“Science and Industrial Policy Options for Resource Rich Eurasia’’
The Silk Road which historically signifies this region in particular has lent itself to defining and placing Eurasia and Central Asia as a place for mobility where goods passed through from the East to the West and vice-versa. However, Eurasia as a producer of ideas, peoples and goods often gets left out especially in the global, and particularly Western, imagination, propagating the idea of Eurasia as a thoroughfare. Silk Road has been a place for manufacturing and historically has contributed to scientific, artistic and cultural breakthroughs of global significance but has been left out of current discussion as a producer. This has an impact on our understanding of knowledge production and educational framework in the region.
This representation of being a passage (road) and leaving out the significance of being a producer has reinforced the (mis)understanding about Silk Road and led for it to be demarcated as a periphery. Particularly since the fracture of the Soviet Union into the 15 republics, the Eurasia region is increasingly portrayed as a disparate and remote region, and a region which needs to be reconstructed using new and ‘modern’ framework and principles arising from notions, for example, of Westphalian states. Constituents of Eurasia, be it Central Asia, China or Russia, or south stream regions of the Middle East, South and South East Asia are relegated as incapable players or threats in making. However, this Silk-Road region and its millennia old interconnectedness is where the future of this region lies as is finally being recognised by OBOR (BRI) and Eurasian Economic Union projects. It is important to remember that, Eurasia as a coherent geographical construct has existed since at least as early as the Mongol Empire in the 13th century and subsequently in the Timurid Empire which brought large swathes of Eurasia under control.
Such a flawed understanding is a product of decontextualised economic analysis and subsequent mis-matched political and security studies narratives. An economic understanding of production is limited, and limited largely to post-facto analysis of the production phenomenon and process. Economics alone does not have tools either to understand how production originates and how it is sustained. Production is more often rooted in need, not in demand! while the need is correlated to how the society is organised. This societal organisation generates value systems which in turn govern the need itself. If one only uses the prevalent neo-liberal economic frameworks, very construed understandings can emerge. If one turns the analysis around, some key questions can arise from this discourse and help clarify things, for example, let us consider the cure for cancer, for which it is easy estimate the level of demand; and despite this extensive demand and money thrown at it, the market driven systems have not been able provide even a basic cure and resilience against cancer. And similarly how come we are so far behind in alternative energy solutions despite the demand?
So how is this relevant to the case of Eurasia? Historically, Eurasia was the dynamo of curiosity led intellectual development, for e.g. Al-Khwarizmi’s discovery of Algorithm, and a wide array of physical and chemical principles, translated mineral wealth into global supply chains of then and now. It was the nurturing of science and ‘investment’ in human capital that has played the key role in creating resilience in Eurasia. This pattern has been repeated through myriad political orders of Khanates, Empires and even in the modern Soviet state periods.
A diagrammatic understanding of Science to Innovation process perhaps can help understand and explain the fabric of the resilience process in Eurasia; the basic principle is as follows:
∙ Science (similar to Culture and Music) (grasping principles of nature) →
∙ Engineering (systemising and controlling process, leading to application of science) →
∙ Technology and Innovation (making engineering useful for public good and/or commercial gain)
Thus the premise here is that those policy makers who achieved an understanding of investing in science and human capital as the key to sustainable economic growth were able to create progress at a global scale, despite the challenges of land-locked geographies, harsh climates, political upheaval and unstable globally linked finance, and indeed, low population densities.
So as stated earlier, in the past we have Eurasia at the centre of processes of development, integration and growth, so what does it have to offer now? For one, their natural wealth of vast materials and metals, needed to drive a new era of electronics, refrigeration and energy storage underpin all other areas of technology and thus global sustainable development, can aid in global development. This is particularly important when going beyond hydrocarbons and Silicon-based technologies which are prevalent today.
For Eurasia specifically, the following concerns are important to keep in mind in order to not compromise its millennia old intrinsic resilience capacity. In a post-Soviet, new liberal world order in which Eurasia re-industrialises, it should not fall for ‘easy-options’ often discussed by many developing countries which are industrialising now, rather Eurasia is re-industrialising – their starting point in terms of human capital and institutional capacity was/is very different. The countries of Central Asia, for example, need to pay close attention to not getting caught up in thinking that technology transfer is the final goal. On the contrary, it is the starting point for developing further technologies. Access to vast materials and metals base, which are needed to drive the new era of electronics, refrigeration and energy-storage which underpin all other areas of technology do not rest with IT, 3-D printing and consumer goods. Countries in Central Asia, especially, are home to natural resources of the kind that are essential in future technologies, from metals to hydrocarbons. New industrial and sub sectors of global relevance have potential to be induced in/from Eurasia through deployment of new scientific ideas. For example, the down-stream potential of the oil and gas industry, mining and agro resources are necessary for producing clean-tech and green technologies as well. Polymers and oxide semi-conductor devices like light emitting diodes, solar cells and transistors; cheap deposition of polymers by printing; improve devices by understanding fundamental laws of physics can all lead to spin-off technologies which can put Eurasia at the forefront of production and high-technology rather than compete with established players in developed fields. So resilience is not the endgame, it is a kind of insurance policy.
Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan have oil and gas and as a result polymers and plastics on the one hand, while together with the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, they have vast reserves of Rare-Earth minerals. This can help them diversify their economies and lead the change rather than play catch up to developed countries. Some examples of these kinds of technologies are Spin Nematics (for the next generation of environmental, medical and industrial sensors for applications ranging from satellite communication to chemical industry heat process management and mining exploration); Computer Memories and Information Transport (e.g. components and fully integrated chips for quantum computation and memory storage); Multifunctional Composites (these can act as both batteries for energy storage and process sunlight for energy production), Magnetic Refrigeration (for example, manipulation of quantum spins can produce refrigeration that no longer requires cumbersome compressors or use of environmentally damaging gases such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (hydro-chlorofluorocarbons) like R-12 or R-22. Such technologies have the potential to power our computers, keep our food fresh); and HighTemperature Superconductivity (for dissipation-less transmission of electricity and production of magnets for Maglev High Speed trains as well as plasma confinement reactors for energy production).
Oxford dictionary defines Resilience as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and with toughness’. Historically, Eurasia has not only been resilient but rather been the epicentre of change, transformation and production. Whether it was the Silk Road, or home to the most ancient and great civilisations in the world, Eurasia has been at the centre of all things new. The natural connectedness of the Eurasian region allowed for a sharing of resources and led to some of the world’s best science. Home to a plethora of materials and metals, renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, the countries of Eurasia have benefitted from each other through interactions in knowledge production along with exchanges of goods and peoples which has been at the heart of progress through time and space. Even in Soviet times Central Asian countries remained connected with flexible borders, if any, and shared infrastructure which favoured interaction. It is only since the end of the Cold War that we have seen Eurasia, especially countries in Central Asia, question and struggle with their place in the world. Rather than play catch-up to the world’s leading economies, countries in the region should look to development paradigms which are Eurasian in character and are generated from within. International organisations and think tanks bring with them Euro-centric concepts of development, economic and otherwise, and fail to take into account the knowledge and technologies that exist within Eurasia.
Dr Siddharth S Saxena
Kalra, P. and Saxena, S.S. (2015). ‘Asiatic Roots and the Rootedness of the Eurasian Project’, in ‘The Eurasian project and Europe: Regional Discontinuities and Geopolitics’, ed. Lane, D. and V. Samokhvalov, Palgrave Macmillan.
Kalra, P. and Saxena, S.S. (2007). ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Prospects of Development in the Eurasia Region,’ P Kalra and S.S. Saxena, Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ)
Oxford Dictionary, Resilience, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/resilience
Saxena, S.S. (2017). ‘Uzbek and Turkmen Pavilions at Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan: Pave way for ‘New Energy’ Revolution for a Global Impact’, available at https://centralasia.group.cam.ac.uk/news/Expo2017
(This article is adapted from the COMPASS Project Proceedings)