Getting to Uni-Stan

by Nathan Hamm on 4/10/2007 · 7 comments

What is “Uni-Stan?” It is a horrible name that appears in this story for an organization that most likely will never see the light of day. “Uni-Stan” refers to Kazakhstan’s proposal to create a Union of Central Asian States modeled on the European Union. The proposal really is not such a bad idea.

“It is an utterly natural thing to do,” Mr Nazarbayev said in an interview with Kazakh TV.

“This region can fully provide itself with food, fully provide itself with energy, and so on. It would even have a self-sufficient market. One wonders what else one needs.”

Mr Nazarbayev’s spokesman, Erlan Baizhanov, told The Times yesterday that Kazakhstan wanted to create a single economic space with free movement of goods, people and capital between the five former Soviet republics. “It is close to the model of the European Union. The purpose of the project would be to ensure security, economic growth, political stability and prosperity for the region,” he said.

The proposal is also not a new one. Kazakhstan has been kicking around the idea for a couple of years, and it is no coincidence that President Nazarbayev did so a couple times in 2005, when the collapse in relations between Uzbekistan and the West made Kazakhstan the international community’s first choice as regional leader. Turkey has recently promoted its own vision of a Union of Turkic States to compete with Kazakhstan’s more limited union. As the comments to that post indicate, the idea goes even further back. Uzbekistan promoted the idea of some sort of union of Central Asian states with its poorly received slogan, “Turkistan is Our Common Home.”

Writing for The Times, Tony Halpin notes that there are great hurdles to the realization of Nazarbayev’s vision. He just identifies some of the less important ones.

Most of the countries are ruled by authoritarian leaders who pay scant regard to human rights and democracy.

Far more important is that all of the countries are ruled by leaders who do not much like or trust one another. It is far from coincidence that both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan push the idea of a more united Central Asia at times that they are perceived to be most powerful in the region. Central Asia would greatly benefit from fewer barriers to the movement of people and goods across borders in the region. But it is quite understandable that the region’s governments might be worried that agreeing to freer markets gives Kazakhstan, with its greater wealth, too great an opportunity to swoop in and dominate the economies of its neighbors to the south. And it was reasonable for other Central Asian states to assume that Uzbekistan viewed union with its neighbors to dominate them.

The European Union, of course, is not something that Europe’s foreign ministries hammered out over a couple wild weekends in Brussels. A similar project in Central Asia should grow out of a uniquely Central Asian Schuman Declaration creating something analogous to the European Coal and Steel Community from which a Central Asian Union can slowly develop. The European Union now says that it wants to have a much closer relationship with Central Asia’s governments. The United States says that it wants to foster the sovereignty of the region’s states and help them sever their ties to Russia. Perhaps then the US and EU should consider a massive commitment of aid to improve water and electricity infrastructure in exchange for an effective Central Asian Water and Electricity Community. If it keeps working, money keeps coming to improve irrigation systems, water management, and electrical plants and lines. If not, the money stops.

Of course, this will never happen. Here in the US, for example, we have far more important foreign policy concerns than Central Asia such as increasing broadcasts to Cuba and Venezuela.

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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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narcogen April 11, 2007 at 1:26 am

Further destabilization of the region would certainly lead to more Western support of the idea. I’m sure each of the regional leaders is, understandably, naturally suspicious of the proposal. I am sure it would be viewed as the start of political, rather than merely economic, hegemony for Kazakhstan in the region.

Joshua Foust April 11, 2007 at 6:15 am

Heaven knows the one thing missing in this world is a Central Asian Coprosperity Sphere.

Joshua Foust April 11, 2007 at 6:26 am

Also, that name reminds me of the Unimog, an outrageously useful truck built by Mercedes-Benz. My guess is, a customs union could also be outrageously useful, especially if it’s supported by the EU and the US. The trick is, getting anyone in this damned town to think the area warrants attention is kind of like tilting at windmills. Big, profligately spending windmills.

Nick April 11, 2007 at 7:10 am

Hang on – didn’t the Central Asian Cooperation Organization recently merge with EurAsEc? which, as far as I’m aware, leaves only Turkmenistan yet to join one of the main regional orgs. And if that happens, then a de facto ‘Union of Central Asian States’ will exist – with Russia deeply involved, and others watching closely …

Nick April 11, 2007 at 7:15 am

Actually I should have said: ‘And if that happens, then a de facto framework for a ‘Union of Central Asian States’ will exist’. An actual, living, breathing UCAS will take a bit longer.

Joshua Foust April 11, 2007 at 10:38 am

Nick, it’s “Uni-Stan.” Can’t you read?

Ataman Rakin April 12, 2007 at 8:26 am

Well, other than that, there is also this possibility for a supra-regional integration, an done with a very big internal market at that: 😉

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