic structure, and the existing Atlantic cultural-military-economic structure, also needs to be considered. Before proceeding further, however, a brief discussion of the explorers, traders and religions of the old Silk Road will be undertaken.

2. Explorers and Traders

The several linked trade routes that crossed Central Asia, along with related routes across southern Russia and branching lines, can be called the Silk Roads and Steppe Roads. The steppe roads (also called the Sable Road) were slightly more north of the Silk Road, pasting north of the Caspian Sea, and trading expensive furs into Russia, Byzantium and Europe (Christian 2000, p7; Brobrick 1992, p68). These routes predated historical records and probably from as early as 2000 B.C.E. had begun to link the Afro-Eurasian region into one 'world system', in part based on the movements and trade needs of pastoral peoples in the heart of Eurasia (Christian 2000, p1, p4). Aside from silk and other precious trade goods, livestock, human populations, 'disease vectors, languages, technologies, styles, religions and genes' followed this route from pre-historic times (Christian 2000, p1). Technologies that passed along these routes included the compound bow, crossbows, the stirrup, gunpowder, printing and papermaking (Christian 2000, p10).

Early explorers along the Silk Road region included Chinese, Indians, and as late comers, Europeans such as Marco Polo (circa 1254-1324 AD). A recent controversy has raged over whether Marco Polo really did reach China, or simply collected inaccurate hearsay and combined it with earlier Arabic sources. We can test this in one description made by Marco Polo of an important city in China. Marco Polo recorded a vivid impression of the city of 'Su-chau' (Suzhou) in the province of 'Manzi' during the thirteenth century: -

This description of the bridges (though their number is exaggerated), the silk industry, and general wealth of Suzhou seem generally accurate. Frances Wood, however, has argued that there are no mountains near Suzhou, that ginger is usually grown further west, and that rhubarb never has been produced there.(Wood 1995, p90) The point concerning rhubarb can be conceded, but the hills near the adjacent Lake Taihu are fertile and today produce a range of agriculture products, including citrus and stone fruits. On this basis, it would be possible for Suzhou to have been a local market for a wide range of agricultural products, perhaps vaguely sketched, though not accurate in all details, by Marco Polo's Description of the World. (Wood 1995, pp140-151) Frances Wood's thesis that Marco Polo did not reach China is rejected by other writers, who argue that Marco Polo was influenced by the fantastic elements found in the travel genre of the time (Hall 1996, pp43-48).

The long route between East and West was in sections extremely difficult: the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts, the Karakum and Kyzyl Kum (Uzbekistan) Deserts (Rashid 2001, p34), and the mountain heights of the Tien-shan and Pamirs make the route both difficult and dangerous. However, the route itself was not a continuous one, but was established through flows of silk from China to Rome via different groups that controlled sections of the road. The Huns, followed by the Turks and then the Persians controlled key sectors of the trade route, followed by the Mongols and the Mongol-Turkish empire of Timur (Puri 1987, pp11-16). China reasserted strong control of the eastern section of the route between A.D. 630 and A.D. 658 with the defeat of various Turkish tribes and renewed control over the Tarim Basin and Eastern Turkestan (Puri 1987, p48). This, of course, later on in part would become the strategic region of Xinjiang, which today remains a problematic area for Chinese political and economic governance. From the seventh century onwards the Chinese had to face two powerful enemies in this region: the Tibetans from the south and Persians from the west, and for a time in the late 9th century a locally powerful Uighur kingdom (Puri 1987, pp49-50).

Diverse trade goods, ideas and religions flowed down this road in both directions. Artistic and musical influence were also diffused, with Indian, Persian, Chinese, Tibetan and Uighur influences detectable in Central Asian paintings (Puri 1987, p258). However, only high prestige physical goods would be traded at great distances between east and west: -

Silk, though the most valuable of items, especially when it reached the West (Rome and Constantinople), was in fact one among many items: 'Silk actually composed a relatively small portion of the trade along the Silk Road: eastbound caravans brought gold, precious metals and stones, textiles, ivory and coral, while westbound caravans transported furs, ceramics, cinnamon bark and rhubarb as well as bronze weapons.' ( )

In the long run, of course, the secret of silk production from silk worms could not be kept within China, in spite of severe decrees against the export of worms or cocoons. Sericulture eventually spread, at first in Khotan, according to legend smuggled secretly out of China by a princess (Puri 1987, p246), and then further east into Byzantium at a later date (Ma 1984). However, for many centuries, and even today, Chinese remained among the main suppliers of high quality silk.

The oasis cities of Central Asia flourished when engaged heavily in this local and international trade. One of the centres that flourished from the 16th century onwards was Bukhara: -

Last, it has been suggested by Andre Frank that what we call 'modernism' was generated out of millennia of interaction among Afro-Eurasian civilisations, interacting along the Silk and Steppe Roads (Christian 2000, p11). If so, then future integration of Eurasia in the 21st century may have a significant impact on the current world system and globalisation processes today (see below).

3. Buddhism on the Silk Road

The Silk Road not only connected East Asia with Central Asia and then to the Western world. It also, via branch roads, opened up communication among China, India and Persia (Puri 1987, p3), and later on via northern routes trade and cultural contacts with Russia. As we have seen, Buddhist culture had a key role to play in unifying Tibet, and in providing a key cultural influence on Mongolia. Buddhism ultimately came from northern India, but 'Central Asia was the earliest and, on the whole, the principal source of Chinese Buddhism' (Puri 1987, p147).

Moreover, it seems likely that Khotan in Central Asia was one of the key transmitters of Buddhism into both Tibet and China (Puri 1987, p13). By the second half of the third century monks and scholars such as Chu-she-hing and Moksala were busy compiling Buddhist texts, translating them into Chinese, and sending them on into China (Puri 1987, p61). Khotan for a time was a centre of Buddhist learning: -

Such centres also became key staging posts in the transmission of ideas from India into China, with the idea of the itinerant monk bring back Buddhist texts becoming one of the standard types in Chinese literature: -

The Chinese traveller, Fa-Hien (Fa Xi'an), visited Khotan around A.D. 400. Even by then the small city was worthy of note: -

Other cities in Central Asia were also involved in the transmission and adoption of various forms of Buddhism, including centres such as Kashgar, Osh, Kucha, Yarkand, Balkh and Bamiyan (Puri 1987, p85). Other exponents such as Kumarajiva were important in introducing key Buddhist texts into the Tarim Basin, and over fifty of translations became important classical texts in China (Puri 1987, p121). Chinese control of Khotan lapsed around 791, and around 1000 A.D. Muslim rule took over the city (Puri 1987, p57).


Within China itself, the Silk Road itself continued eastward from the three branching paths near Tarim Basin, leading to one of the most important artistic centres for Buddhism in the world. The Grottoes of Dunhuang, which have hundreds of paintings on religious and secular themes, are internationally famous. From here the main trade route continued eastwards to Chang'an (modern Xi'an).

Although Buddhism was largely pushed out of Central Asia by the arrival of Islam, with small pockets surviving in Russia and Siberia, we know of the vigorous spread of Buddhism in the region due to the large number of literary texts, monuments and art works that testify to its saturation of the eastern end of the Silk Road with Buddhist influences. This influences also spread into current-day Afghanistan, after being influenced by patterns of Indian and Greek artistic styles (Gandhara art). One of the major centres for Buddhist statuary and paintings is found in central Afghanistan at Bamiyan: -

In March 2001, the extremist form of Islam as developed under the Taliban led to the intentional destruction of these Buddhist statues and much other representational art in Afghanistan, in spite of world wide protests, including efforts by Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and the OIC to stop this 'cultural terrorism' (Moore & Constable 2001; Menon 2001). The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delegations from Japan, and protests from the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian Buddhist groups had little effect in stopping this destruction (ITAR/TASS 2001). In fact, this has been part of a much larger problem of neglect, destruction and illegal sales of artefacts out of war-torn Afghanistan for more than two decades (Lewis 2000).

The Silk Road was never fully destroyed but came under specific pressures that displaced its trade and communicative functions. The route around the south of the Tarim Basin was eventually partially lost due to shifting rivers that led to the abandonment of centres such as Miran, Endere, Niya and areas around Khotan (Puri 1987, p259). Likewise, once Islam displaced Buddhism in the region, this would change the geo-political orientation and art of the region. Economic forces would also weaken the long-distance trade along the route as the Ottoman Turks took control of the western end of the route and as Portuguese and then the Spanish began extending ocean trade routes between Europe and Asia. After World War II, of course, the region was largely divided under the fracture lines created by the Cold War, with armed borders restricting trade and influence along both east-west and north-south axes. Today, however, it is possible that new initiatives will begin to re-integrate these regions again. Positive communication and interaction along these 'new Silk-Roads' is crucial for the future of Eurasia.

4. The Eurasian Super-Region

As long ago as the early twentieth century work of the Sir Halford Mackinder (see Mackinder 1904; Mackinder 1962), it was realised that the Eurasian heartland had great significance in world affairs. His ideas were paraphrased by the geo-politician Nicholas Spykman as the idea that whoever controls the Rimland (the peripheral areas of the Eurasian continent) rules Eurasia; who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world (Spanier 1971, p3; see Spykman 1944). Somewhat similar ideas were developed by German geopolitical thinkers such as Karl Haushofer, and used by German leadership circles in World War II to justify their push into Russia, and their efforts to encircle the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Seas. Such connections, of which Mackinder himself knew nothing, have given a negative connotation to the term 'geopolitics' until recently.

Likewise, the academic and US government adviser Owen Lattimore in the 1930s and 40s had an intense interest in Asian frontier nationalism, and argued that strategic and economic geography can become political geography, i.e. transform political realities (see Cotton 1989, p59). This trend remained especially significant while imperial powers fought for extended continental territories. In the 19th century Russian, Chinese and British contests over control of Tibet, Persian and Central Asia became known as the Great Game (Meyer & Brysac 1999). The main British aim was to stop Russian extension of power in the east and especially in the south towards the Persian Gulf - from the perspective of the British Empire, this would have allowed the Russian (heartland) to interfere with their naval empire which effectively controlled a number of zones along the rim of Eurasia. Today, some writers would suggest that a new 'great game' is afoot, with the major players for influence including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and India (Rashid 2001; Malik 1992c, p36). This analogy is riddled with threat perceptions, and according to Roland Dannreuther is a false analogy which does not adequately take into account Russia's determination to remain a major influence, and the fact that the new states have themselves entered the international diplomacy arena with a certain skill (Dannreuther 1994, p5).

However, with the development of extended Atlantic and Indo-Pacific sea lanes and the Suez and Panama Canals, this Eurasian continental zone lost some of its strategic significance except for those states contiguous to Europe or its local sea routes, e.g. powerful regional states such as Russia, Iran, Turkey and China (all of whom have at times placed major military forces along their internal land borders). The significance of this Eurasia has once again increased, if placed in the wider social, economic and cultural aspects of strategic thought. Although a potential area of instability, Central Asia also represents a major economic and cultural opportunity for new positive relations to extend beyond European's border. Once divided by the Cold War and by Soviet-Chinese confrontations, Eurasia now has the potential to become more interconnected in the future as a zone of relative integration for security and economic affairs. Whether it does depends on a number of major factors, including the impact of Russian, Chinese and American policies, as well the way regional and cultural interests are developed. It also dependents on positive outcomes for Iraq and Afghanistan, which is far from assured through 2006-2007.

With the new strategic partnership between China and Russia, along with accords they hold with most of the Central Asian states (leading to the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), it is already clear that these two great powers already hold considerable leverage on Eurasian development. At present, tensions experienced by China and Pakistan with India continue to limit how far the southern zone of Eurasia can become integrated into new trade routes - the old route to the northeast out of India into China remains a militarised area though border trade has increased, while Pakistan-Afghanistan trade routes have not yet really stabilised for access into Central Asia. The questions remains open as to whether the U.S. and the EU will sustained a long term interest in Eurasia that goes beyond the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq. One major sign of western Eurasian integration has been a major transport project to connect Europe, the Caucasus Region, and Asia. Called the Transport Corridor Europe-Causasus-Asia (TRACECA), it has received serious support from the European Union in an effort to rebuild sea, road and railway links. Traffic across this 'new' Silk Road has grown 60% between 1996 and 1998, with up a $1 billion of infrastructure investment and loans eventually being needed, largely to be drawn from the EU and from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Armenian International Magazine 1998).

This Eurasian centre can be contrasted to a formal Atlantic-based maritime sphere based on North America and its interconnections with Western Europe (Fitzpatrick 1992, p18, p27), i.e. NATO 'plus'. This pattern had been modified by the following process during the Cold War: 'The incorporation of key fringe areas of the Eurasian landmass within the American hegemonic sphere produced a new 'bipolar' geopolitical configuration which may broadly be described in terms of an opposition between a Eurasian 'heartland' sphere and an expanded maritime-cum 'rimland' sphere.' (Fitzpatrick 1992, p21). With the fragmentation of the USSR, and the main phase of the Cold War over, a host of newly independent states (NIS) have emerged in the region. These include Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan between the Caspian and Black Seas. All these states are searching for modernisation, for improved standards of living, and improved communications with the outside world. In this context, although the reality of Russian influence remains strong, there has also been a marked increase in Chinese, Turkish, Iranian, Pakistani and Saudi Arabian influence in certain areas. Likewise, the US, European states and to a lesser extent, Japan (Yamamoto 1995) and South Korea, have tried to offer their services in a host of economic and political projects which will change the future of Central Asia and Siberia, a trend accelerated after 2001. It is also possible to argue that the hegemonic Atlantic grouping (North America, plus Western Europe) is now being dissipated by differing economic and political interests as the EU becomes more independent, and as the defensive reasons for coherence in the face of the Soviet Union declines. Both the EU-US and Japan-US relationship have come under a certain level of pressure due to trade frictions and divergences in foreign policy. The US made strenuous efforts during 1996-2006 to ensure that their alliances with Japan and through NATO remain vigorous and effective (e.g. note various concessions to bring France back into NATO, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and efforts to deepen military cooperation with Japan).

Furthermore, the region of Central Asia brings together the broader concerns of Eurasia. In a world where regional significances have increased since the end of the Cold War (see Chubin 1989; Cintra 1989), this super-region, often broken in two due to traditional conceptions of 'Asia' and 'Europe', needs to be reconsidered. This super-region has most of the features of a 'security complex' (see Fitzpatrick 1 992, p4; Buzan 1983, pp105-106). In other words, changes and impacts on one side of the super-region have direct effects on not only the centre, but also on the remote border. This was certainly true during the Cold War. For example, the whole doctrine of a US strategic attack on the Siberian coast of the USSR was based on the way this would reduce the willingness of the Soviets to engage in a fast drive through Northern Europe. Likewise, force levels on the Chinese border had a direct impact on modern forces which could be deployed in Central Asia and in the Warsaw Pact region. In the late 1980's, likewise, reduced tensions in Europe allowed the USSR to redeploy and modernise its divisions on its eastern borders, causing a short period of anxiety in both China and the West (Tai Ming Cheung 1992). Even in terms of the PRC's ability to project power against Taiwan and into the South China Sea, a relaxing of tension in China-Russian relations between 1989 and 1996 has been very useful (see Melmet 1998). In fact, today China seeks to build 'strategic partnerships' with Russia and continue trade with the US to ensure her own safety and long-term interests. However, rising competition over energy resources and threaten perceptions driven by PRC's military modernisation may undermine this pattern of practical accommodation.

This Eurasian complex is also being forged at the economic level. The Soviet Union attempted to use primary resources (oil, coal, metal, uranium, diamonds, timber, cotton, fishing resources) as part of an integrated economic scheme which draw these commodities into factories located most often in European Russia. It failed, however, to complete this economic integration. Soviet planners had hoped to balance the higher demographic growth rates of Central Asian communities, by encouraging the emigration of labour to zones which needed more workers, especially in parts of European Russia and even more urgently Siberia and the Far East. In this they largely failed (Hauner 1992; Lewis 1992). The question now, of course, is whether the current world regime, based on capitalism, modernisation and increasing political openness, can complete this transition without severe regional destabilisation, and without turning the region into a zone of exploited resources and cheap labour.

There are, of course, several ways to re-conceptualise world regions. One is to emphasise the new Asia-Pacific super-region, with four subregions of North-East Asia, South-East Asia, the South Pacific and South Asia, with the possible addition of Central Asia 'as a distinct and strategically important fifth subregion' (Malik 1992a, p33). However, this division is problematic. Recent studies of China, for example, suggest a growing economic and social cleavage between coastal provinces and those acting as hinterlands to Special Economic Zones, and truly interior provinces and Autonomous Zones, some of whom who have begun trade with the central Asian republics (see Segal 1994). Looking at prospects for the 21st century, it may be more effective to conceive of a Eurasian core, an Indo-Pacific oceanic grouping which includes the littoral of Asia and western Americas, and an Atlantic-based grouping which integrates with the littoral of western Europe. To what extent nation-states will be able to control and direct economic activity, as well as social and cultural trends, remains to be seen. Regionalism and globalisation may continue to be growing forces while the power of all but the most power of states (in relative terms) continues to decline.

5. Beyond the Geopolitics of Mahan and Mackinder

It is hard to over-estimate the influence, direct and indirect, that a writer such as Alfred Mahan has had on American strategic thought and on the way the U.S. has used its economic, military and diplomatic resources in the 20th century. It may be worthwhile to briefly explain his theories in a little more detail. Mahan began his research in the following way: -

Mahan thought his views gained especial verification from the outcome of the Napoleonic wars, in which the Continental system set up by Napoleon to try to isolate Britain from European markets, i.e. 'the Continental System' of the early 19th century (Mahan, II, 1892, p54, p897), in fact failed precisely because of British naval power, and in particular, the inability of the French and her allies to control Atlantic coasts and the Mediterranean (Mahan, II, 1892, p59, p69, p366, p372, pp394-5). The ability of the British to close most European ports and seriously inhibit coast trade was demonstrated clearly by 1801 (Mahan, II, 1892, p66). France in particular, with more than a million men under arms, would find this blockade to have serious economic impacts on her ability to effectively wage war (Mahan, II, 1892, pp376-377). Ironically, the British navy would be expanded and her overall dominance of the sea increased by the French challenge, as indeed would her role as a trade entrepot for non-European goods to Europe (Mahan, II, 1892, pp73-74, p374, p380). The possession by the British Isles of a great navy also offered the ability to project power at great distances, and to keep much of the negative affects of war removed from her homeland. This also suggested a policy in relation to 19th century European wars: -

This policy involved the setting up of a world-embracing empire with dominions and colonies, with massive penetration of trade and access to 'third world' resources which were then denied other powers. This was backed up by a strong merchant marine, a sizeable army and dominant navy, and formed the basis of Britain's power in the 19th century (Mahan, II, 1892, p389). Although Britain would not be able to sustain such a powerful role after World War II, this approach reveals several important correlations of attitudes. These include a correlation between commercial and naval power, and the tendency to link the ability to project power with proxy wars fought by allies.

Several parallels suggest themselves. In World War II, as well, the 'Fortress Europe' conception of the German military command could never be fully maintained while British and American fleets fought and won the 'battle of the Atlantic'. In the Pacific, during World War II the Japanese needed decisive naval victories to ensure the survival of the 'co-prosperity sphere' (see Barnhart 1987) her military planners needed to set up in East and South-East Asia in order to ensure access to strategic resources. It was the lack of total victories at Pearl Harbour and Midway which prevented her from securing needed economic resources and keeping the war away from her vulnerable island homeland. In the Cold War, American also combined dominance in trade and huge naval forces to project power globally and to aid her involvement in a number of proxy hot wars (Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian conflicts). Although the U.S. has not had colonies as such in this period, she had set up a close network of allies and economic dependencies which gave her some of the same strategic advantage: hence some writers have viewed the Pacific as an 'American Lake' (see Friedman 2001). It was precisely this policy which the Soviets could only partially emulate.

These historical trends have resulted in a huge literature emphasizing the dominance of sea and air power based on carrier groups, or at least strong defensive groupings, e.g. effective submarine and air forces (see Neilson & Errington 1995; Mason 1987; Ball 1988; Hanks 1985; Babbage 1988). In the post-Cold War period, there have also been efforts to re-conceptualise positive roles for these huge forces, including involvement in peace-keeping activities (Staley 1992; Ross 1990). These trends have also been supported by the fact that in the late 20th century considerable portions of the world's trade (18%) flowed across the Pacific and Atlantic (see Miall 1993, p31).

If we now turn to the theories of Mackinder, we can see how his ideas in some ways force a rethinking the dominance of this 'principle of ocean'. Mackinder's startling ideas on the way geography affected political life and world history were publicly announced in a now famous address to the British Royal Geographical Society in 1904, and gained further refinement in an article "The Round World and the Wining of the Peace" (Foreign Affairs, July 1943). They received their most complete treatment by him in his Democratic Ideals and Reality (1962). Although there were slight modifications in his ideas during this time, they focused on several key ideas: -

Criticisms and adaptions of Mackinder's position include:

6. The Inter-Regional Perspective

If one wishes to retain the separate regions of Europe, South Asia, and North-East Asia, then Central Asia becomes a crucial linkage area of interregional contact, which can either result in division and conflict, as in the Cold War and the very hot conflicts in Afghanistan, or in a new series of connections which allow more positive relationships. Here the long, 1,700 kilometre eastern frontier of Kazakhstan with China is a case in point - if viewed in a negative sense, the frontier is wide, porous, and a extremely expensive defence liability. It is also important to note that China's Xinjiang province consists of 60% of ethnic groups who have major connections with cross-border populations, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks (D'Antoine 1992, p36). In March 1992 there was already one call for an Uighur struggle for independence in China (Dannreuther 1994, p63), causing a tightening of security along borders and in Xinjiang. Through 1995-1998 incidents of riots, calls for independence, terrorism, and a harsh security crack down by China have made Xinjiang province once again an area of instability (see Raczka 1998). Likewise, China has pressured Kyrgyztan to take a stronger line in controlling Uighur minorities within their territory (Rashid 2001).

The region as a whole has not succumbed to the kind of fragmentation and destruction found in Afghanistan. The question is not so much one of direct threats, as of complexity and uncertain prospects. Major issues of concern for the future of Greater Central Asia include: -

We can sense how importantly this part of the world has been viewed at the level of security issues by the fact that all Central Asian states are members of the OSCE, and all are also members of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), indicating NATO and EU concerns over the security of the entire region (International Institute for Strategic Studies 1995c). Yet a genuine Eurasia system has not yet emerged. At best, we can see an ongoing Eurasian process (see Dawisha and Parrott 1994) which is bringing these communities into the world diplomatic and economic systems. There are also dangers in such a process: if NATO expansion and U.S.-China pressures continue, China and Russia could be forced even closer together, and be tempted to control the entire Eurasian heartland as a strategic resource.

Fortunately, there are factors in play during 1997-2007 that suggest these issues are now being seriously addressed, by necessity, by the international community. Whether they will have the staying power to help transform Central Asia into a progressive Eurasian process remain to be seen. Furthermore, a peacefully integrated Eurasia could seriously reduce tension over access to energy and metal resources in the 21st century, and help maintain a multi-polar world system with high levels of cooperation.

7. Bibliography and Further Resources


Further Reading