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Energy Security in Central Asia

Energy infrastructures in Central Asia, such as poor maintenance, the absence of protection plans and natural risks. It also looks at endogenous risks such as the lack of governance, authoritarianism, drug trafficking, organised crime, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and socio-political tensions that can alter regional stability as soon as they find the right leadership or if international intervention in Afghanistan fails.

Call For Paper to IRST Anatolia Daily


Endogenous Risks

The protection of critical infrastructures is a new area of security studies that tests the ability and will of governments to guarantee citizens’ access to basic services by safeguarding the critical networks and hubs through which they flow. Because of the interconnection that exists between Central Asian and European energy infrastructures, European energy security –just like that of Russia and China– begins with the question of how the countries of Central Asia and transit countries protect their infrastructures. The degree of interest in maintaining energy flows varies depending on whether the country is a producer or a transit nation and on whether the energy is for domestic consumption or for export. The level of protection depends on what value the infrastructures hold for the countries –the critical ones are those which are of vital interest  and on the resources available for providing protection. In other words, the countries of Central Asia have become aware of the existence of risks for their infrastructures, but their protection depends on how interested these countries are in providing it and their ability to do so.

The endogenous risks affecting energy infrastructures in Central Asia stem on the one hand from the degree of preservation and maintenance of service and, on the other, from the natural risks that are present. In Central Asia, infrastructures are state-owned, except in the case of Turkmenistan, where they are Russian-owned. This means responsibility goes to countries which have a chronic lack of resources to maintain and upgrade existing energy infrastructures. The shortage of resources affects development in the countries of Central Asia, as there is a close link between the Millennium Goals and the improvement and expansion of infrastructure in general, as well as the necessary level of investment for its protection, conservation and handling (an explosion in April 2009 in a gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Russia was caused by a management breakdown in which Russia did not give enough advance warning that its consumption level had gone down). Low standards for maintenance and protection of Central Asian energy infrastructures are, therefore, the first source of insecurity.

What is more, Central Asia is a region prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and landslides. And although critical infrastructures related to health, transport and services tend to be the most affected by natural disasters, they also hit energy infrastructures and grids that support them.

The third group of endogenous risks for the Central Asian region and its infrastructures come from poverty, environmental deterioration, demographic pressure in areas with arable land (half the population of Central Asia lives in the Fergana Valley) and the battle for local resources: land, water and electricity. The socio-economic situation is not extreme in macro-economic terms because almost all of the countries are in the medium-to-high area in human development (Uzbekistan is ranked 119, Turkmenistan 109, Kyrgyzstan 120 and Tajikistan 127), according to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index for 2012. Kazakhstan is even at the high end (82).

Latent Risks

Energy security is vulnerable to regional conflicts, but so far Central Asia has been a stable region which has overcome the risks inherent in gaining independence in the late 1990s without major conflicts between states. At the same time, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are concerned about the risks of Chinese repression in Xingjian against their diasporas and about growing immigration from China. Ethnic tensions do not necessarily lead to confrontation, as they did on the northern border of Kazakhstan. There, Slavic emigration towards Russian territory and the autonomy granted to Russian-majority areas of Kazakhstan have managed to ease tensions. What is worrying in terms of energy security is the fact that shared infrastructures are habitually used as tools of pressure in internal disputes (the most recent case is that of Uzbekistan, which cut off gas supplies to Tajikistan in September 2009 to force payment for them), taking advantage of the energy interdependence of the countries of Central Asia.

Added Risks

The security of Central Asian infrastructures is either enhanced or hurt by exogenous factors, such as the geopolitical projection of Russia, the US and China, the contribution of international security organisations and the Afghan conflict. Given Central Asia’s shortcomings, the offer of security assistance from major powers and international organisations is part of the new ‘Great Game’ centring on local resources. It does not focus on protecting infrastructures, but rather on preserving the stability of the countries of Central Asia.

None of the international organisations present in the region have specific programmes to protect critical infrastructures, although all of them can contribute something useful. For its part, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation does not have a military or police capacity that could be used to protect critical infrastructure. Although Russia wants to give the SCO military projection capabilities, the rest of the members are more inclined to develop different self-defence mechanisms. In the absence of specific, more developed mechanisms, the only way the SCO can protect energy infrastructures over the short term would be in a preventive way.

NATO engages in military cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan through the Partnership for Peace, but its cooperation has fallen off amid a lack of respect for human rights, corruption among commanders and budgetary restrictions which have affected technical assistance. So Kazakhstan is the only member of the Partnership with an approved plan. However, the results of cooperation with NATO and others who have sought to provide assistance to the countries of Central Asia have not been very effective. Not even the armed forces of Kazakhstan, which have received more assistance and investment than have other countries of Central Asia, have managed to seize the opportunity to develop protection capabilities at the national or regional level.

At the first the security of energy infrastructures depends on the will and capabilities of Central Asian countries. The task of protecting them is complicated by structural risks stemming from the lack of resources to maintain and expand the existing grid and the absence of specific plans to protect them against emergencies caused by natural disasters or actions by mankind.

A second group of risks is posed by the possibility of ethnic, religious or political tensions leading to systematic attacks against critical infrastructures along the lines of the insurgency in Iraq. So far there has been no pattern of attacks justifying the importation of that model to Central Asia because there is no level of insurgency similar to the one in Iraq. However, social, ethnic and religious tensions are weakening the ability of Central Asian governments to exercise control, and groups that are discontented, oppose the system or feel slighted are increasing in number as they await leadership to meld them into one force. The risk of destabilisation stems not so much from global jihad as from an accumulation of complaints, inequality and lack of prospects for accelerated democracy. The international intervention in Afghanistan has prevented insurgent or terrorist groups with capacity for catalysing the destabilisation of of Central Asia from working to do so. But no one knows how long the intervention might last.

The third group of risks stems from the lack of response mechanisms at the regional level to confront new security risks. While Central Asia has been gradually exposed to those transnational risks, its governments continue to be more concerned with remaining in power than with guaranteeing energy security. As energy infrastructures have increasingly connected Central Asia with other, like-minded regions, international organisations present in the region have become aware of the risks that exist. But they are a long way from introducing efficient mechanisms to confront these risks, and time –which depends on events in Afghanistan– seems to be running out.

16 декабря 2012, 0:23



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