Energy, Security, Democracy Linked in Central Asia, Say Officials

By David McKeeby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The United States is committed to helping the countries of Central Asia develop strong, democratic institutions and create “win-win” solutions in developing energy resources, top U.S. officials told members of a House International Relations subcommittee in a July 25 hearing.

With Russia to the north, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, and China to the east, the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia find that their energy export strategies and security needs are intertwined, said Steven Mann, the U.S. State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs.  (See related article.) 

Also testifying was Lana Ekimoff, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Russian and Eurasian Affairs, who said that by 2010, countries in the region expect to export up to 4 million barrels of oil and 680 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.   The availability of Caspian oil and gas, modest compared to the 45 million barrels per day produced by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members, still helps to diversify global energy supply, which ultimately contributes to global energy security, she said.  Ekimoff added that the full potential of the region’s energy resources remains unknown.

“Our goal,” said Ekimoff, “is to promote regional partnerships among the producing and transit countries. It is important that the countries take responsibility for encouraging the development of new commercially viable export routes and find ways they can work together and with commercial entities in order to create a win-win situation for all involved.” 


During the 1990s, several countries along the Caspian Sea basin strove to develop their oil and natural gas reserves, attracting interest and investment from numerous international energy companies.  But even though they are energy rich, these countries remained largely dependent on Russian-owned, Soviet-era pipelines to transport these resources to global markets. 

Initially, said Mann, the challenge was to help the region achieve greater economic independence by expanding its export options through a regional east-west energy corridor consisting of multiple pipelines.  (See related article.)

The completion of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline, which transports Kazakhstan’s oil to the Russian Black Sea port at Novorossiysk, as well as the July 13 opening of the $3.9 billionBaku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which transports oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast for export, are “signal successes” of the multiple pipeline policy the United States has encouraged in the region, Mann said.

With future plans to link oil and gas lines from Kazakhstan to the BTC, countries in the region are beginning to have more and better export options, said Mann.  (See related article.)   

“Our pipeline policy – a policy of anti-monopoly – is changing the landscape of Eurasia in an important and welcome way,” Mann said.

The next challenge, he said, is to build increased network capacity by encouraging states to pursue even more joint exploration and pipeline development projects, in partnership with their neighbors and interested energy companies.

At the same time, Mann said, the countries of the region also should consider investing some of their energy wealth in building strong democratic political institutions, robust free markets and vibrant civil societies.  By doing so, he said, they can direct the region toward greater security and away from the “resource curse” of corruption and authoritarianism that can befall resource-rich countries.  

Both officials agreed that even though Central Asia has made significant progress in the 15 years since the end of the Soviet Union, great challenges remain. 

They said that through continued contacts, exchanges, education, and training opportunities, the United States can help Central Asia develop the institutions that will produce benefits for the people and ultimately bring greater security to the region. (See related article.) 

The prepared statements of Mann and Ekimoff are available on the House International Relations Committee Web site.

For more information, see Caucasus, South and Central Asia and International Security.