Events & News


The EU’s Foreign Policy towards Central and South Asia: focus on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran

Dr Didier Chaudet, Research Fellow, Institute for South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

18 Oct 2012

CIT Auditorium, National University of Singapore Computer Centre (Level 2), 2 Engineering Drive 4, Singapore 117584

10.00 – 11.30am



At the beginning of his lecture, Mr Didier Chaudet set out by revisiting the more commonly used regional categorisations as they pertain to the area under discussion and noted that while these are  helpful for analysis, a simplistic definition of what entails ‘Central Asia’ belies the connections between its countries and those outside it. Therefore Mr Chaudet underscored that it was  necessary to understand the network of linkages between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Iran before one can discuss foreign policy towards any one of the three. Rather than to aggregate these countries into a nebulously defined Central Asia, a foreign policy actor like the EU needs a differentiated policy towards Iran and the region. 

Mr Chaudet outlined the connections between Iran and some European countries to reiterate the importance of the EU in taking all these into consideration when framing a collective EU policy. Greece, Italy and other southern European countries enjoy a preferential oil price from Iran.  The economic connection between Germany and Iran is strong. Indeed for much of the 1990s, there was critical dialogue between Iran and the Europeans, such as through the 1992 Edinburgh Summit. The EU and Iran even had a human rights dialogue as late as December 2002. All this stemmed from Europe seeing Iran as a force for regional stability.

During the course of the 2000s however, the Iran-EU relationship gradually fell apart. It had its origins in the ‘Cold Peace’ period of 1997, in which a German court verdict on the ’Mykonos trial’, relating to the assassination of Iranian-Kurdish politicians in Berlin, struck a raw nerve with Tehran. The US started to take a more aggressive position towards Iran on nuclear proliferation, and the EU countries followed suit. The UK announced its boycott of Iranian oil in November 2011; two months later, EU foreign ministers followed, showing a ‘reactive’ rather than ‘innovative’ EU foreign policy. Yet it is the Mediterranean countries of the EU, for instance, that would ‘pay the price’ for ongoing sanctions on Iran.

A similar overshadowing of EU interest can be seen in Afghanistan, according to Mr Chaudet. The counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan should be paramount to European countries as this is the primary source of drugs in Europe. The EU has been active since the 1980s in supporting Afghan stability and law and order through generous aid. However, after the US invasion of Afghanistan, the country has been severely destabilised, reversing the initial victory of the Americans. There is now less appetite on the part of the EU, due to the euro zone sovereign debt crises, to contribute towards counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

Neighbouring Uzbekistan is critical to stability in Afghanistan itself. Yet the EU is an ‘auxiliary’ to the US in Central Asia, according to Mr Chaudet, in their common, undifferentiated policy towards the region. The EU imposed sanctions (now lifted) on Uzbekistan after the events in Andijan in 2005 where troops fired into a crowd of protestors. The EU’s Central Asian Strategy can only work in Uzbekistan if Tashkent and Brussels give priorities to reforms towards good governance.

In conclusion, Mr Chaudet highlighted the importance of the EU having a more independent policy with its own vision and cultivating EU diplomacy as a bridge between different actors in Central Asia.