CONFERENCE ON INTERACTION AND CONFIDENCE-BUILDING MEASURES IN ASIA: PROSPECTS AND POTENTIALS
Farkhod Khamraev, Ph.D. (Philol.), political scientist (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
The end of the Cold War started a process of crumbling the worldwide system of relations. It also created new factors that are directly affecting foreign policies of countries and regions. New problems appeared that none of the states, no matter how strong and large, can resolve single-handedly—they call for concerted efforts. Non-military aspects have come to the fore in the security sphere; initiatives designed to create various security systems not only on the national or regional but also on the global scale deserve special attention.
It was in October 1992 at the 47th Session of the U.N. General Assembly that President of Kazakhstan Nazarbaev first formulated his country’s initiative to call the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA). He emphasized that his initiative was designed to erect an effective and universal security system in Asia that lacked this mechanism while other regions in the world had already acquired similar organizations.
Early in the 1990s this initiative invited a cool response. Experts say that at first (when the geographical term was applied to a much wider area than today) it was planned to forward an idea of a similar conference for Central Asia. The first word was lost somewhere in the corridors of power—some officials in the foreign ministry looked at the gap with surprise while the presidential administration did not distinguish between the two geographical terms: the newly independent states were particularly fond of global projects. It is hard to say whether the story is true or has been invented to justify the Kazakh experts’ lack of enthusiasm where the initiative’s practical implementation is concerned.
Still, in the two years that have elapsed since the president’s speech experts of foreign ministries of Asian countries met three times and decided to set up a Special Working Group (SWG).1 It was the group members that elaborated and discussed nearly all Conference’s documents based on the following major principles: territorial integrity of the member states; their sovereignty; non-interference in internal affairs; negotiations as the only way toward conflict and crisis settlement.
When the SWG was formed, the Conference participants, Kazakhstan in the first place, proceeded from the assumption that this should be a mobile, fairly flexible structure and, most important, not limited to local problems. The process of later development showed that this evil was not avoided. Discussion of many documents, even the least important ones, dragged on and on. As a result, in December 1997 the meeting at the deputy foreign ministers level was attended by 16 delegations while previously the number of member states had been growing and reached 32 by 1995.
It was expected from the very beginning that the CICA should follow the European pattern, yet the expectation should be discarded not only because the level of interstate relations in Asia differed from that in Europe but also because some of the large Asian states were at the state of war (formally and actually) with each other. This called for an absolutely different approach, the quest for which is still going on. It looks as if it will continue for a long time. First, it is impossible to create mechanisms of peace, stability, and security in Asia without U.S. full-scale CICA membership. This has become especially true after 11 September, 2001. Second, certain Asian countries cannot meet at the negotiations table because of a considerable conflict potential in bilateral relations among individual Asian states and the general security level on the continent. Third, some of the Asian countries will refuse to play secondary roles in the process of creating a real CICA mechanism. Internal rivalry can be skillfully used by external forces, which will negatively affect decision-making. Fourth, a key Asian country should be seriously interested in developing the CICA and its structures, yet other centers of power will not readily accept this because the significance of this key country, for example Russia, will be growing. This explains why many Asian countries, and not only they, will block any decisions within the CICA and probably other organizations. Fifth, Astana’s greater role in the security sphere as one of Moscow’s closest ally, will not be hailed by Kazakhstan’s closest neighbors and other large continental countries.
In any case, it was early in June 2002 that Almaty hosted a CICA forum called historic by certain hasty media. This was true, to a certain extent. In the heat of the Indian-Pakistani crisis the President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf and Premier of India Atal Behari Vajpayee attended the forum that added it special importance. Russia also played its role: the leaders of India and Pakistan might have missed the forum had not President Putin made it known that he wanted to meet them in Almaty.
The summit was attended by only 15 members, mainly closest neighbors, and delegations from Israel and Palestine, which was quite understandable.
The Conference demonstrated that all members agreed with the basic principles of security in Asia and the principles of economic and humanitarian cooperation. However, the member countries could not find answers to many military-political questions. It was expected that the summit would take practical steps that would send forward the CICA process. If the leaders of Islamabad and Delhi conducted constructive talks in Almaty with Russian or Kazakhstani mediation, the summit would have acquired a different, and higher, status in the world. This did not happen, however, and today the future of CICA is dim. I think that the organization has not many prospects. President Nazarbaev’s desire to bring together in one organization what in principle cannot be united is doomed to failure. Since the CICA process was started we should actively look for the ways of its realization within promising prospects in varied fields, mainly in the economic and humanitarian sphere.
After 10 years it seems that the CICA process should be transformed and we should try to unite its ideas with the already existing regional structures. Today, there are only two more or less real organizations, yet their complete realization is still far away. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) set up in June 2001 is one of them. Within it four Central Asian republics together with China and Russia are trying to create a reliable system of regional security able to oppose both external and internal threats. Nearly three decades of mutual enmity ended on 9 February, 1987 in Moscow when the torturous Soviet-Chinese negotiations with a long preceding history had been resumed. They produced an Agreement on the Soviet-Chinese State Border (its eastern part) signed in Moscow on 16 May, 1991. (The stretch, about 4,300 km long, became Russian after the Soviet Union had disintegrated.)
To ensure stability and build up security along the border the Soviet Union and China agreed to gradually move to total demilitarization of the border area. A corresponding mechanism of negotiations was set up. In September 1990, the first round of talks took place in Moscow.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated and the CIS appeared, a joint delegation of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Tajikistan, which had common frontiers with China, continued negotiations in September 1992. As a result, on 26 April, 1996 in Shanghai heads of five states (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, and Tajikistan) signed an Agreement on Confidence-building in the Military Sphere in the Border Area. This happened during President Yeltsin’s visit to China. The document pointed out, in particular, that the states were willing “to ensure peace and stability along the border, promote long-term friendly relations and cooperation between China and Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, and Tajikistan.”
It was for the first time in world history that five countries with a common frontier agreed not only to build up confidence but also shouldered certain obligations in the military sphere: to take measures to prevent dangerous military activities; strengthen contacts between military units and border guards; avoid military exercises aimed against each other. The document also registered the arms (the land forces, air forces, and air defense aviation) and the categories of weapons and materiel, personnel, tanks, fighting armored vehicles, tactical missile launchers, artillery systems of 122 mm and more, aircraft of frontline and air defense aviation, and fighting helicopters. Strategic Rocket Forces, long-range airforce, the Navy and air defense as arms, and the border guards were not covered by the Agreement.
Later, the events were unfolding at an even faster pace. On 24 April, 1997 heads of five states signed an Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Armed Forces in the Border Area. The ceremony took place in the Kremlin during a visit of Chairman Jiang Zemin to Moscow. On 3 July, 1998 the “five” met in Almaty. While the Shanghai and Moscow meetings involved two delegations: that of four CIS countries and that of China, the Almaty summit was attended by independent delegations of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. They were represented by three Central Asian presidents, Chairman Jiang Zemin and Foreign Minister of Russia Evgeni Primakov as President Yeltsin’s special representative. The sides agreed to “fight together against international terrorism, organized crime, illegal trade in weapons and drugs.”
The meeting of the Shanghai Five in Dushanbe that took place on 5 July, 2000 deserves special mention: it was attended by a delegation of Uzbekistan (the country having no common frontier with China) with an observer status. The Dushanbe declaration stated the Shanghai Five’s intention to develop into a regional structure of multilateral cooperation in various spheres.
This completed the preparatory stage of the new organization. On 15 June, 2001 in Shanghai it underwent a legal transformation. It was founded by six countries—Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—that became its fully-fledged members. The meeting signed the Shanghai Convention on the Struggle Against Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism that laid the legal foundation of cooperation in this field.
Point 7 of the Declaration on Setting up the Shanghai Cooperation Organization says: “It is not an alliance aimed against other states and regions; it supports the principle of openness. It is ready to develop dialogs, contacts, and cooperation in all forms with other states and corresponding international and regional organizations, and accept new members on the basis of consensus.”2 Point 8 of the Declaration says: “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization regards regional security as its priority and is doing everything necessary to ensure it.”3
Speaking at the summit of the SCO states, President of Uzbekistan Karimov pointed out: “We regard the Shanghai organization as a mechanism of multilateral cooperation designed to strengthen peace and stability, promote open and constructive partnership and multilateral cooperation in opposing, first and foremost, such threats to global and regional security as international terrorism, religious extremism, aggressive separatism, and drug trafficking.”4 Other SCO leaders agree with this.
The above shows that the organization was gradually developing into a mechanism designed to resolve regional conflicts in a peaceful way. Its constructive nature made it attractive for other countries that want to join it either as members or as observers, India and Pakistan among them.
If the CICA uses some of the SCO provisions, confidence among the sides may increase. There is no doubt that this will require prolonged and detailed work (Kazakhstan may serve as an intermediary in settling border disputes), which will finally create conditions conducive to a mechanism of confidence. It will be wise to employ the authority of great powers, both Asian (in the first place) and global. They could serve as guarantors of security and provide an example of cooperation in the wide range of confidence-building measures.
The experience of many regional economic organizations (NAFTA, ASEAN, EU, etc.) shows that they are exerting powerful positive influence on creating regional security structures. It also confirms that a collective security system should rely on an efficient mechanism of economic cooperation that ensures the sides’ mutual interests.
The CICA may rely on the Organization of Central Asian Cooperation. It was relatively recently that the Central Asian Economic Community was transformed into CAC. This happened on 28 February, 2002. It seems that when passing this decision the member states were guided by the following consideration: the Central Asian Economic Community could address not only economic but also other problems. A huge amount of them has been accumulated in the sphere of more active varied political, scientific and technological, cultural and humanitarian relations. Undoubtedly the coordinated actions within the CAC will help strengthen regional security, reduce a possibility of regional threats and threats created by extra-regional forces. Today, the CAC is regarded as an important structure in the context of forming the regional security system.
Life has shown that it is not always easy to translate many of the CAC documents into practice. Certain experts explain this by the presence of two rivaling attraction poles in the region (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).5 I am convinced that the true reasons go much deeper than that. Certain countries are still looking at the CAC as a response to the CIS somewhat amorphous structure and take it for a center of power within the CIS as a form of collective opposition to the political forces out to turn Central Asia into their toehold.
At the same time, the region still lacks an efficient mechanism of conflict settlement; corresponding forms of interstate cooperation are still taking shape while the system of collective security has not been tuned up yet. All these factors also create threats.
Unfortunately, during recent years terrorism has become a reality in Central Asia—the circumstance that invited a revision of certain basic aspects of domestic and foreign policies of the Central Asian countries. Future alone can show how the situation will develop—probably this will turn into a factor of speedy and efficient settlement of domestic conflicts. One would like to hope that the events will develop in this direction. The Central Asian countries badly need integration—this is the only road leading to security, stability and sustained development.
Participation of American, Russian or any other forces can resolve some of the local problems. If the forces inside the Central Asian countries do not join ranks, none of the countries will be able to stand opposed to the pressure of the interests of the global centers of power. This is clearly understood, yet the difficult period the Central Asian countries are living through cannot allow them to fully consolidate.
The decisions adopted within the CAC should be used to set up the CICA. If the region resolves the problems that have become accumulated in the field of power production and water use, then it will be able to reach energy security in Central Asia and serve as a starting point in elaborating the principles of energy and communication security within the CICA. If the countries fail to resolve their problems within the small organization, then this will not be done within the CICA.
I would like to point out in conclusion that to make any global problem an effective one (this is what Kazakhstan wanted to do when it put forward its idea about the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia) several intermediate projects should be realized which, in my opinion, can help promote the CICA.
1 One of the SWG meetings held on 1-2 December, 1997 formed a Contact Group (CG) which included representatives of the embassies accredited in the Republic of Kazakhstan and participating in the process of creating the CICA. It was the CG that received practically all powers of the SWG.
2 Shanghaiskaia organizatsia sotrudnichestva (Shanghai, 14-15 iunia 2001 g.), Center of Politics and Analysis, Almaty, 2001, pp. 10-11.
3 Ibid., p. 11.
4 Pravda Vostoka, 20 June, 2001.
5 See: S.K. Kushkumbaev, Tsentral’naia Azia na putiakh integratsii: geopolitika, etnichnost, bezopasnost, Kazakhstan Publishers, Almaty, 2002, p. 147.