In MID-AUGUST Astana hosted an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
Gathering heads of state from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, chaired the meeting and, after its completion, informed journalists of the CSTO’s new plans, which will guide documents to be adopted at the CSTO official summit in December, in Moscow. The main news is that further reinforcement of the organisation is planned. At present, it acts as a consultative-advisory body but Minsk believes the CSTO should transform into a fully-fledged military-political bloc.
Having chaired the CSTO in late 2010, Minsk has proposed several initiatives aimed at making the organisation even more efficient. In particular, Belarus advocates the expansion of CSTO international co-operation, including more active liaison with the UN, the OSCE, the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, NATO and the European Union.
Strengthening of collaboration in the military and military-technical fields is another priority, with Minsk attributing much significance to the regional group of troops of Belarus and Russia. The latter is a key element of our collective security system in the Eastern-European region of the CSTO’s responsibility. Additionally, Belarus is continuing its training of the 103rd guards separate mobile brigade of the Armed Forces, making sure it is operatively ready. The brigade is part of the CSTO’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force and is now being equipped with modern armaments and military machinery (to match that of other CSTO partners). This summer, the brigade was visited by the CSTO General Secretary, Nikolai Bordyuzha, who highly praised its level of military readiness and equipment.
The enhancement of the CSTO’s role in the sphere of anti-crisis reaction is the third initiative proposed by Minsk. The organisation should also more efficiently counteract modern challenges and threats — such as terrorism, cyber crime, drug trafficking and technogenic disasters. Moreover, Belarus has attracted the attention of its CSTO partners to new challenges and threats observed this year.
Lessons of ‘Arab revolutions’
Analysis of events in North Africa and the Middle East was a key topic at the Astana summit. The wave of anti-governmental riots in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria inspires a new look at security issues. Talks at the Rixos President Astana Hotel, in its Zheruiyk Hall, focused on whether the CSTO would be able to shield against similar destructive events.
Minsk does not simplify the reasons behind these southern ‘revolutions’, which have been building for decades. According to the Belarusian delegation, recent events are the result of growing social stratification within society and high levels of political corruption and religious wrangling. However, Minsk is also convinced that, regardless of internal reasons, there has been external direction…
Moscow also speaks of the ‘external’ factor. This February, President Dmitry Medvedev stressed the danger of the Middle Eastern scenario for other regions, saying, “The situation observed in Arab countries might threaten de-integration of densely populated states.” He added then that ‘a similar scenario was previously planned for Russia… but it won’t go through here’.
The technologies being used to aid revolt in the Middle East and Maghreb deserve special attention, with the Belarusian delegation stressing in Astana that Arab ‘revolutionaries’ widely use modern communications and the Internet. These are becoming powerful instruments of political struggle. With this in mind, issues of information security are of acute importance to every CSTO state — as the host of the informal summit in Astana, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, stressed.
Evidently, events in the Middle East and Maghreb can easily have a negative influence on the zone of CSTO responsibility. The CSTO Secretariat notes that terrorist structures are now active in the Central Asian region. Supporters of radical Islam are growing in strength, as are those promoting extremist views. Drug trafficking, which helps finance terrorist and extremist groups, continues to extend, while armed Afghan gangs could soon be seen along the border areas of Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which are CSTO member states).
Belarus is also affected by these trends, although not yet directly. On the eve of the Astana meeting, Mr. Lukashenko noted, “It’s no secret that the whole Muslim world is boiling, so we can’t exclude that difficulties may appear in our Muslim states, primarily in Tajikistan; problems also exist in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is also being ‘heated’ from all sides.”
Kazakhstan is Belarus’ partner within the CSTO and a member of the Customs Union and future Single Economic Space. No borders exist between our states, so Minsk is keen to see stability across the whole Central Asian region.
As to how to assure security, Minsk believes that the CSTO should be transformed from a consultative-advisory body into a fully-fledged military-political bloc. Belarus considers that the organisation should be able to promptly and efficiently respond to challenges and threats from outside and inside the CSTO member states. At present, it lacks such power — as was well proven by last year’s events in Kyrgyzstan, when ethnic conflict erupted. Around 500 people died and several thousand were forced to flee their homes, while the CSTO observed from the side, unable to act, since this would have been outside of its legal remit. According to its charter, the organisation has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of fellow member states unless it receives an official appeal. However, because of delays and uncertainty, a tragedy could occur… Evidently, the CSTO needs a clear plan of action for such cases, to allow it to provide urgent assistance to member countries without violating national sovereignty. The organisation must be legally competent and efficient.
Talks in Astana covered this issue and, after the meeting, Mr. Lukashenko told journalists that he and his colleagues ‘have tackled the work of the CSTO critically, noting a range of drawbacks, including internal shortages’. The Belarusian President added, “We’ve unanimously announced that we’ll take a range of steps this year, enabling us to enhance the role of the organisation. We’ll endeavour to strengthen the CSTO and will do so.”
Equipping the CSTO’s Collective Rapid Response Force will be one of the first steps. As Mr. Bordyuzha later commented, this is to be equipped with the most modern and operatively comparable armaments, employing 20,000 military, ready to forestall any emergency. While strengthening the military component of the organisation, the heads of state also agreed to jointly counteract modern challenges regarding information and cyber space. These spheres are worthy of special attention, as they are now often used to destabilise state systems.
Participants of the summit also analysed recently signed legislative documents relating to the CSTO activity and announced that, by December (when the CSTO official summit is to be held) all will have been ratified. Mr. Lukashenko underlined that Belarus has already completed this task, leaving its CSTO partners to follow.
Assessments and expectations
The Astana summit has already gained diverse assessments, with many accepting it sceptically — pointing out the absence of some members: the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, failed to attend. Rumours circulated that the state may be planning to leave the CSTO but Mr. Bordyuzha denied them, expressing his hope that the President of Uzbekistan will attend the CSTO official summit in December, in Moscow. Mr. Bordyuzha also admitted that the CSTO lacks solidarity among its members and mutual support. “Greater concurrence is needed, in addition to greater attention to the needs and problems of other countries,” he said, adding that this drawback was ‘noticed by all heads of state’ at the Astana meeting.
Of course, solidarity is vital — as never before. The repetition of ‘Arab’ non-governmental scenarios is a real rather than invented threat. Events in North Africa and the Middle East show that disturbance in one country can easily affect others. The Afghan problem is no less important. The situation on the southern borders of the CSTO may worsen if NATO troops fully or partially leave Afghanistan...
Next year, the CSTO is to celebrate its 10th anniversary, while the Collective Security Treaty will celebrate its 20th. Having been established as a NATO analogue within the post-Soviet space, it is experiencing serious inner contradictions. The December official summit in Moscow is expected to demonstrate whether these can be resolved in action, rather than on paper, and whether the CSTO might yet become an efficient military-political bloc.
By Vitaly Volyanyuk
Security is collective matter
[b]In MID-AUGUST Astana hosted an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation[/b]Gathering heads of state from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, chaired the meeting and, after its completion, informed journalists of the CSTO’s new plans, which will guide documents to be adopted at the CSTO official summit in December, in Moscow. The main news is that further reinforcement of the organisation is planned. At present, it acts as a consultative-advisory body but Minsk believes the CSTO should transform into a fully-fledged military-political bloc.