Print
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Yulia Nikitina

PhD in Political Science, associate professor at the School of World Political Processes, research associate at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies, MGIMO University

If back in 2001 the international coalition hadn’t launched a counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, it would have been the CSTO member-states that had to fight potential threats emanating from the territory of this state. However, the deployment of the NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan allowed the CSTO established in 2002 to develop under peaceful conditions steadily building up its capability. Will the strengthened CSTO be able to effectively combat the increased threats of extremism and drug-trafficking after the withdrawal of NATO forces?

If back in 2001 the international coalition hadn’t launched a counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, it would have been the CSTO member-states that had to fight potential threats emanating from the territory of this state. However, the deployment of the NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan allowed the CSTO established in 2002 to develop under peaceful conditions steadily building up its capability. Will the strengthened CSTO be able to effectively combat the increased threats of extremism and drug-trafficking after the withdrawal of NATO forces?

Does the CSTO have enough capability to deal with new threats and challenges in Central Asia?

The CST/CSTO member-states had been faced with terrorist and extremist threat long before the 9/11 events after which combating these threats put on the global agenda. Major newly emerged challenges for CSTO such as terrorism, extremism and drug-trafficking emanate from the territory of Afghanistan. The Taliban movement seized the power in this country in 1996 but destabilization started even earlier – in 1992 after the Nadjibullah’s regime fall. In other words, the Afghan threat has served as a background since the signing of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) in 1992. After the invasion of Islamist militants into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000 the CSTO members decided to take measures that would prevent the recurrence of such events. In autumn of 2000 the decision was taken to set up a Collective Rapid Deployment Force (CRDF) for Central Asia. The decision came into effect a year later when the CRDF was formed out of the contingents provided by Russia and Central-Asian states. Starting from 2004 CRDF has been conducting counter-terrorist exercises “Rubezh” (Line of Defense) the legend of which presupposes the liquidation of militants invading one on the region’s countries.

Over the time of its existence the CSTO has created rather effective mechanisms for combating new threats and challenges in the region albeit the possibility to put them into practice depends on the development of the situation in the region as a whole.

Apart from the CRDF designed for operating only in the Central Asian region, in 2009 there was established within the CSTO framework there a multi-functional highly mobile Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) that could counter not only external invasions but combat drug-trafficking, terrorist threat, organized crime and liquidate the consequences of natural and man-made disasters. Alongside military units and formations the 20 thousand-strong CRRF included the Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB and EMERCOM Task Force units.

Another important line of cooperation within CSTO is the fight against drug-trafficking. Since 2003 there has been annually conducted a comprehensive preventive operation “Kanal” (Channel) which in 2008 got the status of a permanent regional anti-drug operation. Its main aims are the identification and blockage of drug and its precursors supply channels via the Northern and part of the Balkans routes.

Thus, over the time of its existence the CSTO, which in May 2012 celebrates its tenth anniversary and 25-th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty, has created rather effective mechanisms for combating new threats and challenges in the region albeit the possibility to put them into practice depends on the development of the situation in the region as a whole. In its turn, the CSTO effectiveness will largely be assessed by its ability to counter real but nut simulated threats because until recently neither CRDF nor CRRF have been engaged in real war operations.

CSTO and NATO: is the cooperation needed?

It’s believed in the Alliance that the existing formats of NATO’s bilateral cooperation with the CSTO member-states are quite sufficient and allow them to resolve current problems.

In the mid-term perspective in connection with the gradual withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan and transfer of full power to local authorities there will inevitably increase the volume of drug-trafficking and the risk of the situation destabilization in Central Asian region. Currently the West and NATO in particular are trying to shift the part of the future responsibility for securing regional stability and fighting against drug-trafficking onto Russia. But neither Russia nor other SCTO members are or will be prepared to dispatch their contingents to participate in operations on the territory of Afghanistan. Thus, it’s possible to speak only about fighting against drug-trafficking and probable extremists’ attacks in the CSTO’s immediate zone of responsibility.

Since 2004 the CSTO leadership has been trying to establish official contacts with NATO however, it’s believed in the Alliance that the existing formats of NATO’s bilateral cooperation with the CSTO member-states are quite sufficient and allow them to resolve current problems. Perhaps, this position is indeed justified – it’s rather the CSTO that can help NATO to deal with regional threats to security but not vice versa. It’s necessary to understand that NATO and the USA are very little concerned about ensuring security in the region. The main goal of the NATO and coalition forces operation was not to secure stability in Afghanistan and in the whole region but to combat terrorist groups. Therefore, NATO is not the best partner for maintaining regional stability because it takes little interest in the process.

Potential problems with responding to the threats emanating from the Afghan territory may arise from differences between CSTO members over the issues in question but not only from the lack of certain mechanisms or capabilities.

Potential activization of extremist groups who are believed to penetrate Central Asian countries’ territories in an attempt to destabilize the situation and seize power in the wake of the NATO forces withdrawal also raise fears in Russia and other CSTO members. Is NATO’s assistance in responding to such kind of threats needed? It’s obvious that neither Russia nor Central Asian states will allow NATO contingents on their territories hence, the cooperation with NATO on responding above all to the increase of extremist activity in also not expedient. As regards drug-trafficking, fighting drug production has never been NATO’s priority therefore it is now pretty ineffective. NATO forces presence in Afghanistan can not be regarded as a containing factor for drug production on the contrary, the production of drugs has increased after the launch of the operation in 2001.

The situation around Afghanistan: the CSTO consensus problem

Potential problems with responding to the threats emanating from the Afghan territory may arise from differences between CSTO members over the issues in question but not only from the lack of certain mechanisms or capabilities. For example, Uzbekistan is often blamed for non-constructive behavior. In particular, Tashkent hasn’t signed a number of documents on forces and means of the CSTO collective security system and some agreements on CRRF. Besides, it believes the functioning of CRDF and the creation on its basis regional military group to be inexpedient and opposes the establishment of relations between NATO and CSTO.

The effectiveness of collective response will depend on the ability of the CSTO member-states to find a “common denominator” for joint actions and learn to reconcile their national interests at a new level.

Moreover, Uzbekistan takes “special stance” on the issue of a post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan, in fact hampering the shaping of the CSTO’s coherent policy towards Afghanistan. Although it doesn’t make a strong case for its position all Tashkent’s arguments can be boiled down to disrespect of its national interests and poorly drafted documents. It should be reminded that all CSTO decisions are taken on a consensus basis but because of the difficulties over agreeing the positions at the December 2010 summit it was decided to adopt such a system of decision-making which would allow an a disagreeing member-state to abstain from voting in case it is not against the decision being taken, that is to say, a kind of veto right has been introduced. There was a proposal made in the CSTO to adopt a majority vote system but this idea was not supported.

How effective is CSTO in combating the Afghan threat?

The main problem of ensuring regional security by CSTO forces is not in the absence of the capability to respond to the rising threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan but in the absence of consensus over using this capability. Belarus and Armenia are not interested in sending their troops to Central Asian region. Inside the region there is Uzbekistan with its “special stance” while Russia is tired of taking upon the burden of responsibility for countering regional threats to security. Thus, the effectiveness of collective response will depend on the ability of the CSTO member-states to find a “common denominator” for joint actions and learn to reconcile their national interests at a new level while giving up the illusions that common Soviet past can provide a solid groundwork for constructive cooperation.

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students