North-South Corridors While reading up

by Nathan Hamm on 8/20/2003

North-South Corridors
While reading up on the issues surrounding a settlement in the Caspian, I found this
follow up to stories on Pakistani and Iranian trade corridors to
Central Asia and India looking for influence in the region. I guess it
makes sense that Russia would be in the thick of all of this and trying
ultimately to create trade links that more or less force countries the
countries of the region to become tied to their powerful neighbors on
the periphery through trade. Ultimately, I think this is probably a
good thing for the region if for no other reason it might help
Uzbekistan to realize that it is in no position to be the region’s
hegemon. Maybe it’ll also get them to de-mine their borders, but I tend
to let optimism carry me away sometimes…
…but it’s all related to oil, I’d wager.I hate to
use the “it’s all about oil” argument, but these trade issues really do
have a lot to do with who will control and profit from oil in
Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Caspian. And, if issues in the Caspian
can’t be solved, the whole region suffers. Keeping the current
governments from exploiting their natural resources might be a good thing.

The Caspian (here
is a map) holds lots of oil, and, unfortunately, is bordered by five
states with very different interests. As it stands, a settlement is far
off, so Iran is moving ahead with plans to develop offshore production
probably to guarantee that it does get a good cut in any final
settlement and to keep pace with its neighbors. The main stumbling
block to a final settlement is how to divide the seabed and the
surface. Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan insist on a “median-line”
principle that breaks the sea up into what look like extensions of land
borders while Iran wants everyone to get a 20% share.
Turkmenistan changes its mind all the time on what it wants.
Tied into the talks too is the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that
Russia and would like to see fail because it bypasses them. This has
led to speculation that Russia will throw another wrench into
negotiations over the Caspian–not allowing any new pipelines to be
added. The uncertainty and the competion over the Caspian’s resources
is definitely encouraging the littoral states to just grab what they
can get to turn the de facto into the de jure. War may be an unintended
consequence and the US and Russian encourage their clients. Azerbaijan
has had serious confrontations with Iran and Turkmenistan,
and the US conducted naval exercises with Azerbaijan in a sign to Iran
to which Turkmenistan responded (Iran doesn’t have much of a navy in
the Caspian). Further, Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan have started to
plan forward defense of the oil fields that will feed the BTC.
Here’s a sunny scenario from one of the above articles that speaks
highly of the virtue of including demilitarization of the sea in any
final Caspian settlement:
“To skeptics who would call demilitarization pollyannaish, consider one
possible scenario: Russia will continue to feed the military appetites
of its southern neighbors, namely Armenia and Turkmenistan, worrying
the others, not to mention Iran and Turkey ?�?�?? whose army has
already begun to plan with counterparts in Azerbaijan and Georgia for
the forward defense of pipelines. A worse case scenario would have a
misunderstanding among arms suppliers come to a head right about the
time Baku-Ceyhan goes on line, as both countries, along with
Turkmenistan, descend into crises over presidential succession. In such
circumstances, the meager Caspian flotillas may trigger an escalation
or accident that nobody wants. “

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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