The second SEnECA Policy Paper focuses on the political and security relations between the five Central Asian countries on the one hand, and India, Japan, Iran, Turkey and South Korea on the other. When talking about Central Asian countries’ relations with other powers, the focus is mostly laid on the EU, Russia or China. However, the five countries mentioned above describe a vital part of the regional power balance and should be mentioned. So, what are the issues that Central Asian countries collaborate on with India, Japan, Iran, Turkey and South Korea? Do these issues differ from country to country, or can patterns be found across the region?
Few of the countries examined have included one another in their national strategy papers, with the exception of Turkey. Ankara features prominently in the foreign policy strategies of all five of the Central Asian states. With deep historical ties, since their independence, Central Asian states have relied on Turkey’s assistance to enter international economic, financial and political multilateral organisations. The majority of Central Asian states have also supported Japan in its bid for a UN Security Council seat and vote alongside South Korea in UN votes.
Political ties are also underscored by shared security threats and challenges. The continued instability in Afghanistan, in particular, is a concern for countries in this region given that drug trafficking as well as the potential risks around radicalisation and terrorism remain a considerable challenge. Afghanistan is a particular driver of activity for India, Japan and South Korea.
Furthermore, Central Asian republics and South Korea have a similar understanding of responsibility for international security and stability in Asia. Central Asian states and the other Asian states covered in this paper have had few disputes. There has in the past been political tension between Turkey and several Central Asian states for a variety of reasons. Iran has had a variety of disputes over territorial boundaries and natural resources, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme and the resulting restrictions placed on Iran in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement between the EU and Iran on curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme. Indeed, the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty also ensured that the support for a country’s nuclear weapons programme was limited. Despite this, Iran has, by some countries, been used as a counterbalance to Russian influence in Central Asia.
Characteristics of Central Asian relations to their Asian Partners
“Central Asian states and South Korea provide mutual support to each other, particularly within the framework of the United Nations. Uzbekistan supports a bid of South Korea to the executive bodies of international organizations almost in all elections, following the principle of reciprocity.”
“With Turkish assistance, the Central Asian republics acquired membership in regional economic and political organizations such as the United Nations and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992.”
“The biggest common security risk between Iran and Central Asia is the war in Afghanistan and its spill-over effects, specifically drug trafficking and cross-border terrorism.” (p.1)
“Japan supports the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and is in agreement with the Central Asian states when it comes to the necessity of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
“India views Central Asia as ‘a commercial bridge between South and Central Asia’. The biggest common security risks between the two regions are therefore instability in Afghanistan and the obstacle it poses to India’s trade with Central Asia, which relies on overland access.” (p.4)