» Site Map  » Complexity | Decision Analysis | Eurasian Energy |Central Asia ]  » This document Winter 2001
C.v. | Résumé Contact author Search “Top 10” Lists

Turkey and the Geopolitics of Turkmenistan's Natural Gas

Turkey's enhanced geopolitical significance in the post–Cold War era is evident from an examination of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) project for natural gas from Turkmenistan. This article looks at Turkmenistan's situation within the Turkey–Russia–Iran triangle, examines the negotiations among different stake-holders with a focus on the first half of calendar year 2000, and contextualizes the analysis in a series of interrelated regional and global contexts including South Asia and Central Asia. It emerges from the analysis, that among Russia, Turkey and Iran, Russia is the agenda-maker in Central Asian diplomacy and Iran is the agenda-taker. This makes Turkey the (potential) agenda-breaker. However, the degree of agenda-bending of which Turkey is capable, will be greatly limited by increased dependence on natural gas from Russia via the Blue Stream project. Ironically, much of this gas will likely be of Turkmenistani origin.
[0. Preliminary Remarks]
 1. Turkmenistan's Gas in the Turkey–Russia–Iran Triangle
 2. The Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline Project through June 2000
2.1. Background to TCGP
2.2. Enter Shah-Deniz
2.3. Niyazov Turns to Gazprom
2.4. Niyazov Jousts with Aliev
 3. Reconfiguration and Emergence in a Complex System
3.1. The Meta-regional Level: Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan, and China
3.2. The Global Level: Turkey and Turkmenistan in the U.S.–EU–Russia Triangle
 4. Conclusion: Turkey and Turkmenistan in the Circum-Caspian Crucible
First publication:  Robert M. Cutler, "Turkey and the Geopolitics of Turkmenistan's Natural Gas,," Review of International Affairs 1, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 20–33.
[Printer friendly Full Text]
Full text

[ page 20 ]

[0. Preliminary Remarks]

The Cold War international system was a top-down hierarchy, but the post–Cold War system is a complex system. A complex system is a system whose overall behavior cannot be predicted from the behavior of its parts. For world politics, this means that middle powers and local particularities have become the principal driving forces in an international system that now self-organizes from bottom up. This characteristic developed under the cover of the Cold War. Now that superpower bipolarity has disappeared and the international system has become complex, the entire broad band of countries and regions from the Balkans to Xinjiang has become the focus of new sets of international and transnational networks of interdependence, the whole of which is impossible to reduce to the sum of its parts.[1] The end of the bipolar Cold War system has underlined the salience not only of new international regions, but also of new categories of international regions. For example, littoral basins have become more important. Also, regional international systems are more and more strongly linked together among themselves.[2] The connections between the Black Sea region and the Caspian Sea region provide ample example of these phenomena.

There are two principal reasons why these developments have occurred. First, in a complex system, which really is a network, communication becomes more important than Realpolitik control. The issues that come to the fore around littoral basins such as the Black Sea and Caspian Sea are precisely issues of communication in the broad sense: international public-policy issue areas such as ecological security, pollution control, and the regularization of waterborne trade. The well-known cases of international cooperation around the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea illustrate this as well. Second, the international political agenda now requires multilateral cooperation to solve these problems, because they are not zero-sum. They are indicators of the general movement towards enhancing "nontraditional" security regimes in regional international systems overall.[3]

A focus on questions of communications and flows (rather than territorial control) involving the two littoral basins of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea inevitably draws attention to energy export pipeline projects. Complex-system analysis draws special attention to undersea pipeline projects, because they unify elements of adjacent subregions in new ways that can alter the inherited balance of power Geopolitik.

From a complex-system perspective, the major regional players who do the most to contextualize any situation and to influence its evolution (without controlling it hegemonically) are the middle powers. In the central section of the extended Caspian/Black Sea meta-region, these powers are Turkey, Russia, and Iran. In the context of energy development, they all happen to be transport-holders.[4] A focus on the central and principal swathe of the Caspian/Black Sea meta-region thus highlights the Turkey's significance in the development of the architecture of the regional components of the emerging international system, and the relations among these components.[5]

This article focuses on Turkey's significance as reflected in one energy pipeline project in particular: the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) from Turkmenistan. As of this writing, the odds for the TCGP are not as good as they seemed in early 2000. That does not affect the argument developed here, because the purpose is to analyze the reconfiguration of this piece of the Caspian region, within the complex system of post–Cold War international relations. The first part of this article reviews Turkmenistan's situation within the Turkey–Russia–Iran triangle, from the standpoint of its natural resources and gas in particular. The second part of the article recapitulates and analyzes the negotiations, debates, and arguments among the different stake-holders concerned with the TCGP, focusing on the first half of calendar year 2000. Part three takes the insights from parts one and two, and contextualizes them in a series of interrelated local, regional, and global contexts. Part four, the conclusion, then focuses back in, on the relationship between Turkey and Turkmenistan in the circum-Caspian crucible, relying upon the re-integration of the multiplicity of contexts that are unpacked in part three.

[Note 1]. Many discussions of complexity science in international affairs are purely theoretical and/or founded in agent-based modelling. For applications of complexity science to the actual empirical study of international systems, see, inter alia: Francis Heylighen, Eric Rosseel, and Frank Demeyere (eds.), Self-Steering and Cognition in Complex Systems: Towards a New Cybernetics (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1990), pp.311–334; B. Weber, "Implications of the Application of Complex Systems Theory to Ecosystems," in R. Felix Geyer (ed.), The Cybernetics of Complex Systems: Self-Organization, Evolution, Social Change. (Salinas, Calif.: Intersystems Publications, 1993), pp. 21–30; Robert M. Cutler, "Cooperative Energy Security in the Caspian Region: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Development?" Global Governance Vol. 5, No. 2 (April–June 1999), p. 251–271; Robert M. Cutler, "The Emergence of International Parliamentary Institutions: A New Phenomenon of World Society," in Gordon S. Smith and Daniel Wolfish (eds.), Who Is Afraid of the State? (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 201–229.

[Note 2]. Karl Kaiser, "The Interaction of Regional Subsystems: Some Preliminary Notes on Recurrent Patterns and the Role of Superpowers," World Politics Vol. 21, No. 1 (October, 1968): p. 84–107, esp. 90–91, 100–105, showing intriguing prescience. See also William R. Thompson, "The Regional Subsystem: A Conceptual Explication and a Propositional Inventory," International Studies. Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 1 (March, 1973), pp. 89–117. The empirically based conclusions of Michael Haas, "International Subsystems: Stability and Polarity," American Political Science Review, Vol. 64, No. 1 (March, 1970), pp. 98–123.

[Note 3]. See, e.g., Barry Buzan, Jaap de Wilde and Ole Wver, A Theory of International Security: Threats, Sectors, Regions (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1998).

[Note 4]. A resource-holder is a country that has only energy resources and must rely on others both for transport to market and for investment capital and technology. A transport-holder is a country that may have energy resources but whose territory is needed by resource-holders for transit to market. A capital-and-technology-holder is a country or other international actor that can offer capital and technology but which is neither a resource-holder nor a transport-holder. Robert M. Cutler, "Cooperative Energy Security in the Caspian Region: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Development?" Global Governance Vol. 5, No. 2 (April–June, 1999): p. 256.

[Note 5]. On the general significance of the regional geography, see Ralph Clem, "The Frontier and Colonialism in Russian and Soviet Central Asia," in Robert A. Lewis (ed.), Geographic Perspectives on Soviet Central Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 19–36; Cyril E. Black, The Modernization of Inner Asia (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1991), adds, to the historical and demographic aspects, consideration of relations between political demands and political resources at both the "international" and "domestic" level, as well as their interaction. Cf. Friedrich Kratochwil, "Of Systems, Boundaries, and Territoriality: An Inquiry into the Formation of the State System," World Politics, Vol. 39, No. 1 (October 1986), pp. 27–52; see also John Gerard Ruggie, "Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations," International Organization, Vol. 47, No.1 (Winter, 1993), pp. 139–174.

First publication:  Robert M. Cutler, "Turkey and the Geopolitics of Turkmenistan's Natural Gas," Review of International Affairs 1, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 20–33. Copyright © Robert M. Cutler
[Printer friendly Full Text]
Full Text

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

C.v. | Résumé Contact author Search “Top 10” Lists  » Site Map  » Complexity | Decision Analysis | Eurasian Energy |Central Asia ]  » This document Winter 2001

Copyright Robert M. Cutler <>
This Web-based compilation: Copyright Robert M. Cutler
Reproduction for personal non-commercial use only.
This document address (URL):
First Web-published: 14 January 2006
Content last modified: 14 January 2006
Document last reformatted: 14 January 2006