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Along with increasing security cooperation among themselves, Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are forging closer ties with NATO and its members (i.e., Turkey and the US) to enhance regional security. The recent exercise of the Central Asian peacekeeping battalion, CENTRASBAT, in Kazakhstan under the NATO Partnership for Peace program, for example, went a long way toward improving military skills and capabilities, as well as increasing military contacts. CENTRASBAT exercises, launched in 1996, enable the Central Asian states to cooperate more closely with NATO peacekeepers and, more importantly, with each other, by testing communications and coordination between national delegations and capitals, as well as crisis response mechanisms. According to US General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these peacekeeping exercises play an important role in bilateral relations and regional security. (ITAR-TASS, 1515 GMT, 13 Sep 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0913, via World News Connection)
Turkey is also pressing its politico-military, cultural and historical ties with Central Asia. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet will visit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan between 16 and 20 October, underscoring Ankara's determination to play a more active role in Central Asian regional security. (ANATOLIA, 1154 GMT, 29 Sep 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000-0929, via World News Connection) A Turkish-Uzbek military-technical agreement could emerge from these talks. Tashkent is already expanding its security cooperation with Ankara by sending Uzbek counter-terrorism units to Turkey for training in mountainous areas and high elevations, places where guerrilla forces are known to operate. (INTERFAX, 1515 GMT, 18 Sep 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0918, via World News Connection)
While security relationships with NATO, Turkey and the US, as well as other regional powers like China and Iran, may provide workable alternatives to the CIS, Russia will continue to wield considerable influence in its "near abroad" due to its geopolitical position and links to Central Asia. According to the president of Kyrgyzstan, "Russia, as a great power, could become the main force in the formation of a system of stability and security in Central Asia." (NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA, 23 Aug 00; via the Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press) Air defense integration is one of several areas that have been successful within the CIS framework. (CENTRAL ASIA-CAUCASUS ANALYST, 27 Sep 00) With so many contradictions, it may be premature to sound the death-knell of the CIS.
Some Central Asian states still rely heavily on Russia to varying degrees for security and defense. With 10,000 Russian border guards and a motorized division permanently stationed on its territory, Tajikistan depends almost entirely on Russia for border security. Russia recently "hardened" its defensive positions along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan in response to IMU incursions into three Central Asian republics and the Taliban offensive in northern Afghanistan. (ITAR-TASS, 1649 GMT, 1 Oct 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-1001, via World News Connection) Russia also has intensified its security cooperation with the Central Asian states and has reinforced its presence along CIS southern borders within the CIS framework. (ITAR-TASS, 1451 GMT, 26 Sep 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0926, via World News Connection)
Moscow cites the instability created on the southern borders of the CIS as a deep security concern. Russian President Vladimir Putin asserts that the dangerous situation created on the Tajik-Afghan border and instability in Central Asia as a whole have serious implications for Russian security. According to Putin, destabilization in Central Asia "would likely have a negative effect on the situation in Russia as well," and Russia would prevent the Afghan conflict from "spilling into the former USSR territory." (INTERFAX, 0940 GMT, 30 Sep 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000-0930, via World News Connection) The secretary of the Russian Security Council, Sergei Ivanov, said during a meeting in Moscow in late September that security council representatives from CIS member states have discussed the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border, as well as the shaping of forces and defense within the Collective Security Treaty. (ITAR-TASS, 1446 GMT, 29 Sep 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0929, via World News Connection) Whether the CIS establishes itself as an effective collective security framework in the next few years remains to be seen. Even Russia calls into question the validity of the CIS for use in security matters by continuing to pursue bilateral security relationships with the Central Asian states.
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek security pact is a step in the right direction in that it consolidates regional security, and adds a new dimension to regional cooperation. This "burgeoning" intra-regional security and defense cooperation and potential re-alignment with the West eventually could replace the CIS framework. NATO and the US, however, are maintaining a low profile militarily in Central Asia using NATO's Partnership for Peace program as their primary engagement tool. Russia is likely to continue using the CIS to assert its presence on its southern periphery. ----------------------------
The above story orginially was posted on EurasiaNet partner site, the NIS Observed, a publication of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Peace at Boston University. Chartered in 1988, ISCIP focuses on conflict-prone societies in crisis, especially Russia and other post-Soviet republics, paying particular attention to destabilizing factors of a political, ethnic, and/or international nature. The members of the ISCIP research team contribute biweekly surveys of the developments in their regions which are posted in The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review.