Policy Papers - Analysis

Policy Paper No. 10 – Political and security relations – Analysis of the EU’s comparative advantages and Central Asian interests

This paper examines the EU’s comparative advantages and disadvantages in its political and security engagement with Central Asian countries. The EU’s and its member states’ political and security cooperation with Central Asia has been hampered by the rivalry between the Central Asian countries, occasional mismatches in their political and security priorities as well as the dominance of external powers. Compared to other actors’ engagement, in particular Russia and China, the EU’s political agenda and influence in Central Asia has been and remains relatively low.

The EU’s main security priorities in Central Asia are counter-narcotics and counter-extremism measures. However, the EU also promotes its ideas of democratisation and its anti-corruption agenda following its ‘soft security’ approach. This approach is often viewed by Central Asians as an attempt to exert regime change or influence the distribution of power and negatively impacts the way how the EU is viewed in the region. Moreover, the EU’s understanding of how the domestic political environment in Central Asian states works is also likely to restrain deeper cooperation between them.

Furthermore, there is a general lack of information in Central Asia about the EU’s intentions towards the region, and locals can be mistrustful of the EU’s influence. Thus, the paper concludes that a better communication is crucial for future EU-Central Asia political and security cooperation. The paper further resumes that the EU’s political and security engagement with Central Asia requires a tailor-made approach that accounts for the differences between the five countries. Hence, the authors recommend that the EU should continue its engagement of promoting democratisation and human rights and of convincing the Central Asian governments that their agenda of democratic values is worth considering, but in a more individual and bilateral manner, avoiding a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Did you know?

Following the colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in the early 2000s, the political elites in Central Asia […] have become increasingly suspicious of any foreign activities and sources of funding, including the EU.
(p. 11)

Many Central Asians do not have any personal experience of the EU due to restrictions on travel given the expense and difficulty obtaining a visa to Europe.
(p. 10)

Though India considers China a regional rival, they share many of the same security concerns about the importance of stabilising the Central Asian region.
(p. 7)

However, [the EU Central Asia] Strategy was broad and lacked the financial resources to have an enduring effect beyond the life cycle of separate projects.
(p. 3)