As I was reviewing FP's daily cover story, Westward Ho!, I started thinking about the so-called Great Game, between the Russian Empire and Great Britain in the 1800s. After reading Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game and Thomas Barfield's Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, it seems natural that I would immediately look back for perspective on current developments. As China considers moving west to ensure Central Asian stability, and the U.S. simultaneously seeks stability in this resource-rich, sparsely populated, and (depending on country and locale) terrorism-heavy region its hard to avoid the handy "Great Game" comparison. I do, however, have some thoughts on why this comparison is inappropriate:
1. The great powers in this Great Game are far more numerous today, and the intentions far more diverse than the simple goals of Britain and Russia to expand their empires. Today's Central Asia is of interest to China for the reasons mentioned by Yun Sun in the article above. India has a direct interest in curtailing Chinese influence; the U.S. wants to ensure that Central Asia does not become a permanent base of operations for Islamic fundamentalism. The E.U. wants to ensure a steady energy supply, and Russia is still keen to remain the predominant power in its so-called "Near Abroad". All these overlapping interests and state-specific goals means that Central Asia is not the Emirate oasis that is was during the original Great Game.
2. Central Asia is for the first time in its history divided into nation-states, delineated by [flawed] ethnic lines. These states can now respond and play with larger powers on a more even basis. During the Great Game, Afghanistan, under Dost Mohammad, was an inefficient and poorly-operating pseudo-state. The Uzbek Emirates, Khiva, Bokhara, etc. were little more than city states, and the Turkmen had no functioning authority at all. Any modern version of the Great Game would have to take into account the interests of the states it overlaps with. Agency may be the biggest difference in contemporary Central Asia.
While these are just some initial thoughts, I think they both have serious implications for any comparison that might come out of articles such the one above. The main difference may actually be that today's Great Game might actually help the small states stuck in the middle. Central Asia now has new leverage in its relationship with all external parties...and that is certainly small power.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.