Integration, Conflict, and Development along the Caspian in Kazakhstan
As globalization has accelerated over the past decade and multinational corporations have extended their reach into the post-Cold War Eurasia, the Caspian region emerges as a zone where international crosscurrents merge. The development of oil and gas industry in the Caspian Sea region has been given strategic priority in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, but growth targets are often at odds with rural sustainable development and diversified production in other industries and local perspectives on economic development including the desire to preserve traditional livelihood.
The major question addressed in this study is: how successful and adequate are oil and gas projects, in terms of promoting sustainable development and fostering the “real economy”? And what are the costs and consequences of the “real economy” for those whose involvement in this economy is marginal by virtue of the low profit-orientation of their business, such as herding? How has the local populace, particularly those in areas most affected by displacement in the wake of multinational expansion, responded to and reacted to both the encroachment of corporate multinationals and projects that attempt social and technical infrastructure revitalization? Does the encroachment of the multinational upon the Caspian region, both perceived and actual, precipitate community dissatisfaction, exacerbate ethnic cleavages, and economic disparities and disenfranchisement, providing fodder for the resentments that fuel religious extremism?
In order to assess the potentially conflicting aims of local actors (both disenfranchised communities and government power brokers) and foreign multinationals, I examine the varied perspectives involved in the Caspian region of Kazakhstan. Yet, local stakeholders form a major focus group in this research. What issues and dilemmas are at stake among local communities, both rural and urban? How do they assess their situations and chances in the presence of a rapidly developing multinational oil industry? By presenting a nuanced discussion that represents the varied viewpoints of participants in the Caspian playing field, particularly those likely to be marginalized and dislocated by oil and gas business, I hope to contribute to the on-going scholarly debate on globalization and development and thus provide a small step towards mitigating potentially escalating inequalities in the region. It is in the interests of state and multinationals, as well as local recipients and agents, to seek out opinions of local participants and stakeholders, rather than confer upon them the role of passive recipient of global change. By collecting from the local populace narratives of land use and community identification, in addition to opinions on multinational encroachment and government intervention, this study will tap into a valuable source of material for both development policy and academic research.