The New Great Game in the Caspian Region and Its Implications to Asian Energy Security

The historic disintegration of the Soviet Union is one big factor that prompted the so-called New Great Game.  Prior to this, back in the 19th century, British Empire and Imperial Russia competed for influence and acquisition of the vast land that has, since then, been tagged as the resource-rich Caspian Sea region, and Afghanistan was supposedly the center of the “Great Game.” From that time to the post-Cold War era, the scramble for fossil fuel remains a pivotal issue in international relations (with focus on the realist school), insofar as the Caspian region is concerned.

Today, the very strategic region (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Russia) that covers almost half of the world’s total natural gas reserves and tenth of the world total of oil reserves has become one of the most crucial points of conflict in the world, just northwest of the Arab region, another precarious region.[1]  But unlike the latter, the Caspian area’s natural gas fields are not yet as developed and exploited as the oil wells of the states surrounding the Persian Gulf.

This is the primary reason why the new and potential powers Russia, China, Iran, and to some extent India, plus the strategically competitive US continue to exert both soft and hard influence (power) to allure the less powerful Caspian states in order to extract the much needed fossil fuels to secure their countries’ energy supply. Both state and non-state actors (US, China, Russia, and multinational oil companies) both take risks in order to have a stake (control and influence) on the Caspian area.

Their scramble and squabble for power are more highlighted as global power tends to shift from the West to the Asian side. The latter itself is where the two economically dynamic and potential global powers are located: China and India. The East Asian region (Northeast and Southeast) also has, since the 1980s, been very dynamic. If the commotion and anarchy in West Asia will be weathered, the area could also compete significantly in the world market with its rich oil wells as their leverage.

           

As global economic and political clout shifts to Asian states, energy would become an essential component to fuel the economic dynamism of the enormous continent, in order to sustain projected political dominance. In support of what most scholars already observed, the following are my key points for this paper:

a. that the increasing economic progress in Asia will determine the trends in energy supply and demand in the global energy market. I mentioned that with economic leverage, political influence might also increase. Hence, when Asian future powers had already gained prominence, they would control the supply of oil from the Caspian region to benefit their energy-hungry economies. I’d like to believe that the West (Europe and the US) will not lose their soft power but hard power (economic and politico-security) would really have shifted to Asia, unless the US and western oil MNCs prevail in the New Great Game.

 

b. It is expected/ projected that by 2030, the Middle East will still continue as the top energy supplier to East Asia, which by that period, will have become the new major market for Arabian black gold. However, with the growing demand for more oil, Caspian oil and gas will be tapped significantly.

 

c. Still in relation to the Middle East disputes and potential chaos, East Asian states will eventually find alternative suppliers of energy resources to avoid any disruptions of supply to fuel their industries.

 

d. Should Russia, India, and China (plus Iran) succeed in gaining control of Caspian Sea fossil fuels, it would be easier to transmit oil to the rest of Asia provided they will agree with the idea of extending the pipelines to other strategic states in East Asia. If we use a realist perspective here, of course, in times of energy crises, these giant states will most likely take the supply for themselves, hence the need for other East Asian states to collaborate and address alternative options.

e. Lastly, here’s one thing that has a huge possibility, but I do not wish to happen in my lifetime. If Russia, China, India, and Iran all rise as new powers in the future, and their interests collide, this might create a domino effect of nuclear horror, which could spark the gun peg that is the Middle East or vice versa. Apparently, this horrible scenario will spread to East Asia, thus a prelude to the next world war.

 

Energy security has become an important concern these days. And when energy concerns are raised, two regions get the spotlight: the Middle East and East Asia. The first is highlighted because it remains as the top supplier of fossil fuel. It still holds more than half the world’s total reserves of fossil fuels. The second is also important because it is projected to be the world’s vacuum of fossil fuel supply, given its already high demand at present and in recent years. China itself is the largest importer of energy in Asia, what more in the future, if it will become the next superpower state as argued by many scholars. But besides these two significant regions, one region that now regains world attention is the Caspian/ Eurasian region. Nowadays, we watch and wait on the developments in the New Great Game. Most assuredly, there will be two outcomes: the squabble will continue or cooperation will succeed over anarchy and greed.


[1] And as I see the trend and basing from other scholars’ observations, it is possible that future massive conflicts in this region might also cause global destabilization.

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