Though NATO as an organization aims to promote international peace and security, views on NATOs role and relevance are diverse. Pre-2001, some regarded NATO as a purely Cold War institution. When Afghanistan exploded onto the scene, a new life and purpose was breathed into NATO. With the prospect of the ending of the Afghanistan War, it is perhaps a suitable juncture to pause and question, what is the next mission, goal, or purpose for NATO?
What is most interesting to note is that the official text of the NATO Treaty makes no specific reference to the Cold War period. Rather it is a document that could serve as a template for peace and security in any era and any context. Article 2 states “The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.”
Education has long been heralded the best way to promote peace and security by first promoting understanding of other cultures and second by giving individuals tools to make themselves economically sustainable. An in depth look at the University of Central Asia, UCA, will help elaborate why building educational institutes may be the best way to achieve Article 2.
The University of Central Asia is set in a region that takes us back to NATOs beginning; to countries still striving to develop after Soviet Rule. It is currently working towards establishing three campuses to be symbolically located at the historical meeting points of travellers on the ancient Silk Road, Khorog, in Tajikistan, Naryn in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tekeli, in Kazakhstan.
The University has the Presidents of Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Kazakhstan as its Patrons, and His Highness the Aga Khan, Head of the Aga Khan Development Network, as its Chancellor. These rural locations make it a unique tertiary education institution, as few have dared to invest in these areas, owing to their remote mountainous location, not conducive to large developments. But the Chancellor of the University has selected these locations precisely because of this very problem: in most of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the majority of which are former Soviet states, higher education is offered primarily in urban areas, leaving the rural population under-served. Mountainous regions in particular, lack access to higher education, and experience isolation from technological advances and economic opportunity leading to poverty and under development. With immense funding the University has been able to undertake the unique aim of empowering the structurally under-empowered.
The school will include among other things, the School of Professional and Continuing Education (the first operational division of the University); a School of Arts and Sciences (undergraduate) and The Graduate School of Development.
Having campuses in the mountainous terrain comes with huge obstacles, which UCA have chosen to see as an opportunity: The opportunity to better understand global issues, including the effective management of natural resources, migration, ecotourism, and economic transition . This ties in with another core mandate of the University which is to support Central Asians to enhance their roles as custodians of their environment and cultures to preserve and benefit from them. The mountain regions also rich in resources, so and it is critical to the growth and development of Central Asia that local inhabitants beable to manage them to ensure they can enjoy them, rather than a foreign power. The heavy emphasis on science and state of the art, cutting edge technology should not only inspire citizens to reach the highest heights, but give them the capacity to do so.
The university also offers these countries a chance to integrate on the larger global scale into an ever more globalised world. Because English will be the language of institutions, with English preparation courses offered to ensure students can cope. Learning the English language is also a way of learning about Western culture, which to many may still have the stigma of being foreign, invasive and imperial. However in addition to that, all undergraduates are required to be fluent in their native language and Russian. This ensures that the native languages are not lost, and further shows the populace that if English and Russian can co- exist so can their cultures. The University has also tried to introduce to Central Asia a new model for education facilities – a university community in from which people can grow and develop in the same shared space with other vibrant young intellectuals, academics and entrepreneurs.
The actual building of the UCA Campuses is predicted to multiply the economic impact to Central Asian communities through the procurement of building materials, training and employment , and the use of support services, such as transportation and personal care. UCA estimates that over 900 new local jobs will be created during construction, with an additional 750 support service positions available once the campuses are fully operational. Future plans for the University include providing publicly accessible libraries, athletic complexes, and facilities for cultural-social events.
UCA already has strong backing and confidence from Canada. Partnering with a large number of Universities including many Canadian universities such as Carleton and The Universities of Alberta, Toronto, and Ottawa, as well as others around the world allows UCA to offer an internationally recognised standard of higher education in Central Asia. This is incredibly important at a time when many educational institutions in the region are being shut down due to lack of quality of credentials.
NATO’s throwing its support behind this course would be beneficial for reasons of peace and security. I will chose one example to cite why Central Asia as a region is still extremely precarious. The founder of the University, the Aga Khan, is also the leader of the Ismaili Muslims, a sect of Islam with a world wide following. Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan province is home to many Ismaili Muslims and following the country’s political instability during the 1992-1997 civil war, Government officials speculated that the Ismailis might try to break away. Though local community leaders vehemently denied this since the Aga Khan has never asked or suggested anything of the sort, this show that the region is still vulnerable and the leadership still suspicious and perhaps politically insecure. A project like this therefore forces immense cooperation from all interested parties and can therefore be the beginnings of a relationship of trust, and a way to encourage regional cooperation, and therefore if NATO could be seen to partnering with countries for the benefit of the country in question, it would surely aid its reputation.
NATO should express its approval for these projects at every opportunity, in order to provide support when people are unable to work and be productive, they are drawn to destructive ways to pass their time. Investing in and encouraging university institution, such as UCA, may be the way to channel the energy of intelligent people who would otherwise be idle. It is also a way to teach English, the language of the future to promote more communication between cultures, and finally it is a way to teach about the West in home territory where it is not threatening, which in turn will promote understanding between cultures.