The Importance of Central Asia
This essay strives to give the reader an extensive understanding of Central Asia, particularly focusing on the cooperation in Central Asia and the importance of the region internationally. This essay will focus on the main features of cooperation in Central Asia, considering predominantly the main features of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which embodies four states in Central Asia, the Russia Federation and the People's Republic of China. Furthermore, in examining the importance of the region, this essay will primarily focus on the significance of the region for the two neighbouring regional powers – Russia and China. This essay will also examine the significance of the region for the United States of America, which is a faraway major power and economic rival to Russia and China. 2011 marked 20 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in which all the states of Central Asia were incorporated. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Central Asia, which comprises of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, has had to form bilateral and multinational relations, including the establishment of diplomatic ties. Central Asia’s landlocked location puts it at the heart of Eurasia, neighbouring regional powers, Russia (to the North and West) and China (to the East), and in close proximity with other potential regional powers, Iran (to the South) and India (to the South-East), however, also surrounded by the regions of South Asia (to the South-East), South-East Asia (to the Far South-East), the Middle East (to the South and South West), and Europe (to the Far West). Its central location has meant that the Central Asia region has often been an important aspect of powerful empires. It played a significant role in the strategic rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, known as ‘the Great Game’. Nowadays, its geopolitical location at the crossroads of Eurasia, in addition to the availability of rich energy resources in the region, make Central Asia an important region in the international arena. In addition, the five states of Central Asia, which all gained independence from the Soviet Union on the 25th of December 1991, have, since independence, had to engage in regional cooperation and integration. Cooperation in a region that continues to face a number of internal threats doesn’t come without struggle; however, together, the five states can solve many of their common problems and create a more stable and secure environment.
Central Asia consists of five former Soviet Union states - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It was on the 25th of December 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the five states were formally recognised as independent. According to Kavalski, “ethnically, linguistically, historically, and culturally, the states are similar”. Ethno-territorial disputes have, however, arisen because of the artificial borders established during the Soviet Union era. It has been a very complicated and dramatic affair for the post-Soviet Union states, though, according to Rahimov and Urazaeva, the five states have managed to resolve the issues arising from the artificial borders on a mutually beneficial basis. The five countries have all shared the Soviet Union experience, and are all at the same early stage in their nation-building process. Central Asia is located in the heart of Eurasia and surrounded by a number of regional and major powers, in China, Russia, Iran, and India. The five states are at the centre of a number of regions, including South Asia, South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, giving the countries of Central Asia access to a number of potential trading partners via trade routes. The region’s location, furthermore, may position the region to act as a potential transport corridor for trades between the Asia and Europe, or Asia and the Middle East. According to Mackinder, Central Asia is the heart of the world, and in order for a great power to control the world, Central Asia must be under its control. From a strategic perspective, Central Asia is significant for the geopolitical interests of any major power, including China, Russia and the United States.
The disintegration of political and economic ties of the Soviet Union period, meant that the five newly sovereign states have had to move rapidly over the past two decades to establish institutions of national policy and identity, and create foreign policies to pursue newly formed national security, political, and economic interests, according to Gleason. The region is rich in natural resources, especially oil and gas resources, making it a crucial and ever-developing player in regional and global energy markets. Moreover, the location of Central Asia puts it in a position of being able to locate potential trading partners without looking too far away, or overseas. A number of potentially large markets are just over the region’s borders. Europe, and the United States, are particularly interested in gas supplies from Central Asia. The United States and much of Europe want to limit the monolithic power Russia has on natural gas exports to Europe. According to Kramer, “Europe and the United States have been jousting with Russia for years to break its natural gas pipeline monopoly”. Central Asia would be able to provide an alternative gas and oil supply. Additionally, China is looking at broadening its spread of gas suppliers, particularly as it has become wary of sourcing too much gas from the United States. Central Asia, as a neighbouring region, has become a potential alternative source. Energy cooperation with any external major power will considerably benefit the Central Asian states, for the reason that it will bring investments, infrastructure development, growth in employment opportunities and growth in other trade sectors. In addition to being rich in energy resources, the region was once exploited by the Soviet Union for its water resources. According to Weinthal, following the collapse of the Soviet Union the five states were left to contend with the severe environmental disaster caused by the promotion of a regional cotton monoculture, in which the Soviet Union stimulated the diversion of rivers and the degradation of the Aral Sea and its surroundings. Water resources are, however, mostly an internal issue and are a part of the reason for cooperation and regional integration in the area. It is the copious oil and gas resources that have drawn in interest from external players. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia remained the dominant external power in Central Asia, however now Russia is one among several competitors scrambling for influence in the emergent Central Asian states, particularly against competing major powers, China and the United States.
 F. Clines, 'Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader, Resigns; U.S. Recognizes Republics' Independence', The New York Times, No Date Specified, <http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/1225.html#article>, accessed 2 November 2013.
 M. Rakhimov, ‘Internal and External Dynamics of Regional Cooperation in Central Asia’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, vol. 1, 2010, p. 96.
 J. Siegel, Endgame: Britain, Russia and the Final Struggle for Central Asia, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, New York, 2002, p. xv-14.
 M. Rakhimov, p. 96.
 M. Rakhimov, p. 95.
 P. Kubicek, ‘Regionalism, nationalism, and Realpolitik in Central Asia’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 49, no. 4, 1997, p. 637.
 C. Qimao, 'Sino-Russian relations after the break-up of the Soviet Union" in Russia and Asia-Pacific Security', Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, 1999, p. 298-300.
 M. Fergus, W. Palace, K. White, & B. McKillop, 'Central Asia', Asian Affairs, vol. 42, no. 1, 2011, p .146.
 M. Rahimov, & G. Urazaeva, ‘Central Asian Nations & Border Issues, Conflict Studies Research Centre, no volume specified, 2010, p.20.
 H. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, Greenwood Press, London, 1981, p. 124.
 H. Mackinder, p. 124.
 G. Gleason, 'Inter-State Cooperation in Central Asia from the CIS to the Shanghai Forum', Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 53, no. 7, 2001, p. 1077.
 S. Yenikeyeff, 'Energy Interests of the 'Great Powers' in Central Asia: Cooperation or Conflict?', The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 46, no. 3, p. 61.
 A. Kramer, 'New Gas Pipeline from Central Asia Feeds China', The New York Times, 14 December 2009, <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/world/asia/15pipeline.html?_r=3&ref=asia&>, access 2 November 2013.
 B. Robins, 'China wary of relying on US gas exports, report suggests', Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2013, <http://newsstore.fairfax.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac?sy=nstore&pb=all_ffx&dt=selectRange&dr=1month&so=relevance&sf=text&sf=headline&rc=10&rm=200&sp=brs&cls=242&clsPage=1&docID=SMH131111D77HH7M5SBN>, accessed 11 November 2013.
 E. Weinthal, 'State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic and International Politics in Central Asia', MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002, p. 1-274.
 E. Weinthal, p. 1-274.