Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


6. Over the past eight years British interests in the South Caucasus and Central Asia have developed and clarified, and the FCO has gradually increased its presence in the region.[3] The FCO identifies present key British objectives as:

    "—  to support the independence, security and territorial integrity of the states of the region;

     —   to encourage progress towards democratic and economic reform;

     —    to help secure substantial business for British companies;

     —    to contribute to the resolution of conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Tajikistan;

     —    to press for greater respect for international standards of human rights;

     —    to seek co-operation to control the trade in drugs."[4]

7. These were very much the same points identified by a number of our witnesses, whose identification of United Kingdom interests fell into four main areas:

     —    the maintenance of regional security;

     —    the integration of the states of the region with multilateral organisations and with the international community in general;

     —    the development of the region's economic and commercial potential;

     —    the promotion of internationally accepted standards of human rights and good governance.

In a number of these areas the interests of the United Kingdom and the West in general are identical and are pursued as such. In certain aspects of regional policy, however, there are significant differences between the policy of the United States and the overall aims of the EU and its Member States. In the commercial sphere it is generally accepted that the national interest prevails. We assess the United Kingdom's interests in the region in more detail in the sections below.

8. Many of our witnesses stressed to us the great strategic significance of the region to the West in general. Dr Edmund Herzig said that "all of the developed economies of the West, including Japan" had a "very large set of common interests" in the region: they "also perceive a very strong interest, both ideological and material, in that peace and stability are needed for commercial engagement."[5] Dr Neil Melvin of the University of Leeds argued that in the future the states of Central Asia would play an important role "as supplier of energy resources to the global economy": he also alluded to "serious implications" for the United Kingdom and for the West in general from Central Asian instability and its consequences for the complex geopolitics of the region.[6] Dr John Anderson of the University of St Andrews said that "investment and economic ties depend to a considerable degree on political stability"[7]. Jonathan Cohen, of Conciliation Resources, told us that Western interests in general, and British interests in particular, fell into the following areas: the development of democracy and human rights, the promotion of economic reform, the incorporation of the states of the region into the Euro-Atlantic and international structures and the promotion of "responsible security policies."[8]

9. A number of witnesses also stressed to us the importance of taking a considered view of the region's development which was not necessarily based on a narrow national or strategic interest. Dr Melvin believed that the Government should be prepared to make long-term commitments to the development of genuinely free and democratic societies in the region, in order to reap the benefits of continued stability.[9] Jonathan Cohen argued that real stability was attainable by focussing on the needs of the countries of the region themselves, rather than setting the region purely in the context of an external Western interest. He believed that the international community should not "resort to slogans advocating democratisation, human rights and transparent elections, only to subordinate these to "strategic goals" be they in regard to the extraction and transportation of oil, or the containment of Russia."[10] Dr Herzig warned against specifically British national interests being allowed to prevail over a common Western approach to the region.[11] Dennis Sammut was concerned that the United Kingdom's policy towards the Caucasus would be adversely influenced by a need to take Russian sensitivities into account.[12]

10. In a number of areas the United Kingdom's specific role, and its national interests, have been co-ordinated with those of its EU partners. The memorandum submitted to us by DG IA of the European Commission set out the Commission's view of the European Union's interests in the region. These may be summarised as:

    —    the development of closer trading and political contacts;

    —    the maintenance of regional security;

    —    support for efforts to end regional conflicts;

    —    reduction of the region's physical, economic and political remoteness from Europe;

    —    the improvement of its business climate;

    —    the development of access to energy and other raw materials.[13]

The Commission considers the European Union to be a "significant actor" in the region as its "single most important potential market outside the CIS" and a "very important supplier of the capital, know-how, goods and services [the countries of the region] require to realise their potential."[14] EU strategies have sought to provide frameworks to integrate all countries of the region into political and economic structures.[15]

11. This co-ordination of national interests, when judiciously applied in specific circumstances, may serve to magnify the United Kingdom's impact in the region and assist in the furthering of the British national interest. This appears to be the case where regional strategy is concerned, where the United Kingdom and the EU have interests which diverge from those of the US. Washington is deeply hostile to any extension of Iranian influence in the region, while the EU and the United Kingdom have recently adopted policies of constructive engagement towards Iran in order to encourage progressive forces within the Iranian government. The United States is actively pursuing policies on a number of regional issues, such as the routing of pipelines, which have the capacity to affect EU and United Kingdom interests adversely and may make exploitation of local resources uneconomic. We discuss below[16] the implications for British commercial interests of United States policy towards Iran. Mr Terry Adams, of Monument Oil and Gas, believed that a pragmatic EU and United Kingdom approach to Iran was necessary "to counteract some of the more strident policies of the US in the Caucasus".[17] The European Commission told us that "it is in the EU's interest to ensure that its voice is heard in matters concerning extraction, pipeline routes and on related issues, e.g. jurisdiction in the Caspian Sea."[18]

12. While the co-ordination of policies and interests may in a number of respects be helpful to the United Kingdom, there are clearly areas where national interest will prevail over any attempt to set a common EU line. In purely commercial terms, for instance, the United Kingdom has only limited interests in common with its European and other Western partners. Mr Nigel Peters, of the British Consultants Bureau, told us that clients of the Bureau seeking consultancy work in the region were, for example, in "direct and bitter competition with the French and the Germans".[19] Dr Herzig told us that whereas it was beneficial for there to be inter-state co-operation on developing better commercial environments:

    "when it comes to promoting British commercial interests we are natural competitors above all with our developed Western partners because we tend to have the same kinds of businesses and are pursuing the same kinds of commercial opportunities in the region."[20]

Mr Terry Adams told us that the United Kingdom had assumed a definite role in the Caspian Basin by virtue of its "historical traditions" and the early post-independence involvement in the region of British companies.[21] We found that many countries of the region perceived a special role for the United Kingdom as a country with global influence and prestige and with the asset of a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. These factors are of long-term benefit and significance to the United Kingdom.

3   Evidence p. 79. Back

4   ibid. Back

5   Q50. Back

6   Appendix 7, Evidence p. 130. Back

7   Appendix 5, Evidence p. 122. Back

8   Appendix 12, Evidence p. 157. Back

9   Appendix 7, Evidence p. 130. Back

10   Appendix 12, Evidence p. 158. Back

11   Evidence p. 4 and Q4. Back

12   Evidence p. 25. Back

13   Appendix 33, Evidence pp. 202-03. Back

14   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 202. Back

15   ibid. Back

16   See below, paragraphs 98-101. Back

17   Q128. Back

18   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 202. Back

19   Q173. Back

20   Q13. Back

21   Q128. Back

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Prepared 27 July 1999