The Strategic Significance of Afghanistan: Geopolitics, the Trans-Afghan Pipeline, and the Struggle for Eurasia

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

International Affairs

Additional Affiliations

University College

Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Due to the intensifying competition over energy access, international relations has entered what energy scholar Michael Klare calls an ‘international energy order’. In this order, energy access rivals military might as a source of national power. Central Asia has large deposits of oil and natural gas, which is why the US, China, and Russia are competing for influence in what is known as the New Great Game. According to Geopolitical theory, global dominance is a function of gaining dominance over the Eurasian landmass, and gaining influence in Central Asia is a key step towards attaining this objective.

While China, Russia, and the US have areas of overlapping interests, the US views Russia and China as rivals. This is why the US wishes to direct Central Asian energy away from its rivals towards South Asia through the TAPI pipeline. Due to its location between Central and South Asia, Afghanistan is an energy bridge and thus key to achieving Washington’s strategic objectives. The US also wants to establish a military presence in the Central Asia. Furthermore, TAPI allows the US to isolate Iran, which is competing to supply South Asia with the Russia-supported IPI pipeline.

However, Afghanistan’s security problems complicate attempts to construct the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline. Because of the Taliban’s potential to create a viable government in Afghanistan, the US negotiated with the Islamic regime until 2001. The Taliban gained prominence by disarming warlords that were waging civil war in Afghanistan. The US armed many of these warlords during its proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980’s.

As part of its current exit strategy, the US believes economic development in the form of TAPI transit fees will blunt the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan. While Russia and China are also weary of the fundamentalist threat, they are loath to see the US play a role in the region’s energy transactions, not to mention establish a military presence in their sphere of influence. This is why they are courting Afghanistan with their own arms, investment, and energy projects. Moreover, India, Pakistan, and Iran are also competing for influence in Afghanistan.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Marvin Marcus


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