THE BLACK SEA-CASPIAN REGION IN THE EUROPEAN CONTEXT: NEW LANDMARKS OF SECURITY AND COOPERATION

Boris PARAKHONSKIY


Boris Parakhonskiy, D.Sc. (Philos.), Professor at the Kievo-Mogilianskaia Academy, Vice President, Center for International Security and Strategic Studies (Kiev, Ukraine)


The events of 11 September, 2001 changed the entire system of international relations forever. They forced the countries to revise the list of traditional threats to international stability and security and to seek new answers to future challenges. In this context regional and interregional cooperation has come to the fore: it has become more important for individual countries that are building up efficient national security systems and for Europe as a whole.

Cooperation has always been and remains the universal and most effective instrument in the sphere of international relations despite the important shifts that have taken place in this sphere. Today, specific forms and practices of such cooperation are still vague. The task of determining the regional countries positions in the changing geopolitical conditions, of identifying the role of its international organizations and the future of cooperation within the Black Sea-Caspian Region (BSCR) and Europe as a whole has acquired special significance. These countries are gaining even more importance when their neighbors (and the world) are plunging into crises. The regional countries want to fit into the world around them as equal partners and create a more favorable balance of political, economic, and trade interests. In this way while addressing their own problems and trying to extricate themselves from many quandaries they are contributing to European processes.

What Is the Black Sea-Caspian Region?

In the international context the concept of region is applied to groups of countries that share certain subjective and objective criteria and interests, the geographic factor (geographical proximity) in the first place. The Black Sea and the Caspian share a common geographic characteristic of being inner Eurasian seas little or not connected with the World Ocean. One can say that geographically the coastal states have many things in common and differ from the other Eurasian states.

The factor of the common past or shared civilization is another region-forming factor. The peoples that for a long time lived side by side on a common geographic territory inevitably acquire similar civilizational traits, mentality, and treat reality and other nations in a similar way. Western Europe, the Middle East, etc. are probably the best examples of this phenomenon. The nations prolonged coexistence within large states, empires or confessional areas (Islamic, Christian Orthodox, Catholic, etc.) downplays their distinctive features.

At the same time, the role of such factors should not be overestimated: in the distant past the Mediterranean has been a common civilizational arealater it turned into an area of Islamic-Christian confrontation. The same applies to the BSCR where the coastal peoples from time to time united into large empires and later formed independent states. The socialist system was a sort of an ideological empire, therefore we should recognize that the larger part of the coastal nations have common past, even though today they are living in a totally different context.

This shows that the region cannot be based on geographic and historical criteria alone. Seas and oceans can both divide and unite nations and countries. The past, ethnicity and religious affiliation may prove to be consolidating factors or may provoke conflicts.

Today, economy is the most important region-forming factor. It depends on the degree of development of marine and other communications, the degree to which the neighbors want to work together, to trade, exchange resources, commodities, etc. Economy is a more dynamic factor than geography. Even if economic ties in the region are still too weak, one can discern their great potential created by the expected large-scale development of the Caspian energy resources and transit communications. In the contemporary worldwide geo-economic patterns this factor has acquired geopolitical weight. When realized the TRACECA and the projects of transportation of Caspian gas and oil will play an important role in regional consolidation.

No matter how important the above factors are, they are not enough to identify the region as a category of the science of international relations. The theory of international relations is part of political science, therefore a region should be described in political terms as well. There are domestic factorsdeveloped political contacts among the regional countries, their mutual attraction, and an awareness of shared interests (both in respect to good-neighborly cooperation and forming a united front in the face of common threats). Politics is a dynamic sphere, therefore potentials as well as current weight of such regional structures as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Organization or GUUAM should be taken into account. Today BSEC is the widest structure of regional consolidation so far limited to economy. At the same time, economic cooperation is the best soil for political integration and cooperation in the sphere of security. The latter has been developing within GUUAM and is behind the plans of BLACKSEAFOR.

The countries realize their common interests through effective regional international organizations, more active concerted steps in relation to both positive and negative outside influences. This shows that external political factors play a certain role in the process of forming regions. The region concentrates the geopolitical, military-political, financial, economic and other interests of the key world and regional forcessomething that turns them into an arena of struggle between the largest world players. As a result the regional countries are given the role of passive onlookers that cripples their national interests. Each of the geopolitical forces present in the region is inclined to consolidate or disintegrate the already existing regional group according to its own interests. In BSCR this role belongs to Russia, the United States, EU, and NATO.

On the whole one can say that the already obvious configuration of the geographic, historical, economic, and political factors testifies that the Black Sea-Caspian Region has become a fragment of international realities. One should admit, at the same time, that its role mostly belongs to the future rather than to the present and depends, to a great extent, on the short-term developments in the region and around it.

The future depends to a great, if not the greatest, extent on the relations between the region and the forces outside itin other words, on whether the regional countries will manage to become subjects of regional processes and on the role outside forces will play in them. The major geopolitical actors can realize their interests with any degree of efficiency if the regional actors are least active and least important. A great power uses the instruments of influence on the regional countries at its disposal to arrange them according to its own interests in the region. As confrontation between the big players mounts, the regional countries may exploit it to carry out more or less independent policy of their own. On the other hand, great powers can agree on dividing the region into spheres of influence or competence, thus totally excluding the smaller countries from political decision-making and reducing them to geopolitical objects.

Obviously, a region that has been reduced to a geopolitical object in which outside forces and their interests predominate cannot be discussed as an element of international relations. The common regional interests can be defended in the face of outside pressure only if the regional countries form a stable group with a structure of its own. In this way each of the regional states will be able to protect its national interests as well if they are adequately presented at the regional level.

On the road toward regional consolidation it is signally important to overcome the most glaring contradictions between individual states and to create a model of their common future acceptable to all. It is equally important to embrace the idea of inter-state relations, which places common interests over the national concerns of individual states. The key common aims are determined through coordinating the national interests of individual statesthat is through compromises and a consensus.

This principle has been effectively realized in the European Union and was completely neglected in the CIS. I do hope that the regional BSCR organizations will follow the former example.

The territorial limits of the region are still vague. There are countries (Russia and Kazakhstan) that are only partially interested in the regional problems. At the same time, regional organizations include members outside the regions geographical boundaries: Greece in BSEC and Uzbekistan in GUUAM. Still, one can say that the region has already acquired a stable geopolitical core that includes Ukraine, other Black Sea coastal states and countries of the Caucasus. In future continued regional consolidation will make the regions boundaries clearer.

Geo-economically, the region is a territory on which the countries are attracted to the Black Sea and Caspian basins as the most effective economic and transportation zones that form individual states dominant interests. However, certain subjective conditions and common political will are needed to blend these interests into a shared idea about the regions future.

The key consolidating idea can take a form of a regional integrating group that will create conditions for an axis of economic integration in Eurasia. This will probably stimulate the emergence of corresponding geopolitical structures. Everyone knows that this cannot be achieved without a process of painstaking and detailed harmonization of the local political and economic interests with those of the external forces. In the nearest future one can expect nothing more than individual steps leading to regional integration and specific projects. This extremely heterogeneous region cannot integrate solely on its internal basis: the past and expectations of the local countries, large-scale and smaller conflicts that cannot be settled in the nearest future, conflicting interests and aims pursued by local countries and the external forces obvious interest in the region offer no optimistic forecasts.

From this it follows that the local countries will have to cover a longer and more difficult road toward integration if embarking on it all by themselves. GUUAMs slack and shaky development is an apt example. BSEC likewise has so far failed to fulfill all optimistic forecasts. The projects of transport communication between Europe and Asia take time to be realized while their scale failed expectations. On top of this, Russia is actively improving its own strategic transit routes that can successfully compete with the Great Silk Road and the energy resources transportation projects. This is diluting the ideology of regional integration.

BSCR within New Europe

In an effort to resolve their problems the regions countries have been turning their gaze toward stable and economically developed Europe in the hope of actively involving its potential in the regions geopolitical, social, and economic development. Bulgaria and Rumania, for example, have reached the threshold of NATO and the EU. Ukraine and Georgia are quite willing to follow them. Sooner or later Turkey will become a EU member. Russia has found acceptable forms of partnership with both European structures. In this way all Black Sea coastal states are gradually joining the process of European integration, which may lead to an emergence of New Europe.

The question is whether Europe is aware that the settlement of problems pestering the Black Sea Region is important for it; another question is: what is the role it is prepared to assume in this context? Everybody agrees that a stable and secure region as part of Europe formed by democratic and economically developed countries actively working toward prosperity of their populations will add to Europes geo-economic and geopolitical status. This looks improbable today, yet this is an ideal to which all interested countries should advance. An alternative to Euro-Atlantic integration is too awful to be contemplated: a slide into an abyss of social, economic, and geopolitical chaos that will create even graver threats to continental peace.

One cannot expect that the regional countries with their real weight in the worlds politics and economy will manage to create a self-sufficient structure similar to the European Union even if they consolidate to the maximal degree. It seems that an autonomous substructure within a much more powerful geopolitical unit called New Europe is the best possible variant of the regions future. New Europe can be a Europe of regions, that is, an integral space formed by autonomous regional substructures each of which with functions of its own within the European security system. These regions will be tied together by economic and political threads. Naturally enough, the European Union will remain the key coordinating and organizing structure. Extension and adaptation of its new members will call for reforms of its institutions. As soon as the EU assumes a greater part of the NATO security- and defense-related functions it will ascend to a new level of integration of European geographic space including certain neighboring regional zones. It would be logical in this context to move the NATO and EU capital from Brussels to Prague, a city much closer to Europes geographic center and a symbol of both its west and east.

The current discussions of Europes boundaries as well as the wish of certain Western politicians to limit the number of EU candidates speak of concern over possible negative effects of continued EU expansion. There are fears that it may dissolve into an ineffective structure squashed by its own size. The problem of European identity has been raised and is being discussed: which countries belong to Europe and which should be regarded as its neighbors or even alien elements.

There is certain ground for this, yet the fears are mostly superficial and time-serving. One cannot but see that while excluding the CIS from Europe Western politicians may discover Syria and Iraq to become Europes neighbors together with Moldova and Ukraine. The latter are denied the status of European countries solely because of their domestic political and economic problems, though certain states in similar circumstances are regarded as European.

Obviously, any system has its limits if it fails to adjust its internal organizational structure, its internal content and qualities to continued extension. Better quality can only be reached through making internal structure more complex and more stable. The trend inside the EU toward a confederation of states and a superpower in some distant future should set the minds of Western politicians at ease. Yet even this can hardly completely remove contradictions between the European countries and the regions with their own specifics and interests. One can expect that subregional integration processes both within the EU and among the countries outside it may give additional impetus to the European integrating processes.

Europe looks at the Black Sea-Caspian Region as a specific periphery zone causing headaches of economic and migration nature. Seen from Europe, the region looks as an unstable entity and a possible source of asymmetric threats to European security. Still, in certain respects (more negative than positive) the region is seen as an entity and a reality of international relations. Its specifics set it aside from other regions bordering on Europe, such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Russia. This is enough even if the consolidating processes inside the region are so far ignored.

The BSCR Role in the New Climate of International Security

The list of regional problems has always included security and transport and energy communication, settlement of local conflicts, creation of regional systems of security and cooperation, etc. Today it has acquired new motives and subjects. The changes brought about by 9/11 and the changes in the context of European security brought about by NATOs enlargement affected the regional security policy. The new challenges require new answers about the future of the system of regional stability. The problems of Abkhazia and Nagorny Karabakh as well as repeated aggravations of the relations between Russia and Georgia caused by the hostilities in Chechnia remain the main local challenges. The still unsettled numerous ethnic and territorial conflicts in the Caucasus force Europe to regard the region as a source of instability and potential threats.

The region itself is surrounded by conflict-ridden neighbors: it borders on the Balkans that have not yet settled their ethnic, social, and economic problems and on the Middle East in which the expected anti-Iraqi operation by U.S. and U.K. builds up tension. In the north, Russia is stepping up its pressure on Georgia that according to Moscow is unable to control single-handedly the Chechen fighters, thus creating a direct threat to Russias southern regions.

Today, the region is gaining more weight in the context of the global antiterrorist struggle and new threats to Euro-Atlantic security. Indeed, after 9/11 the NATO members are at war with international terrorism: it is signally important to identify the enemy and pin it to definite locality to make antiterrorist operations possible. An obvious enemy like al-Qaeda or the Taliban makes a course of action equally obvious while an imagined enemy makes a struggle against it looking very much like fighting windmills under the pretext of which large world forces may realize their far-reaching goals. This explains European reluctance to support the United States in its move against Iraq or Russias anti-Georgian salvoes.

In the regional context antiterrorist struggle is mostly associated with the problem of an environment that feeds terrorists and supports manifestations of terrorist activities. It breeds crime and has deep roots: social and political problems in some of the regions countries, economic insolvency, poverty, ethnic confrontation, etc. This gives rise to radical sentiments, fundamentalism, illegal migration, and other negative factors. The unsettled regional conflicts invite the use of force and asymmetric responses (as was demonstrated in Moscow in fall 2002).

In this connection we should talk about the realities aptly described by the word enemy, though not in its strictly traditional meaning. These are ailing realities that create terror. One should recognize that the Black Sea region has caught the ailment. It will develop over time and will require surgery, therefore we should do our best to treat it today before it reached a critical stage.

On the other hand, much depends on which of the global forces feels involved in the regional problems to the extent of playing the doctor and filling in the security vacuum. Today, Russia seeking to consolidate its positions and deepen its geopolitical influence in the Caucasus, control over the Central Asian energy resources, the Ukrainian transportation system, and other objects and communications of strategic importance is the most active force on the regional scale. Moscow is exploiting its closeness to the West reached on the crest of the antiterrorist wave to neutralize the somewhat negative Western responses to local developments.

As antiterrorist struggle will grow global and the American policies on the post-Soviet territory will change, the security sphere on the CIS territory may become fragmented. This will change Russias policies in this sphere in general and in the regional context, in particular.

At the same time, one can hardly expect that while pursuing its own interests in the region Russia will be prepared to shoulder entire responsibility for the regions future. To be resolved regional problems require social, political, and economic prerequisites for dynamic and sustainable development rather than military-political presence and diplomatic involvement in crisis settlement. Russia hardly has any possibility or a desire to support democratic reforms and socioeconomic transformations across the region. In fact, it has not yet coped with its own problems of democratic development. Moscow believes that its regional interests are best served by the present political regimes more responsive to influences than more democratic ones.

A large country cannot resolve its own problems in an egotistical way without taking into account the interests of its smaller neighbors; in the same way this country is unwilling to take responsibility for the neighbors security. What is more, the latter are not willing to rely on Russia in this respect.

New aspects of Americas policy in the Black Sea Region evoke special interest: they are connected with Washingtons attention to the energy sphere and NATOs enlargement. The American experts in the region like quoting President Bush who said in fall 2002 that his country wanted security for the countries between the Baltic and the Black seas. There is an opinion that the United States is prepared to work on a new strategic initiative in the region.

One has to say that the U.S. believes that NATO membership is an answer to the security dilemma of the Baltic and Central European countries; at the same time, the United States is aware that the relations with Russia form a separate block of problems. Americas closer attention to the Black Sea is a new foreign policy element caused, among other things, by Washingtons greater involvement in Central Asia.

The U.S. policies in the region are also prompted by the fact that American political presence in the key strategic zones where Caspian energy resources are extracted is of great importance. On the one hand, it means an unlimited control over one of the possible sectors of Europes energy security; on the other, it will help isolate Iran still more.

In the final analysis, its geopolitical domination in BSCR will allow Washington to successfully address several geostrategic problems: to protect its rear when attacking Iraq and possibly Iran, that is, to acquire certain advantages in its confrontation with the unruly Islamic regimes; to control the movement of energy resources from Asia to Europe so that to influence European developments still more; to balance Russias influence in the region and to involve Russia in realizing American plans; and in the more distant future to create new geopolitical conditions for a possible confrontation with China.

In the past, Russia was the main and only geopolitical player in the region where smaller actors, Turkey and Iran, were also present. Today, it seems that the United States have become resolved to interfere in the local processes on a much greater scale. The changes are tipping the regional balance of forces and interests.

One can also presuppose that in the nearest future NATO and its structures will become more actively involved in partnerships with the local countries. Its southern flank is approaching the Black Sea while Rumanias and Bulgarias NATO membership will turn nearly the entire Black Sea into a zone of Euro-Atlantic responsibility. In Turkey the North Atlantic Alliance borders on the Middle East including problem-causing Iraq. From this it follows that in the antiterrorist context NATO will concentrate on the Black Sea Region.

NATOs movement toward the Black Sea will undoubtedly affect its southeastern neighbors that remain outside the alliance. The new situation will add stability to the region and will contain the forces wishing to fan local conflicts. The relations between the new NATO members and their eastern neighbors will be based not on bilateral relations as before but according to different principles that the neighbors will not always like. Regional stability may become even stronger if the possible third wave candidates (Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijanthe backbone of GUUAM) join NATO at the earliest possible date.

Regional Integration in the European Community Context

Interplay of global and regional factors has created a rather complicated configuration in the region because it involves the forces too different in their nature. Russia with its considerable economic and military-political potential can still rely on its information and cultural domination in the countries where part of the political elite remains pro-Russian. On top of this Russia is never tired of speaking about its support for the Russian-speakers outside its borders. Turkish and Iranian influence in the region is mainly connected with the Islamic Turkic and Islamic Iranian roots of some Caucasian and Central Asian nations. The West can rely on the liberal and market-oriented sentiments that have recently appeared in post-Soviet states.

The above shows that it is not an easy task to create a consolidated regional group that may claim the role of an influential entity of international relations. What is needed is internal consolidation inside each of the regional countries. Meanwhile even in Turkey with its long experience of pro-Western orientation and market reforms there is still fertile soil of Islamic traditionalism that, under definite conditions, may play a certain role in the processes of regional integration.

The West is interested, most and foremost, in the Caspian energy resources the importance of which for Europe is daily increasing as military tension in the Middle East is building up. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline will bring the bulk of Caspian oil to the Mediterranean and will change the geopolitical balance of regional forces. One can expect that the Caucasian countries will move toward Europe and the Mediterranean while the countries on the northern Black Sea coast (Ukraine and Moldova in particular) will be pushed to the periphery of Western interests and will finally find themselves more vulnerable to Russias revived geopolitical influence.

In the nearest future the regional countries can close ranks around the need to transport Caspian oil and gas to Western Europe, to develop transportation corridors between Europe and Asia, to ensure their security together with their adequate servicing. In this context the arguments about economic expediency of any of these routes and about the best possible combination of the interests of all countries involved (those that extract oil, those that let it across their territories, and those that use it) are of great importance. The best combination of interests is possible solely in a competitive environment and equal involvement of economic forces in any of the projects. Regional organizations, such as BSEC and GUUAM, should help create adequate environment.

Each of the regional countries undoubtedly wants to diversify its energy policy which can be done only if the laws of economy are observed. Influential Western and regional transnational corporations believe that the Turkish route is economically the best possible variant that meets their interests and is most secure. There are plans to set up an international consortium; Ukrainian project of an oil pipeline Baku-Supsa-Odessa-Brody that will bring Caspian oil to Western Europe is also discussed. Baku that is planning to develop new oilfields is quite confident about its future expediency.

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization is the most efficient of all regional organizations. It is not merely a formal structure that unites geographically close countriesit has already achieved good results. Still, its future possible contribution to regional integration and the European security system will call for closer attention to the regional countries political interaction and a greater involvement in the regional stability problems: settlement of local conflicts, antiterrorist struggle, illegal migration, etc.

In the European context BSECs role is close to that of the Barcelona Process of the Mediterranean states or the functions of the Central European initiative in Central Europe. These economic zones of sorts that border on the EU help create a common space of cooperation according to association principles.

The security problems are best served by continued cooperation within the Partnership for Peace program that covers nearly all Black Sea states while greater cooperation in the military-political sphere goes well with the tasks of further development of GUUAM as a more local regional organization.

On the whole, the best format for a regional structure within New Europe is offered by cooperation of the EU and NATO with the regional Black Sea organizations. This should not exclude asymmetric integration of these key European structures with individual countries that may proceed with different speeds and at different levels.

The future of the Black Sea-Caspian Region holds promise in the context of its growing importance for the current geopolitical processes, its greater involvement in creating a wider model of European security and cooperation. The local countries are fully aware of their common intereststhis lays a firm foundation for their continued cooperation. Regional integration is perceived as joint advance toward European integration. The Black Sea countries can coordinate their moves, they can march side by side and learn from successes and mistakes of each other. Exchange of experience and mutual understanding will help them surmount all obstacles on this road.


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