Eurasian powers have good reasons to stick together

Oct 26, 2001 02:00 AM

The major powers of Eurasia -- China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey -- are speaking, at least seemingly, from the same script as the United States, Europe and Japan. All have agreed in principle on a common goal in the stability, or control, of the volatile Eurasian borderlands. Until now, each government preferred the status quo -- a deteriorating jumble of fragile regimes and societies -- to the task of an open and high-level exchange of interests. US intervention in Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network has made this state of affairs obsolete.
The major powers of the region have joined outsiders in open agreement over the minimum conditions for stability, namely, peace and a "broad-based" government in Kabul. This will involve trade-offs and considerable discipline. Will the consensus last? Given the many disputes within and among the powers, the prospects are dim. But they have a choice. Backed by the United States with unprecedented leverage on the ground, the major powers should act to transform their momentary cooperation into a more lasting concert.

A Eurasian concert would have three main elements.
First, all the powers would agree to respect post-Soviet borders and act collectively against any attempt to redraw them. Where border disputes remain unresolved, as in Kashmir, the Caspian and the Pamirs, the major powers should renounce the use of force.
Second, they would establish a mechanism for regular consultations and regional diplomacy. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, set up by China, Russia and the former Soviet states in Central Asia (minus neutral Turkmenistan), was a good start in this direction until it succumbed to an anti-American temptation. This should be reversed, and the United States, Europe and Japan should be invited to participate in the organization.
Third, all major powers would agree that transnational militancy of any character, from smuggling to religious-inspired terrorism, requires their joint resistance. So long as some powers find it useful to support irredentism or other unrest in the backyards of their neighbours, no condition of stability can exist for anyone.

The realities of geopolitics have worked against such concerts in the past. There is little to guarantee that Iran and Turkey will find a modus vivendi in the Caucasus once much greater amounts of oil and natural gas begin to flow from the Caspian; or that Iran and Pakistan will find some mutually agreeable way to settle their many ethnic and sectarian issues vis-à-vis Afghanistan once a resolution to the current crisis is found there; or that India and China will decide upon anything besides an arms race and proxy conflicts to define their bilateral relationship.
Above all, there is no certainty that any of these major powers will find the right combination of incentives and authority to compel weaker neighbours to accept a regional order based on a hierarchy of major and minor powers. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine another scenario for stability in Eurasia that is both more just and more effective than a regional concert. Preserving an imperfect peace must take priority over achieving an ideal one.
The United States should proceed with its calculated intervention in the region with that axiom in mind.

Source: The International Herald Tribune
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