Vol. 2, No. 16 (August 15, 2009)

Toward a Union of the Silk Road

Asim Mollazade, MP
Democratic Reforms Party

Historically, the South Caucasus has long been a battlefield of the Great Game, with centuries’ long fights for influence among outside empires turning the peoples of the region into victims.  In most cases, it was a zero-sum game.  And because geography did not change, the struggle repeated itself with the same result.  But at the end of the 20th century, because of changes in the broader world and the appearance of independent states in Transcaucasia, the situation has begun to change.

These countries began to work together in a cooperative fashion, and they attracted outside attention to their ambitious investment projects.  This process took off with the signing of the so-called “contract of the century,” and it accelerated with the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and will increase still further with the construction of a gas pipeline via Turkey, Greece, and Italy.  In addition, there is the Nabucco project and the Odessa-Brody route, all of which will allow Azerbaijan to sell its energy resources to Eastern Europe and beyond. 

In addition to pipelines, there has been an expansion of transportation infrastructure linking Europe and Asia.  The launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaik-Kars railroad symbolizes this.  Now Kazakhstan and China have expressed their interest in getting involved.  And further development of this network will link the largest seaports of Europe and Asia by the shortest land route as well.  In these projects too, the South Caucasus is rapidly becoming an importer bridge builder between two larger regions. 
 The expansion of commodity exchange between East and West will place Azerbaijan and Georgia in a completely new place on the vector of worldwide economic development.  That makes their cooperation in GUAM even more important, not only as an integrator of the two countries but as a means to participate in these broader processes.  GUAM is important not because it is directed against someone else but because it helps its members work together and with others.

With a headquarters in Kyiv, GUAM will soon have a parliamentary assembly based in Baku.  The grouping will be the basis for a customs union.  Its own anti-terrorist center has been established, and the grouping stands ready to take part in peacekeeping both on its own territory and more generally, in cooperation with the countries of the Balkans, the Baltic region and Eastern Europe. 

Azerbaijan is committed to pursue balanced development and plans to avoid the Dutch Disease by redistributing the flow of petrodollars into allied countries to promote development and reduce inflation.  So far, Armenia has been a stumbling block toward regional development, given its occupation of a fifth of Azerbaijani territory.  But if that situation changes, there are no obstacles to its inclusion in this broader integrative process.  On the contrary, the participation of Armenia would both promote regional security and economic development. 

For the GUAM countries, integration with Europe is a major focus, even though they recognize that they are unlikely to be in a position to join the European Union in this generation.  Partnership with NATO is a more immediate prospect, especially given Turkey’s role.  Looking further afield, the members of GUAM see Kazakhstan as being drawn into this cooperative set of arrangements, a development that would lead to a completely new system that could be called the Union of the Silk Road. 

Such a Union would involve extensive transportation and communication corridors as well as security arrangements and provide another means for linking the countries within it to Europe.  At the same time, the integration of these countries into Europe and the promotion of stability will be impossible without the creation and the development of democracy and the support of human rights in all of its members.  Moreover, these countries still face serious problems with corruption, and some of them face religious-based extremism, something that must be fought through the promotion of secular models of state development.