Dr. Sean Gervasi (continued):
The New "Great Game" in the Caspian Sea
Back to the beginning of the article.
Yugoslavia is significant not just for its own position on the map, but also for the areas to which it allows access. And influential American analysts believe that it lies close to a zone of vital US interests, the Black Sea-Caspian Sea region.
This may be the real significance of the NATO task force in Yugoslavia.
The United States is now seeking to consolidate a new European-Middle Eastern bloc of nations. It is presenting itself as the leader of an informal grouping of Muslim countries stretching from the Persian Gulf into the Balkans. This grouping includes Turkey, which is of pivotal importance in the emerging new bloc. Turkey is not just a part of the southern Balkans and an Aegean power. It also borders on Iraq, Iran and Syria. It thus connects southern Europe to the Middle East, where the US considers that it has vital interests.
The US hopes to expand this informal alliance with Muslim states in the Middle East and southern Europe to include some of the new nations on the southern rim of the former Soviet Union.
The reasons are not far to seek. The US now conceives of itself as being engaged in a new race for world resources. Oil is especially important in this race. With the war against Iraq, the US established itself in the Middle East more securely than ever. The almost simultaneous disintegration of the Soviet Union opened the possiblity of Western exploitation of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea region.
This region is extremely rich in oil and gas resources. Some Western analysts believe that it could become as important to the West as the Persian Gulf Countries like Kazakhstan have enormous oil deposits. Its recopverable reserves probably exceed 9 billion barrels. Kazakhstan could probably pump 700,000 barrels a day. The problem, as in other countries of the region, at least from the perspective of Western countries, has been to get the oil and gas resources out of the region and to the West by safe routes.
The movement of this oil and gas is not simply a technical problem. It is also political. It is of crucial importance to the US and to other Western countries today to maintain friendly relations with countries like Kazakhstan. More importantly, it is important to know that that any rights acquired, to pump petroleum or to build pipelines to transport it, will be absolutely respected. For the amounts which are projected for investment in the region are very large.
What this means is that Western producers, banks, pipeline companies, etc. want to be assured of "political stability" in the region. They want to be assured that there will be no political changes which would threaten their new interests or potential ones.
An important article in THE NEW YORK TIMES recently described what has been called a new "great game" in the region, drawing an analogy to the competition between Russia and Great Britain in the northwest frontier of the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century. The authors of the article wrote that,
Obviously, there have been several reasons which prompted Western leaders to seek the expansion of NATO. One of these, and an important one, has clearly been a commercial one.
This becomes more evident as one looks more closely at the parallel development of commercial exploitation in the Caspian Sea region and the movement of NATO into the Balkans.
On May 22, 1992, the North Atlantic Treay Organization issued a remarkable statement regarding the fighting then going on in Transcaucasia. This read in part as follows:
This was a remarkable statement by any standards. For NATO was in fact issuing a veiled warning that it might have to take "steps" to prevent actions by governments in the Cas- pian Sea region which it construed as threatening vital Western interests.
Two days before NATO made this unusual declaration of interest in Transcaucasion affairs, an American oil Company, Chevron, had signed an agreement with the government of Kazakhstan for the development of the Tengiz and Korolev oil fields in the Western part of the country. The negotiations for this agreement had been under way for two years prior to its being signed. And reliable sources have reported that they were in danger of breaking down at the time because of Chevron's fears of political instability in the region. (15)
At the time that NATO made its declaration, of course, there would have been little possibility of backing up its warning. There was, first of all, no precedent at all for any large, out-of-area operation by NATO. NATO forces, furthermore, were far removed from Transcaucasia. It does not take a long look at a map of the Balkans, the Black Sea the Caspian Sea to realize that the situation is changing.
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Last revised: Dec. 29, 1998