Central Asia’s Security Risk Assessment

Central Asia map globe
Geopolitical and Security Risk Assessment of Central Asia (Credits: Image by rob-armbruster from Pixabay)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 40 Issue 1
Author: Silvia Boltuc

Central Asia stands at a geopolitical crossroads, grappling with several challenges that pose significant threats to its security and stability. The focal point revolves around the surge of radical groups originating from the Middle East and funnelling through Afghanistan.

This influx not only jeopardises the stability of individual nations within the region but also threaten regional and international key players’ interest in the region. Radical groups might become a geopolitical actor capable of exacerbate local tensions, thanks also to the support of some external state players, and, therefore, transform the region into a potential crucible of insecurity.

This report dissects the multifaceted security threats and geopolitical risks facing Central Asia, analysing the roles of key players and proposing strategies to safeguard national interests.

Central Asia’s Threats

  1. Radical Group Influx. The foremost security concern in Central Asia revolves around the inflow of radical groups, originating from the Middle East and traversing through Afghanistan. This influx poses a direct and immediate threat to the stability of individual nations within the region. The orchestrated financing and management of these radical groups, coupled with a surge in terrorism and extremism, reveals the involvement of external actors.
  2. External Influence. The active involvement of the United States and its allies in Central Asian security affairs, on the one hand, as well as the enduring Russia’s military presence and China’s financial support to local governments, on the other hand, raises multifaceted security concerns. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent republics, and especially in the last years characterised by the confrontation between Russia and the West, Central Asia has become one of the main ‘battleground’ where superpowers and regional actors confront each other.
  3. The Turkish Factor and Influence. The emergence of the Organisation of Turkic States in the post-Soviet space, led by Turkey, poses a unique security challenge. While resembling the European Union in structure, its inclusion of countries from Transcaucasia and Central Asia raises concerns about regional tensions. The supply of Turkish weapons and the deployment of “Bayraktar diplomacy” could become destabilising factors, especially given the unresolved border disputes among close neighbours.
  4. Economic and Political Crises. Anticipated economic and political crises caused by drought and water shortages are projected to be significant regional security threats. The attractiveness of the region’s resources could draw the attention of external powers, motivated by both economic interests and a desire to position themselves as international arbiters. Drawing parallels with the experiences of post-Soviet republics like Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova, close engagement with foreign entities might result in compromised sovereignty, systemic economic problems, and destabilisation of socio-political situations.
  5. Potential Unrest from Afghanistan. The ongoing situation in Afghanistan poses a persistent security risk to Central Asia. The concentration of immigrants from Central Asia, with combat experience gained in Syria, on the border with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) raises the spectre of returning militants and heightened border security concerns. Additionally, the transfer of Pashtuns holding extremist views to northern Afghan provinces creates an additional layer of instability. Multiple scenarios exist for the deterioration of the security state in the region.
  6. Impact of Global Geopolitical Shifts. The geopolitical shifts resulting from the ongoing events in Ukraine introduce an additional layer of security concerns for Central Asia. Western sanctions against Moscow have impacted Central Asian economies, especially in those republics where migrants’ remittance from Russia constituted a significant part of the national GDP. In addition, directly impacting Central Asia and its security apparatus, the closure of global traffic in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait area signifies a broader attempt to reshape global dynamics. .
  7. Clash of Authoritarian Structures and Western Ideals. The exertion of pressure by the Western world on democratisation processes and human rights improvements in Central Asian countries could potentially precipitate destabilisation. Central Asian nations exhibit a pyramidal power structure akin to authoritarian regimes, as evidenced by the outcomes of certain local elections, hampering their alignment with European liberal and democratic standards. Heightened pressure, whether through demands for compliance with sanctions on Russia and China or intensified scrutiny of internal affairs, may stoke fears within local governments of losing control, prompting them to curtail Western engagement. Meanwhile, a growing segment of the local population is increasingly drawn to Western ideals and living conditions, exacerbating the tension between government control and societal aspirations.

Read also | Central Asia: What to Watch in 2024

Security Risk Assessment

A delicate equilibrium marks the regional geopolitical landscape of Central Asia, with the risk level standing at a discerned medium. A pivotal factor contributing to this assessment is the nuanced engagement of Central Asian states with multiple geopolitical entities. Through active participation in organisations such as the CSTO, SCO, and EAEU, these nations have sought to diversify their diplomatic ties, providing a certain level of security. However, this diversified engagement simultaneously exposes the region to external influences, potential conflicts, and the intricate dynamics of intergovernmental relations.

Balancing these alliances is essential for Central Asia to navigate the complexities of a shifting geopolitical landscape. In particular, the NATO strategy openly aimed at countering Russia and China risks destabilising the Central Asian countries that have important cultural, economic and strategic relations with these two actors.

The growing presence of Western actors pushing for the reduction of these relations in exchange for major investments risks transforming Central Asia into a battleground between foreign superpowers. Right now, the struggle is evident in the competition between transportation corridors and the changing dynamics that affect the Caspian region.

Still within this framework, it is important to recognise that European pressure on human rights and the democratisation of these countries acts as a further destabilising element. Despite Brussels’ willingness to overlook human rights violations and internal repression by its partners, these countries have limitations in their ability to adapt to the Western liberal and democratic system. This is evident in how they handle, for example, opposition and ethnic minorities. The efforts made by Europe and the U.S. to ensure that Central Asian countries comply with the sanctions on Russia and China have already revealed the initial resistance from local governments.

Amid the geopolitical intricacies, there emerges a concern about the potential emergence of pockets of instability around Russia, a risk heightened by the unfolding events in Ukraine. The geopolitical scenarios, contingent upon the outcomes in Ukraine, hold the potential to spill over into Central Asia, further affecting the security dynamics of the region. The interconnectedness of these geopolitical developments underscores the necessity for Central Asian nations to remain vigilant and adaptable in response to evolving circumstances, seeking stability in an environment that is influenced by events beyond their immediate borders.

In conclusion, the medium-level geopolitical risk in Central Asia reflects the delicate interplay between diversification of engagements and the potential for external events to cascade into regional instability. As the geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, Central Asian nations must demonstrate strategic foresight and diplomatic acumen to navigate the intricacies of their alliances, ensuring that their security remains resilient against the backdrop of global shifts.

For those with an interest in acquiring comprehensive insights into the geopolitical and economic dynamics of Central Asia, we encourage you to reach out to SpecialEurasia by emailing info@specialeurasia.com. We are ready to assist you in evaluating the possibility of acquiring a carefully crafted and customised report to meet your intelligence requirements.

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