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Central Asia can play an integral part in reversing the decline of Global Britain


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Last month, the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy reaffirmed Asia as the United States’ most important foreign policy priority despite the turmoil in Europe over the past year. Their reading of the future of geopolitics speaks volumes.

The underlying premise of America’s strategic approach is the same that underpinned our own Consolidated Review. It is that the ‘Asian Century’ is well underway and how we respond to the development of the continent in the coming decades will shape our global role. .

Of course, the UK is on a slightly different playing field than the US. The tilt to the east remains a priority, but we cannot lose sight of our main geopolitical rival at the moment, Russia. In addition to our continued commitment to our European partners, especially Ukraine, this requires a more creative approach to a comprehensive Asian strategy.

Britain’s global role as a staunch defender of democracy and the rules-based order can prevent us from becoming a second-rate power

One region deserving more attention and resources is Central Asia, following the region’s major oceanic changes last year.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s grip on Stans in Central Asia has weakened. What some insiders have called a “recalibration” from his post-1989 consensus is well underway and mostly manifests itself as a subtle ruse. These ranged from abstaining from voting at the United Nations, denial of the carefully worded Kremlin statements, and deliberate public submissions to other powers, to not attending Vladimir Putin’s birthday party.

At times resistance became more apparent. In July, Kazakhstan’s President Qasim Jomart Tokayev, on stage next to Putin himself at a forum in St. Petersburg, refused to acknowledge Russia’s claims in Donbass. He demanded “respect” from President Putin at the Central Asian-Russian summit in Washington.

A realignment of geopolitical ties in the region is underway, realigning foreign policy away from sole reliance on Russia. The challenge going forward is what the role of new non-neighborhood partners will be.

This creates a real strategic opportunity for the UK to advance its interests in areas outside its traditional sphere of influence. The region is steadily growing in economic importance and has significant reserves of natural resources (besides oil and gas, the region is a powerhouse of green energy from hydrogen, wind and solar, making it one of the world’s is home to much of its uranium and important rare earths).

The region as a whole is in a state of flux. Kazakhstan has introduced major political reforms aimed at moving from a super-presidential system to a more inclusive parliamentary democracy that better supports its citizens. In Uzbekistan, the constraints of the post-Soviet command economy are finally being lifted under a new leader. Kyrgyzstan, formerly considered the region’s most democratic country, has seen an alarming retreat towards oppression and authoritarianism in recent years.

In these critical and uncertain moments when our economies and political systems are reshaping, we must insist on democracy and liberalism rather than allow this vital region to get closer to China, Turkey and the Middle East. not. Britain’s global role as a staunch defender of democracy and the rules-based order can prevent us from becoming a second-rate power.

What steps can the UK realistically take? As stated in the Synthesis Review, a key principle in post-Brexit policy is that ‘we lead where we are best suited’. is. This means building on the historical dominance of both soft and hard power that have defined the UK’s global role. through history.

It starts with the economic ties of trade and investment. The creation of a dedicated investment forum to increase engagement between companies in the region has been successfully adopted in other Western countries such as Italy. The City of London has a big role to play here. Especially given the excellent track record of Central Asian companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Beyond this, we must also leverage our significant competitive advantages in areas such as justice and law reform, education, gender equality, environmental policy and institution building. By scaling up these frontline efforts, making more creative use of development budgets, and expanding the Good Governance Program of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, we will help these countries through their transition. countries can play an active role in empowering Practical and consistent with our values.

Our diplomatic wing, with a presence in all five Central Asian republics, is well positioned to do this, but it requires greater concentration of ministers. Ministerial responsibilities for Central Asia fall under the Minister for European Affairs, a task far too broad to give this important region the attention it needs. We need to increase utilization so that political will is aligned with political capital.

Central Asia needs to be an integral part of UK strategy. This is the link between our commitment to promoting European security and our growing economic and political influence in Asia. But whether that applies to this region or others, the central problem is more fundamental. Can Britain’s foreign policy show the agility and creativity needed to reverse its decline as an international powerhouse?

This is the single most important factor in the success of Global Britain. As of now, the jury is still out.

Former Conservative MP for Croydon South, Richard Ottaway.

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