Accepted Paper:

Geo-power beyond spheres of influence: Connecting Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula  


Natalie Koch (Syracuse University)

Paper long abstract:

In "Critical Geopolitics," Gearóid Ó Tuathail (1996, 7) forcefully shows how geography is not "an innocent body of knowledge," but "an ensemble of technologies of power." Since the publication of this seminal book, the field of critical geopolitics has become a widely influential, and it has increasingly shaped research on power and politics in Central Asia. The grounded analyses that have accompanied this shift have challenged classical accounts that reduce the region to a homogeneous and essentialist metaphors like the "heartland" or a "chessboard" for Great Power politics. Yet the new "critical" literature on geopolitics in Central Eurasia still frequently slides into conventional ways of thinking about the region as a zone falling into one "sphere of influence" or another (e.g. that of Russia, China, or the West). Yet viewed through a poststructuralist lens to regional geopolitics as "ensembles of technologies of power," it is clear that Central Asia - like any world region - has always been subject to the simultaneous push and pull toward multiple regional blocs. Although scholars and policymakers often want to spatially fix allegiances to explain local political patterns and predict future development, the constant overlap of technologies of power, originating both within and beyond Central Eurasia, defies any simple categorization.

This paper illustrates this complex form of geo-power, based on ebbs and flows, rhetoric and materialities, and ultimately overlapping lines of global connection, by examining the case of expanding relations between Central Asian states and the Gulf Arab monarchies. In particular, I focus on the Qatar's bilateral cooperation with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Qatar has established embassies in these states only within the past 10 years and its growing political and economic ties with Central Asian states, cities, and actors raise a number of questions. Why is Qatar - a country of only 260,000 citizens and 2.6 million total residents - interested in developing bilateral relations in the region? What is at stake for Qatari leaders and their counterparts in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan? What do expanding relations mean for the ever-shifting geopolitical landscape in Central Asia? And how can we place connections with actors in the Arabian Peninsula in a more complex picture of space that acknowledges Central Eurasia's deep history of being shaped by overlapping networks of power?

Panel REG-01
Are there Central Eurasian Forms of Power? Theorizing Configurations and Materialities