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Robert M. Cutler

Senior research fellow in the Institute of European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Carleton University, Canada

A decade-long crisis set off by events in Uzbekistan will then produce a Sino-centric international system with diminished Russian influence in Central Asia. Kazakhstan will remain the driving Central Asian economic power and become a regional flashpoint in the Central Asian geopolitical balance, for a new restructuring of the international system in Eurasia in the early 22nd century.

The new international order emerging in 2001 from the post–Cold War transition will last until the mid-2040s. A decade-long crisis set off by events in Uzbekistan will then produce a Sino-centric international system with diminished Russian influence in Central Asia. Faced with combined Chinese and Islamist militancy in the region, Russia will abandon its revisionist entente with China and Iran in favor of diplomatic and geo-economic rapprochement with Europe and North America. By 2079, implementation of technologies now under development for collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it to earth will begin to revolutionize the global energy mix. The dynamics of international conflict and cooperation over energy geo-economics will be transformed and projected into cosmo-economics. Kazakhstan will remain the driving Central Asian economic power and become a regional flashpoint in the Central Asian geopolitical balance, for a new restructuring of the international system in Eurasia in the early 22nd century.

To cover energy security in Central Asia in next hundred years from the present-day is a challenging task. It is possible to identify, for the sake of discussion of the defined topic, three levels of analysis and the dynamic that would drive each of them. On a global level, we may identify climate change as the conditioning factor; for the sake of projecting scenarios, we may assign it the simple binary values of critical or non-critical. With respect to the Eurasian level, and its geophysical distribution of energy resources, we may refer to technological evolution, specifically meaning the question whether hydrocarbons remain dominant in the Eurasian energy balance, or not. Finally, on a regional (i.e. Central Asian) level, a conditioning factor will be local demography, which we may treat according to either high-growth or low-growth scenarios.

Rather than attempt to project how these driving forces may evolve in the long-term perspective of one hundred years directly, it makes more sense to “branch” the scenarios every 33 years, approximately at the chronological points 2046 and 2079, looking forward to 2112. However, for that purpose, it is first necessary to recall the natural laws by which the international system has evolved, through a series of international orders having each a distinct normative basis, with each order composed of a succession of international systems upon that same basis, since at least the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht establishing an all-European system [1].

The Succession of International Systems

The history of international relations comprises a succession of international orders. Each international order comprises a succession of international systems. These systems are animated by the norms of the given international order, but they manifest through different structural configurations. International norms evolve as a result of demographic, economic, and technological changes. These changes exacerbate tensions within the given international political order, which responds by trying to restructure itself homeostatically. Either this restructuring is successful, bringing into being a new international system within the same international order (sometimes following a transitional period involving major war), or it unsuccessful, producing a transition to a new international order. Such a new international order is based upon the new normative principles emerging from the underlying demographic, economic, and technological changes. The new international order then unfolds through a succession of new international systems.

At least as far back as the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the length of an international transition following the break-up of an international system is approximately one-quarter the length of that system. The present international system beginning in 2001 is forecast, by other means independently, to collapse in the mid-2040s, and the subsequent international transition should run to about the mid-late 2050s [2]. For convenience let us choose the year 2057, with the understanding that this is an approximate date. (However, the date 2079 is purely heuristic for the present analytical exercise, and not necessarily significant from the standpoint of periodizing future international systems.)

In the history of international affairs, international orders are not constituted by a single international system; rather, they span two or more international systems. Therefore, the post-2057 international system will itself be a new international system within the current, new international order. So the present international system, characterized by a multipolarity obscuring an underlying duality, will continue with structural shifts, most likely to an apparent unipolarity that will accelerate the manifestation of that duality.

So the year 2057, approximately, will represent the beginning of a new international system within the current multipolar international order. According to the historical record, it is not bipolarity but unipolarity that typically emerges from a multipolar period; rather, bipolarity forms later, as a response to the unipolarity. Impressionistically, there are two possibilities for the identity of the post-2046 unipolarity: China or a transnational Muslim caliphate. Uzbekistan will be the crisis-point where these two opposing forces will clash. However, by 2046 the decline of the world’s Muslim population, now predicted by demographers, will have begun to take effect. By 2046, therefore, it is China that will have become the principal status quo power rather than having an identity split, as it is now, between being a status quo power and being a revisionist power. It will nevertheless require the predicted decade-long international transition for this result to be produced.

How long will this second international system, projected to begin around 2057, last? So long as we have no specific view of the configuration of that system, a view that only time will bring, this is really impossible to say definitely. However, in the historical record since 1713, the geometric mean of the duration the second international system within a given international order is about 40–50 years, with a range from 20 to 80 years [3]. The Cold War system, for example, lasted a little over 40 years, starting in 1946. If we choose the figure 45 years for purposes of discussion, then the international system beginning in 2057 would continue until approximately 2102. It would be followed by an international transition with a duration of one-quarter its own length, i.e. up until 2113, whereupon either a still newer international system in this same international order will emerge or the transition to a still newer international order will intervene.

The First Third-Century: From the Present until 2046

Photo: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

The kernel of the resistance against former American unipolarity in the present chronological tranche is the Russia–China–Iran threesome. However, by 2046 not only Iran but all of Russia's potential friends across the “southern tier” of countries with which Russia may form international ententes—Turkey, Iran, and India—will have exhausted any present economic dynamism. This is certainly the case for Turkey; Iran will never achieve economic takeoff so long as it retains its current oppressive theocratic regime, which shows no signs of disappearing; and the problems of Indian infrastructure and domestic transportation will continue, even until mid-century, to put the brakes upon any significant explosive economic growth, although the country will “muddle along”.

The most current specialized expert projections indicate that climate change will continue to be moderate through mid-century, even as hydrocarbons will still drive the world energy economy in 2046. Consequently, any “branching” of scenarios at this point would not emphasize changes in trends of climate change or changes in technology, but rather trends of demography.

The kernel of the resistance against former American unipolarity in the present chronological tranche is the Russia–China–Iran threesome. However, by 2046 not only Iran but all of Russia's potential friends across the “southern tier” of countries with which Russia may form international ententes—Turkey, Iran, and India—will have exhausted any present economic dynamism.

As things now stand, therefore demographic change in Central Asia will be the driver of regional configurations, as Kazakhstan’s strong economic growth throughout the period will accelerate the growth of its population (U.N. projections also concur with this), while the relative economic stagnation in Uzbekistan will be a brake upon its rate demographic growth, which is already smaller than what was projected 20 years ago immediately after independence. Consequently, for the period up until 2046, we may expect that the rate of population growth in Kazakhstan will be greater than in Uzbekistan, as it has been since independence if one discounts the out-migration of non-Kazakhs. By 2046 this rate of growth will be increased not only by birth rates among Kazakhs but also by the effects of Chinese immigration, which has already begun in small numbers and will continue slowly but surely.

Regionally, therefore, Kazakhstan will increase its influence in shaping the energy geo-economics of Central Asia, particularly as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan continue to remove themselves from their inherited dependence upon natural gas imports from Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan will continue to be a significant energy exporter, especially to China, but it will not have the demographic base and domestic technological development to play a formative role in the region’s self-structuring within the international system beyond the Central Asian level.

The Second Third-Century: From 2046 until 2079

Photo: gdb.rferl.org
Kazakhstan will be a regional flashpoint in
the Central Asian geopolitical balance, for
the restructuring of the international system in
Eurasia for the early 22nd century.

In line with the systems-based projection above, the first ten years of this chronological tranche will represent a transition from the current international system to the next, focused on a clash between China and a potential Muslim Caliphate in Uzbekistan. China with the aid of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, headquartered in Tashkent, will win this battle, from which Russia will be curiously absent. Russia will experience the result of this conflict as a diplomatic and military loss. In keeping with well-known patterns of Russian history stretching far back into the Tsarist period, this foreign defeat will lead to period of domestic political liberalization (e.g. liberation of the serfs after defeat in the Crimea, Stolypin reforms after defeat by Japan). For this reason, and also in opposition to the new Sino-centric unipolarity of the international system, Russia will move diplomatically and even militarily closer to the European Union (based upon its already good relations with Germany) as well as to the United States, which thanks to continued immigration and technological innovation over the decades will not have ceased to be an important global player.

The year 2079 is only an heuristic cut-point for the present exposition, and the diplomatic pattern just described will continue until the early 22nd century. However, concentrating on other trends during the period from 2046 to 2079, we may expect in line with the most recent scientific projections that climate change may continue to have some effect but will still fail to achieve the critical levels signifying impending catastrophe. Some warming will nevertheless occur, and some thawing in parts of the Russian Arctic will make offshore and onshore energy resources there more accessible. Following a pattern now being established, foreign capital and technology will combine to exploit the energy deposits there; but, in contrast to the present situation, Russia will seek to limit Chinese participation in favor of the Western powers.

What would these developments mean for Central Asia? Long-term Chinese influence in Central Asia and even in the Siberian region close to the Chinese border, will have increased, and China will still be energy-hungry. The energy resources in Central Asia so far discovered will have mainly run out by 2079, with the likely exception of further discoveries of natural gas in Turkmenistan, which will continue to flow to China, also thanks to technologies yet to be developed. Chinese influence in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan exerted through geo-economic “gravity” will be firmly in place despite the continued presence and activity of Russian industry, and also despite any success whatsoever of the Eurasian Economic Community.

Russian energy production in general will thus benefit from this evolution of international affairs and international technology, as well as the continued moderate climate change. By mid-century the Russian energy industry will have become more dependent upon foreign workers as its own population base suffers the consequences of already-known early male mortality and decreased birth rates from the early 21st century. However, since those trends will recover slowly in the 2020s and 2030s, the dependence on foreign workers will decline even if it is not wholly reversed by the end of the 2046–2079 period.

The Third Third-Century: From 2079 to 2112

Long-term Chinese influence in Central Asia and even in the Siberian region close to the Chinese border, will have increased, and China will still be energy-hungry. The energy resources in Central Asia so far discovered will have mainly run out by 2079, with the likely exception of further discoveries of natural gas in Turkmenistan, which will continue to flow to China, also thanks to technologies yet to be developed.

Since the years from 2079 through 2012 are analytically only the continuation of the international system begun in 2057, we should concentrate here on the global (climatological), technological (Eurasian), and demographic (Central Asian) trends identified in the beginning, in order to ascertain further developments. From 2079 to 2112, climate change may become somewhat more significant, depending also upon the solar cycle. But now-projected technological developments will probably have been at least partly implemented by then, with significant changes in the world energy economy. One of these is crucial. It is the technology already described in the scientific literature, for collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it to earth.

The significance of the implementation of this technology is not limited to how it might compensate for a decreasing share of hydrocarbons in the world energy mix, even as the absolute quantities of hydrocarbons consumed may continue to increase. Such a tapping of extraterrestrial solar energy would provide a non-hydrocarbon basis for maintaining the integrity of electrical grids, i.e. keeping them powered up, above the necessary high technical threshold below which the fluctuations in level of power lead them to fail. This is precisely a key technical requirement that has, along with market considerations, played a major role in limiting possible increases of terrestrially generated “green energy” in the global energy mix.

At the same time, the reinvigoration of space exploration by private enterprise, already under way in the early 21st century, will be motivated not only by purely scientific but also by commercial considerations. Because the entities undertaking such exploration will not be primarily governments, but rather profit-based enterprises even if they have government support, any international cooperation will in fact accent a competitive nature: as for example, among the Nabucco, Trans-Adriatic, and South Stream gas pipeline projects today. National and supranational interests as set by geo-economics will strongly influence the formation and configuration of consortia for the commercial development of space-based resources, just like they do for terrestrial hydrocarbon resources today. Such political dynamics will be extended into the nearby space of the solar system. Rather than geo-economics, this will variously be called planeto-economics, cosmo-economics, or astro-economics.

Photo: wired.com
President Emomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan,
ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan,
ex-Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian
President Vladimir Putin, President Nursultan
Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and President Islam
Karimov of Uzbekistan, 2007 2007

The formation of such consortia dedicated to space-based industrial work would crystallize the Russo-Euro-American entente against Chinese unipolarity. The dynamism of Chinese economic growth, which is diminishing already today, will more and more depend throughout the 21st century upon the more and more naked and militarized exploitation of resources outside the state borders of China. After current waves of foreign direct investment will exhaust China’s accumulated state capital, the disastrous economic consequences of the “one-child policy” for national demography and the alienation of foreign industry through its state-supported policy of pirating industrial techniques and lack of respect for intellectual property will cause China to lose every basis upon which its stunning macro-economic success of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was built. Following its geopolitical victory in Uzbekistan, which will in future retrospect appear Pyrrhic, China will after mid-century begin a definite and irremediable decline, beginning gradually and then accelerating as other powers cooperate against its hegemonic unipolarity. As outlined in the introductory analytical section, that decline will culminate in a systemic crisis and international transition beginning approximately in 2102 and lasting about one decade.

Summary

We discovered that from 2013–2046, with the global level of climate change continuing at non-critical rates of change, the Eurasian-level effects of technological change would be to Russia’s energy production advantage, while at the regional Central Asian level, demographic change would continue to increase Kazakhstan’s influence at Uzbekistan’s expense. However, Uzbekistan will succeed in continuing to diversify its energy partnerships beyond Russia alone.

According to the economic significance and demographic weight, the rank-ordered importance of states in the region will remain: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, followed by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan together.

From 2046 to 2079, climate change still continues globally at non-critical rates of change, but technological change (i.e. non-hydrocarbon development) does not really affect Eurasia, although Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan succeed in diminishing their own dependence on oil and gas thanks to development of other domestic energy resources. Further in Central Asia, Kazakhstan continues to develop, both in the energy sector and more generally, in a more dynamic and also more balanced way than Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan receives an additional economic push thanks to immigration from China, which will also have a slight but geo-economically significant weight in Afghanistan through raw materials development, not limited to energy but also including metal ore deposits.

From 2079 to 2112, climate change and technological change will together enhance Russia’s significance as an energy producer but worldwide demand will be such, that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will not suffer from the competition, and Uzbekistan also will have begun exporting beyond the region to the world market and particularly Asia by this time. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will have moderate significance within the Central Asian region in the non-hydrocarbon sectors, but not only any broad Eurasian or global level.

Conclusion

By the late 21st century, China will have established a sphere of geo-economic influence in Central Asia centered on Kazakhstan whereas Russia will have maintained long-standing commercial links with Kazakhstan also outside the energy sector. Russia will also continue to hold a significant geo-economic position in Turkmenistan, possibly in concert with Iran as a minor partner. A Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline to Azerbaijan carrying natural gas destined for world markets might possibly be built after Berdimuhamedow passes from the scene around mid-century, the more so as Russia will come to realize that it is to its own advantage to channel those resources away from China, even if this means towards Europe.

It is not yet clear how or to what degree all these developments would influence the precise geo-economic configurations in Central Asia in particular, or in “Greater Central Asia”, which may be defined as comprising not just the five Central Asian republics but also: in China, the whole of the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region plus most of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Republic; in Russia, southern Russia including most of southern Siberia; and also northern and northwestern Afghanistan; plus northeastern Iran. By then, anyway, the Chinese presence in the Central Asian states will have grown through demographic shifts that will not be easily reversed.

According to the economic significance and demographic weight, the rank-ordered importance of states in the region will remain: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, followed by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan together. Kyrgyzstan will be for all intents and purposes in the Chinese orbit. In Tajikistan, continuing Russian economic cooperation and investment particularly in the energy infrastructure will limit ethnic Persian and Iranian state influence. Turkmenistan will still be “divided” between Russian and Chinese spheres but with a more evident “multi-vector” profile (Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and sooner or later Europe).

The movement for a Muslim Caliphate will never have been fully eradicated in Uzbekistan, and as Russian opposition to Chinese unipolarity becomes clearer, Beijing will reach an anti-Russian entente with the virulently anti-Western (including anti-Russian) Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which will be allowed to continued its underground work so long as this is not directed against China. Kazakhstan will therefore be, as it remains today, the keystone of any geopolitical order in Central Asia.

Thus during the international transition that we have assigned the dates 2102–2112, Kazakhstan will be a regional flashpoint in the Central Asian geopolitical balance, for the restructuring of the international system in Eurasia for the early 22nd century. The energy wealth of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan together will continue to shape the geo-economics, not just through continuing development of newly-found hydrocarbon resources, but also through the region’s great potential for terrestrially-based solar power collection and transmission, not to mention uranium and thorium deposits for nuclear energy especially in Kazakhstan, and other industrial and precious metals. To suggest what will be the configurations of the international system after 2112 is beyond the scope of the present article.

1. Frederick L. Schuman, International Politics: The Western State System in Transition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1941), p. 59.

2. See further the literature cited in Robert A. Denemark, “World System History: From Traditional International Politics to the Study of Global Relations”, in International Studies Review, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 43–75.

3. Cutler, “The Complex Evolution of International Orders and the Current International Transition”; also Robert M. Cutler, “A Complex-Scientific Perspective on the End of the Cold War”, paper presented to the National Science Foundation Workshop Complexity Science in International Relations (San Francisco, Calif.: International Studies Association, 25 March 2008).

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