Look Before NATO Leaps into the Caspian

During the Cold War, Western security interests focused almost exclusively on the central front of Europe. Other areas were considered of minor importance, and Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus were usually dismissed as backwaters unworthy of Western attention. Even in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991 and the birth of eight new states in the former Soviet south, Central Asia barely intruded on the geopolitical consciousness of most Western officials.

Since the mid-1990s however, Western interest in the region, sparked by its vast but largely untapped energy potential and the jockeying for influence among several major powers, has grown substantially. Western oil companies have poured billions of dollars into energy development projects and established a major presence around the Caspian basin. Western capitals roll out the red carpet for visiting Caspian dignitaries. The European Union has embarked on an ambitious project to build a transportation corridor through the region to link Europe and Asia. The United States is now the leading trade partner of several countries in the region. The Silk Road Act, recently enacted by the U.S. Congress, virtually declares the Caspian an area of vital interest.

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