Turkmenistan Neutrality Policy and Relationships with post-Soviet Countries in Central Asia

by | May 25, 2021

Neutrality Policy

The argumentative basis of the country’s international relations is the self-declared permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan, recognized on December 12, 1995 by the United Nations in Resolution A / 50/80 (A). The government defines this neutrality as follows:

  • Preservation and development of national independence
  • Creating a climate of national economic growth
  • Pursuing national interests in the implementation of international politics
  • Preserving the security of Turkmenistan through politics and diplomacy
  • Promising and respectful cooperation with international partners
  • Foreign policy in accordance with international law and the United Nations Charter

Based primarily on its neutrality policy, Turkmenistan refrains from membership in multilateral associations and organizations as far as possible. At the moment there are only the following memberships:

– United Nations (UN)

– Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

– Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

– Organization for Economic Cooperation (ECO)

– Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

– International Monetary Fund (IMF)

– World Bank

– Islamic Development Bank (IDB)

– Asian Development Bank (ADB)

– European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)

As an observer:

– Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

The OSCE sees the policy of neutrality primarily as an “isolation strategy ” and an extremely flexible argument that the Turkmenistan government can interpret at any time in its own way, without it being filled with substance, while the Turkmenistan government also operates under the flag of neutrality a policy of “worst offenses against the obligations of the OSCE”. In the same report the OSCE describes Turkmenistan as a “black hole”, a “desert of human rights” and sees the complete isolation of the country as “the worst of all possible solutions” (page 3). The Council of the European Union has expressed itself in a similar way.

Most of Turkmenistan’s international relations are bilateral. With a few exceptions, Turkmenistan is not a member of multilateral associations. For example, as one of only six countries in the world, the country has not submitted an application for membership in the World Trade Organization and does not participate in regionally important associations such as the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, the Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

All international relations in the country are officially determined by the Turkmenistan neutrality policy.

Turkmenistan Neutrality Policy

Central Asian states

Due to the numerous historical and natural spatial similarities between the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, the political, economic, social and cultural structures of the states show numerous parallels. Traditions maintained by the Turkmenistan population can be found in a very similar way in the likewise nomadic states of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and – to a lesser extent – in the countries of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which are mainly characterized by well and river oases. With the Russian language a very widespread lingua franca was available to the population of all Central Asian republics when they gained independence. With the exception of Tajikistan, the closely related Turkic languages are also established as the official languages of the Central Asian republics.

In all the states mentioned, Islam is the dominant religion, whereby the differences between the Sunni and the Shiite tendencies are of much less importance than in the states of the Near and Middle East. It is not only religion itself that has an effect, but its rather secular realization as an element that connects cultures. In addition, the countries share the commonality of their historical experiences. The major turning points such as the Mongol storm, the Timurid and currently the Russian conquest had a defining effect. In all five states, the cultural, political and economic influences from the Soviet era to the present play an important role.

Like all former CIS states, economically and politically closely integrated into the Soviet system, these republics were hardly prepared for independence in 1991. Oil and gas are and will remain the decisive economic factors in the three large states of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for the foreseeable future. The most important agricultural export of these countries has been cotton since the early 1960’s. In addition, the melons of the three republics within the former USSR enjoy an excellent reputation.

In addition to these cultural, linguistic, historical, economic and political similarities, the states mentioned have a number of problems in common. In particular, due to their relatively small national economies, they are hardly in a position to compensate for their geopolitical and economic peripheral location with a corresponding domestic economy. The small size of the national economies also prevents the respective national banks from implementing an effective currency policy, for example to cushion external shocks.

In terms of foreign trade, the neighboring countries compete on the one hand with one another with very similar export profiles and, on the other hand, with regard to oil and gas, they also compete with the geostrategically much more favorable countries of the Middle East. Cotton and wheat form the focus of agricultural production in the three large states. A characteristic of the current cultivation methods is a seasonal water requirement, which is not based on the strongly fluctuating water flow of the rivers Amu and Syr-Darja over the course of the year. While the water flow is highest at the time of the snow melt in spring, the demand only reaches its peak in high and late summer. This results in considerable tensions between the upper-lying Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the lower-lying Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. However, the lower lying areas show energy surpluses and the upper lying areas have energy deficits. This could result in previously unused opportunities for mutually profitable cooperation.

At the time of independence, the prerequisites outlined offered not only a few areas of conflict but also numerous points of contact for close cooperation between the Central Asian republics. Therefore, the joint conferences that resulted in the Declaration of Ashgabat in December 1991 initially made a kind of Central Asian union seem entirely possible. It was actually founded in 1994 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but at no point did it develop any significant significance.

In any case, the initial willingness to cooperate did not last long. For the governments v. a. a risk potential for their national solo efforts. In order to justify their policy of isolation, the governments therefore looked for ways of separating their population from that of their respective neighboring countries. Although good neighborly relations are of particular importance for a landlocked country such as Turkmenistan that exports raw materials, the demarcation was made here most consistently.

Accordingly, Turkmenistan has so far hardly developed any economic cooperation with its neighboring countries. So – partly guided by strategic interests – not a single one of the total of seven planned border free trade zones has been put into operation so far. The development of a functioning cross-border infrastructure is also making slow progress, although the development of effective transit corridors should be of central importance for the further development of the landlocked state of Turkmenistan.