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Regional collective security system in the Caspian Region: formation issues and outlook

photo: theconversation.com
14 June 2023

According to the accepted view of the expert community, the Caspian Region, in a strict sense, includes administrative and territorial units of the countries located Caspian coast-wise, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan, plus the Caspian water area. Broadly, this region includes not only these five Caspian countries directly adjacent to the Caspian seashore, but all the other countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus Ц Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as other surrounding countries with their own national interests in the Region (Turkey, Afghanistan and China).

Irrespective of the theoretical approaches to understanding the Caspian Region borders, we may positively acknowledge that after disintegration of the USSR this Region turned into one of the most important and complex geopolitical issue of the international relations.

Since the mid-18th century until 1990s, Russia (and then the Soviet Union) and Persia (Iran) controlled practically the entire area, but when new independent Caspian states appeared on the global political map (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) the Caspian Region has undergone a serious transformation, and eventually it affected the geopolitical situation here.

The issues of the internationally accepted legal delineation of the Caspian Sea bed and water area

These newly emerged complexities translate into still persisting absence of the conclusive determination of the internationally accepted legal status of the Caspian Sea. Despite signing the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea on 12 August 2018 in Aktau (Kazakhstan), this framework document has not been ratified by Iran so far, i.e., actually it is not internationally legalized yet.

Moreover, the Convention does not provide solutions to all the problems accumulated in the Region from the time of  disintegration of the USSR, in particular Ц delineation of the Caspian Sea bed in its Southern part between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. According to Article 8 of the Convention, this issue should be resolved by agreement between the neighboring and opposite states with account of the generally accepted principles and rules of international law. On top of that, the Convention does not define the methodology of determining the straight baselines for calculating the width of the marine belt, the outer border of which should be the generally accepted maritime state border.

The absence of the conclusive determination of the Caspian Sea status makes it dependent on international political situation in the Region and in the world. To a certain extent, this problem hampers the delineation of the sea bed for the purposes of subsurface resources management, border control and military activities in the Caspian water area, transit, laying the trans-Caspian pipelines. The worst-case scenario caused by the unsettled status may mean local border incidents in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea and territorial claims of the neighboring countries potentially causing armed conflicts around the disputable mineral deposits.

Such a scenario will have extremely negative consequences not only for military and political situation in the Caspian Region, but for regional geopolitics as well, as it may promote the conditions for military penetration and consolidation of the USA and the NATO member countries there, which will significantly destabilize the situation.

Caspian regional security issues

The aggravation of the security situation is another important regional problem. Starting from 1990s, the conflict potential of the Caspian Region associated with domestic politics inside the new Caspian countries has grown significantly causing the emergence of trouble zones. The scale of terrorism and religious extremism, as well as transnational crime expanded.

In general, the relevant security problems in the current geopolitical realities include international terrorism, activities of terrorist and extremist organizations, unlawful development of aquatic biological resources (including fishing), Caspian drug trafficking, manifestations of nationalism, of ethnical and regional separatism, which destabilize social and political situation.

Talking about terrorism and extremism problem with more details, we need to say that it became more relevant due to the geographical location of the Caspian states close to the «breeding grounds» of international terrorist organizations, mainly in Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), and this factor contributes to the dissemination of extremist ideology among the population of the Caspian countries. Such organizations (prohibited in the Russian Federation) as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, Islamic State (ISIL) and others are noticeably active in the Region.

Unlawful activity of organized crime and individual criminals in unlawful development of aquatic biological resources in the Caspian water area takes place mainly because the sturgeon caviar is of high demand in the black market. Dozens of tonnes of maritime bio-resources are collected from poachers annually. However, the stable demand and high profitability of such unlawful activity contribute to maintaining the relevancy of the threat coming from organized crime in this sphere (in the modern world it is more and more called bio-terrorism).

Active development of the trade and economic ties between the Caspian countries generates negative factors associated with using the well-developed transportation systems for organizing drug trafficking. Traditionally, maritime transport is used by criminal syndicates operating with drugs, and this is taking place in the Caspian region as well. According to some experts, over the recent years, the Caspian water area holds one of the key positions in the system of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Another reason for such special role of the Caspian Region in the international drug trafficking is associated with high supply of Afghan drugs in Iran, which is a starting point for the so-called Balkan Route and a transit territory approximately for 40% of drugs produced in Afghanistan.

The Caspian Region is positioned right in the center of Eurasian continent, and that contributed to a special ethnic, national, cultural and linguistic commonality of the population. In all administrative and territorial units of the Caspian countries there are many expat communities of emigrants from the neighboring countries;  and the ethnic composition of the local population on the Caspian shores is also very diversified. However, despite of the traditions of peaceful co-existence of the ethnical groups in the Caspian Region, such factors as the orientation of certain governments towards building mono-ethnic states, as well as global trends of growing nationalism, ethnical and regional separatism contribute to potential escalation of ethnic conflicts in this Region.

International legal framework for cooperation of the Caspian states in the security sphere

With account the growing relevancy of non-conventional threats for security, on 18 November 2010, in Baku during the third Caspian summit the fundamental document for developing the regional security was signed. This was the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region. This is the second penta-lateral agreement signed after the environmental Teheran Convention of 2003, which is a clear evidence of the unanimous understanding of the regional security issues by the Caspian states, and this is required to assure the conditions for stable development.

This Agreement is of a framework character, it creates the legal framework for cooperation between national security agencies in fighting various types of crime, stipulates for coordination of their efforts in assuring the maritime shipping and navigation security, in fighting piracy, etc. The Agreement contains a provision, which is extremely important for Russia: security assurance in the Caspian Region is the sphere of responsibility of the Caspian states. Overall, the document confirms the policy of the Russian Federation and other Caspian states focused on developing the comprehensive cooperation, and one of the most important aspects here is joint assurance of security in the Caspian Region.

The Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea signed on 12 August 2018 is another fundamental document creating the legal framework for the regional collective security system. Article 3 of the Convention contains a series of fundamental principles of the activities by the Caspian states, which define the backbone of such system, in particular:

  • respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, equality of the states, non-use of force or threat of force, mutual respect, cooperation, non-interference in each otherТs internal affairs;
  • peaceful uses of the Caspian Sea, turning it into the territory of peace, neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, where all the issues associated with the Caspian Sea are resolved by peaceful means;
  • security and stability assurance in the Caspian Region;
  • assurance of the stable balance of weapons on the Caspian shores, military development in the limits of reasonable adequacy with account of the interests of all the parties, undiminished security for every country;
  • abidance by the agreed confidence-building measures in the military sphere in the spirit of predictability and transparency in accordance with the common efforts focused on regional stability and security strengthening, including in accordance with all the international agreements executed between the parties;
  • non-presence of other countriesТ military forces in the Caspian Region;
  • not hosting foreign troops in the territory of any member state for the purposes of invasion and other military actions against any party.

Hence, it may be stated that the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea supplements the provision of the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region. The Agreement is meant to facilitate the creation of the conditions required for opposing such non-conventional threats as drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, etc., and the principles declared in the Convention are creating the necessary preconditions for such system of the Caspian states interaction that will allow for efficient counteracting the emergence of conventional threats to peace and security (wars and military conflicts) in this Region.

Regional collective security system outlook

Despite the fact that the above-described international legal documents proclaimed the Caspian Region the zone of peace, stability, friendliness and neighborliness, it is quite obvious that until now a sound regional collective security system has not been developed yet.

The competent authorities of the parties cooperate within rather narrow limits of the memoranda on cooperation in fighting terrorism and organized crime, on cooperation and interaction of the border guarding agencies. These memoranda were signed at the fifth Caspian summit in 2018. However, these cooperation formats do not allow for developing and implementing common and coordinated security policy of the Caspian states.

Until now, a number of memoranda have not been signed yet, even though they were called necessary by the heads of the Caspian states in their joint statement after the fifth Caspian forum in 2018. They are, in particular, Memorandum on cooperation in fighting unlawful development of aquatic biological resources meant to promote preservation of the Caspian fish stock, Memoranda on cooperation in maritime shipping and navigation and in fighting illicit trafficking of drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors. The Agreement on confidence-building measure in maritime military activities in the Caspian Region has not been signed yet.

Another problem hampering the establishment of the collective security system in the Region Ц such important collective organization as the Committee of Naval Commanders of the Caspian states has not been established in the Region. Forming a combined naval group of the Caspian states Casfor (similar to Blackseafor in the Black Sea) could also help to stabilize the security situation, as well as setting up the Border Guards / Coastal Guards Forum of the Caspian states (similar to organizations operating in the Baltic Sea and in the Black Sea, in the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean).

It appears that the above-listed impediments on the way of forming the collective security system in the Caspian Region result from a series of regressive geopolitical factors Ц first of all, the influence of outside players (the United States, Great Britain, Turkey and China) with their own geopolitical objectives and interests.

The USA and Turkey are especially active in promoting their projects in the Region. For example, for a long period of time Washington attempted to implement the Caspian Guard Project focused on engaging special squads of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan into cooperation. Turkey is active in promoting the products of its defense industry, mainly warships and boats, as well as proprietary weapon systems. Hence, we may conclude that due to the negative influence of these geopolitical factors the existing formats of cooperation of the Caspian states in the sphere of security do not allow for developing and implementing the common and coordinated security policy in the region.

Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee

To mitigate the negative influence of destructive external geopolitical players, in addition to resolving the described-above internationally-accepted legal and organizational problems, it seems feasible to create a new mechanism of cooperation in the security sphere Ц the Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee. A similar institutional mechanism has been successfully operating in such organizations as CSTO, NATO, SCO and others, and has shown good results. The Committee could become a consulting and advisory body coordinating the interaction of the Caspian states in assuring their national security taking into account the fact of their major problems being of a cross-border character.

Regular meetings of Security Councils Secretaries would allow for discussing the situations and the most relevant problems in the regional security sphere, for monitoring the performance of assignments of the heads of states after the penta-lateral summits. The results of the competent authoritiesТ cooperation in such spheres as fighting terrorism, organized crime, illegal trafficking in arms, drugs and psychotropic substances, as well as in other spheres stipulated by Article 2 of the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region signed in 2010. The Committee could decide on setting up task forces on the most relevant regional security problems, where experts from all the five countries could share their vision of the situation, develop and review different solutions.

Obviously, expansion and intensification of contacts between executive officers and experts of the Caspian countries would have a significant positive impact on the regional security and would contribute to forming the efficient collective security system in the Caspian Region.

It seems feasible to develop a separate Agreement about setting up the Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee as a consulting, advisory and executive body, or to adopt a separate Memorandum supplementing the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region signed in 2010. These activities could be performed by the competent authorities of the Caspian countries.

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Regional collective security system in the Caspian Region: formation issues and outlook

photo: theconversation.com
14 июн€ 2023

According to the accepted view of the expert community, the Caspian Region, in a strict sense, includes administrative and territorial units of the countries located Caspian coast-wise, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan, plus the Caspian water area. Broadly, this region includes not only these five Caspian countries directly adjacent to the Caspian seashore, but all the other countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus Ц Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as other surrounding countries with their own national interests in the Region (Turkey, Afghanistan and China).

Irrespective of the theoretical approaches to understanding the Caspian Region borders, we may positively acknowledge that after disintegration of the USSR this Region turned into one of the most important and complex geopolitical issue of the international relations.

Since the mid-18th century until 1990s, Russia (and then the Soviet Union) and Persia (Iran) controlled practically the entire area, but when new independent Caspian states appeared on the global political map (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) the Caspian Region has undergone a serious transformation, and eventually it affected the geopolitical situation here.

The issues of the internationally accepted legal delineation of the Caspian Sea bed and water area

These newly emerged complexities translate into still persisting absence of the conclusive determination of the internationally accepted legal status of the Caspian Sea. Despite signing the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea on 12 August 2018 in Aktau (Kazakhstan), this framework document has not been ratified by Iran so far, i.e., actually it is not internationally legalized yet.

Moreover, the Convention does not provide solutions to all the problems accumulated in the Region from the time of  disintegration of the USSR, in particular Ц delineation of the Caspian Sea bed in its Southern part between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. According to Article 8 of the Convention, this issue should be resolved by agreement between the neighboring and opposite states with account of the generally accepted principles and rules of international law. On top of that, the Convention does not define the methodology of determining the straight baselines for calculating the width of the marine belt, the outer border of which should be the generally accepted maritime state border.

The absence of the conclusive determination of the Caspian Sea status makes it dependent on international political situation in the Region and in the world. To a certain extent, this problem hampers the delineation of the sea bed for the purposes of subsurface resources management, border control and military activities in the Caspian water area, transit, laying the trans-Caspian pipelines. The worst-case scenario caused by the unsettled status may mean local border incidents in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea and territorial claims of the neighboring countries potentially causing armed conflicts around the disputable mineral deposits.

Such a scenario will have extremely negative consequences not only for military and political situation in the Caspian Region, but for regional geopolitics as well, as it may promote the conditions for military penetration and consolidation of the USA and the NATO member countries there, which will significantly destabilize the situation.

Caspian regional security issues

The aggravation of the security situation is another important regional problem. Starting from 1990s, the conflict potential of the Caspian Region associated with domestic politics inside the new Caspian countries has grown significantly causing the emergence of trouble zones. The scale of terrorism and religious extremism, as well as transnational crime expanded.

In general, the relevant security problems in the current geopolitical realities include international terrorism, activities of terrorist and extremist organizations, unlawful development of aquatic biological resources (including fishing), Caspian drug trafficking, manifestations of nationalism, of ethnical and regional separatism, which destabilize social and political situation.

Talking about terrorism and extremism problem with more details, we need to say that it became more relevant due to the geographical location of the Caspian states close to the «breeding grounds» of international terrorist organizations, mainly in Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), and this factor contributes to the dissemination of extremist ideology among the population of the Caspian countries. Such organizations (prohibited in the Russian Federation) as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, Islamic State (ISIL) and others are noticeably active in the Region.

Unlawful activity of organized crime and individual criminals in unlawful development of aquatic biological resources in the Caspian water area takes place mainly because the sturgeon caviar is of high demand in the black market. Dozens of tonnes of maritime bio-resources are collected from poachers annually. However, the stable demand and high profitability of such unlawful activity contribute to maintaining the relevancy of the threat coming from organized crime in this sphere (in the modern world it is more and more called bio-terrorism).

Active development of the trade and economic ties between the Caspian countries generates negative factors associated with using the well-developed transportation systems for organizing drug trafficking. Traditionally, maritime transport is used by criminal syndicates operating with drugs, and this is taking place in the Caspian region as well. According to some experts, over the recent years, the Caspian water area holds one of the key positions in the system of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Another reason for such special role of the Caspian Region in the international drug trafficking is associated with high supply of Afghan drugs in Iran, which is a starting point for the so-called Balkan Route and a transit territory approximately for 40% of drugs produced in Afghanistan.

The Caspian Region is positioned right in the center of Eurasian continent, and that contributed to a special ethnic, national, cultural and linguistic commonality of the population. In all administrative and territorial units of the Caspian countries there are many expat communities of emigrants from the neighboring countries;  and the ethnic composition of the local population on the Caspian shores is also very diversified. However, despite of the traditions of peaceful co-existence of the ethnical groups in the Caspian Region, such factors as the orientation of certain governments towards building mono-ethnic states, as well as global trends of growing nationalism, ethnical and regional separatism contribute to potential escalation of ethnic conflicts in this Region.

International legal framework for cooperation of the Caspian states in the security sphere

With account the growing relevancy of non-conventional threats for security, on 18 November 2010, in Baku during the third Caspian summit the fundamental document for developing the regional security was signed. This was the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region. This is the second penta-lateral agreement signed after the environmental Teheran Convention of 2003, which is a clear evidence of the unanimous understanding of the regional security issues by the Caspian states, and this is required to assure the conditions for stable development.

This Agreement is of a framework character, it creates the legal framework for cooperation between national security agencies in fighting various types of crime, stipulates for coordination of their efforts in assuring the maritime shipping and navigation security, in fighting piracy, etc. The Agreement contains a provision, which is extremely important for Russia: security assurance in the Caspian Region is the sphere of responsibility of the Caspian states. Overall, the document confirms the policy of the Russian Federation and other Caspian states focused on developing the comprehensive cooperation, and one of the most important aspects here is joint assurance of security in the Caspian Region.

The Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea signed on 12 August 2018 is another fundamental document creating the legal framework for the regional collective security system. Article 3 of the Convention contains a series of fundamental principles of the activities by the Caspian states, which define the backbone of such system, in particular:

  • respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, equality of the states, non-use of force or threat of force, mutual respect, cooperation, non-interference in each otherТs internal affairs;
  • peaceful uses of the Caspian Sea, turning it into the territory of peace, neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, where all the issues associated with the Caspian Sea are resolved by peaceful means;
  • security and stability assurance in the Caspian Region;
  • assurance of the stable balance of weapons on the Caspian shores, military development in the limits of reasonable adequacy with account of the interests of all the parties, undiminished security for every country;
  • abidance by the agreed confidence-building measures in the military sphere in the spirit of predictability and transparency in accordance with the common efforts focused on regional stability and security strengthening, including in accordance with all the international agreements executed between the parties;
  • non-presence of other countriesТ military forces in the Caspian Region;
  • not hosting foreign troops in the territory of any member state for the purposes of invasion and other military actions against any party.

Hence, it may be stated that the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea supplements the provision of the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region. The Agreement is meant to facilitate the creation of the conditions required for opposing such non-conventional threats as drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, etc., and the principles declared in the Convention are creating the necessary preconditions for such system of the Caspian states interaction that will allow for efficient counteracting the emergence of conventional threats to peace and security (wars and military conflicts) in this Region.

Regional collective security system outlook

Despite the fact that the above-described international legal documents proclaimed the Caspian Region the zone of peace, stability, friendliness and neighborliness, it is quite obvious that until now a sound regional collective security system has not been developed yet.

The competent authorities of the parties cooperate within rather narrow limits of the memoranda on cooperation in fighting terrorism and organized crime, on cooperation and interaction of the border guarding agencies. These memoranda were signed at the fifth Caspian summit in 2018. However, these cooperation formats do not allow for developing and implementing common and coordinated security policy of the Caspian states.

Until now, a number of memoranda have not been signed yet, even though they were called necessary by the heads of the Caspian states in their joint statement after the fifth Caspian forum in 2018. They are, in particular, Memorandum on cooperation in fighting unlawful development of aquatic biological resources meant to promote preservation of the Caspian fish stock, Memoranda on cooperation in maritime shipping and navigation and in fighting illicit trafficking of drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors. The Agreement on confidence-building measure in maritime military activities in the Caspian Region has not been signed yet.

Another problem hampering the establishment of the collective security system in the Region Ц such important collective organization as the Committee of Naval Commanders of the Caspian states has not been established in the Region. Forming a combined naval group of the Caspian states Casfor (similar to Blackseafor in the Black Sea) could also help to stabilize the security situation, as well as setting up the Border Guards / Coastal Guards Forum of the Caspian states (similar to organizations operating in the Baltic Sea and in the Black Sea, in the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean).

It appears that the above-listed impediments on the way of forming the collective security system in the Caspian Region result from a series of regressive geopolitical factors Ц first of all, the influence of outside players (the United States, Great Britain, Turkey and China) with their own geopolitical objectives and interests.

The USA and Turkey are especially active in promoting their projects in the Region. For example, for a long period of time Washington attempted to implement the Caspian Guard Project focused on engaging special squads of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan into cooperation. Turkey is active in promoting the products of its defense industry, mainly warships and boats, as well as proprietary weapon systems. Hence, we may conclude that due to the negative influence of these geopolitical factors the existing formats of cooperation of the Caspian states in the sphere of security do not allow for developing and implementing the common and coordinated security policy in the region.

Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee

To mitigate the negative influence of destructive external geopolitical players, in addition to resolving the described-above internationally-accepted legal and organizational problems, it seems feasible to create a new mechanism of cooperation in the security sphere Ц the Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee. A similar institutional mechanism has been successfully operating in such organizations as CSTO, NATO, SCO and others, and has shown good results. The Committee could become a consulting and advisory body coordinating the interaction of the Caspian states in assuring their national security taking into account the fact of their major problems being of a cross-border character.

Regular meetings of Security Councils Secretaries would allow for discussing the situations and the most relevant problems in the regional security sphere, for monitoring the performance of assignments of the heads of states after the penta-lateral summits. The results of the competent authoritiesТ cooperation in such spheres as fighting terrorism, organized crime, illegal trafficking in arms, drugs and psychotropic substances, as well as in other spheres stipulated by Article 2 of the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region signed in 2010. The Committee could decide on setting up task forces on the most relevant regional security problems, where experts from all the five countries could share their vision of the situation, develop and review different solutions.

Obviously, expansion and intensification of contacts between executive officers and experts of the Caspian countries would have a significant positive impact on the regional security and would contribute to forming the efficient collective security system in the Caspian Region.

It seems feasible to develop a separate Agreement about setting up the Caspian States Security Councils Secretaries Committee as a consulting, advisory and executive body, or to adopt a separate Memorandum supplementing the Agreement on cooperation in the security sphere in the Caspian Region signed in 2010. These activities could be performed by the competent authorities of the Caspian countries.