At the June 14 summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow, the leaders of the member states adopted the decision to form the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF). However, two CSTO members, Belarus and Uzbekistan, refrained from joining the CRRF. Thus, the alliance once again failed to display the collectivity it needs for becoming a full-fledged military block. These events are symptomatic of the obstacles the post-Soviet member states of the CSTO are facing in realizing their envisioned system of collective security, obstacles emanating from significant differences in the member states’ strategic interests and capabilities.
BACKGROUND: The idea of the so-called rapid reaction forces, which would act under the aegis of the CSTO, has been discussed since the Bishkek summit in 2000, when the then CST member states decided on the creation of collective security forces. At the following Yerevan summit in 2001, they decided to create the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces (CRDF) for Central Asia, which were to be composed of battalions from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan with a total manpower of 1500. The CRDF’s main purposes were declared counter-terrorism and averting external aggression.
The CSTO conducted several joint military operations. The idea of the CRDF or CRRF always remained on the CSTO’s agenda, but a renewed effort in this direction was made at the Dushanbe summit in September 2008. In the aftermath of that summit, CSTO Secretary General Nicolay Bordyuzha stated that all members are concerned with the appearance of military installations such as AMD structures of foreign countries. Such actions, he said, stipulate the necessity of establishing new military infrastructure, and restoring some elements of the Soviet one, at the CSTO frontiers. For Uzbekistan, especially the latter proposition was far from acceptable.
The decision on the CRRF on June 14 added a new element in what can be termed ‘collective confusion’ within the CSTO. It reflected weak collectivity on such a sensitive issue as the application of military power to defend the national and collective security of the member states. Uzbekistan demonstrated its reluctance to take part in the CRRF, outlining its position as follows:
First, the CRRF should exclusively confront external threats and challenges to the security of its member states. Decision-making on its deployment should be strictly based on the principle of consensus. Interestingly, Uzbekistan emphasized that its position stems from the perception that each member of the CSTO is capable of solving its internal problems independently, without outside military assistance. Thus, the CRRF should be used only for confronting external aggression.
Second, the CRRF should not become an instrument for solving any disputes either within the CSTO or in the CIS space. As a number of “frozen” conflicts exist on the Commonwealth’s territory, Uzbekistan seeks to exclude all possibilities of using the CRRF for their resolution and insists that this point is reflected in the agreement on the CRRF.
Third, dispatching contingents to the territory of another CSTO member state should be allowed only if this does not contradict the national legislation of the member-state in question.
Fourth, the Agreement on the CRRF, like any other interstate document, should not come into force unless it is ratified by the parliaments of the member states.
IMPLICATIONS: It seems that the post-Soviet member states of the CSTO are presently facing serious obstacles to realizing their envisioned system of collective security. These obstacles are caused by the significant differences in the member states’ threat perceptions, attitudes towards each other, and geopolitical postures as well as their common fear of the mythic Western offensive in the form of so-called ‘color revolution’ plots. Thus, creating the CRRF also caused serious political confusion.
These forces are today chiefly composed of Russian contingents. Moreover, there is little doubt that the CRRF as well as the overall CSTO system need to be based on Russian military and political power. It is Russia that initiates any strategically crucial decisions of the alliance. Thus, the organization is needed more by Russia than by its other members. And it is Russia that sells equipment to partners in the alliance at domestic (as opposed to world) prices. Russia exercises prominent weight in the block and provides a security umbrella for all CSTO member states, making the CSTO a highly asymmetric organization. In addition, the organization is likely to constrain the freedom of maneuver for its weaker members, especially the Central Asian states. The security assistance they receive from Russia is likely to come with certain obligations; while they will hardly be able to provide security assistance to Russia themselves should it face serious security threats.
Uzbekistan’s hesitation toward the CSTO is quite symptomatic in this regard. In addition to the four points of Uzbekistan’s official position mentioned above, four additional, unofficial reasons for its reluctance to join the CRRF are telling of the CSTO’s deficiencies in general.
First, the creation of collective rapid reaction forces is seen as premature, as the CSTO itself has not yet evolved into a full-fledged politico-military block. In other words, such forces might be created only after the status of the organization is completely established.
Second, Uzbekistan pursues a non-aligned foreign policy. In the mid 1990s, the “Law on Principles of Foreign Policy” was adopted in Uzbekistan, according to which Uzbekistan can participate in various international organizations but does not enter any military block or take part in joint military exercises. Thus, Uzbekistan is today facing two options: to either amend the existing law or refrain from participation in the CSTO’s military dimension.
Third, it is unclear how an effective system of collective security can be created in the post-Soviet space utilizing only the forces of the six members of the CSTO whereas the CIS embraces eleven states (down from twelve following Georgia’s exit this year). It seems that this “paradox” will remain problematic.
Fourth, there is no clarity regarding how CSTO members will react to potential threats. The conflict situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is illustrative in this sense. It is unclear how the CRRF would react to this type of threat considering that Armenia is a CSTO member while Azerbaijan is not, but both are the CIS members. It is also unclear how other members of the CSTO would react to security threats to one particular member state, especially a remote one. Consider, for instance, Belarus and Tajikistan: these states would be most unlikely to engage in alleviating threats on each other’s territory.
By and large, from independence to the present, all post-Soviet states have sought to cope with security threats on their own and have met threats by using their own national security forces. None – from Russia, the strongest, to Kyrgyzstan, the weakest – have responded to terrorist threats through applying to the CSTO/CST, CIS, SCO or other organizations.
Although Uzbekistan was the sponsor of the first CST summit in Tashkent in May 1992, it did not extend the Treaty on Collective Security in 1998 out of disappointment with its inefficiency in handling threats from the territory of Afghanistan. However, facing the “threat” of an alleged U.S.-inspired color revolution after the Andijan uprising in May 2005, Uzbekistan rejoined the CSTO in 2006. Today, we observe yet another reversal in this policy. Relations between Uzbekistan and the U.S. have improved since 2008, and the permanent paradox of Uzbek geopolitics again contributes to further confusion within the CSTO.
CONCLUSIONS: Ironically, the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces can only react very slowly, because they are in fact non-collective. This obviously produces political confusion among the CSTO member states. At the same time, the current difficulties of the CSTO do not mean that this alliance is useless. Rather, the present confusion about the CSTO implies the need for new solutions to current problems of the collective security system in the post-Soviet space.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Farkhod Tolipov holds a PhD in Political Science, and is Associate Professor at the National University of Uzbekistan.