Collective Security in Eurasia: Managing Diversity and Multiple Threats (by Ambassador Yakovenko for OCA Magazine)

25 years ago several independent states, formerly Republics of the Soviet Union, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belorussia, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, signed the Collective Security Treaty. 10 years later they established the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Even this chronology shows that it was not an easy process. It took time for the member-states to assess their own security interests and requirements, as well as the overall security picture in the region they share.

CSTO is, thus, a modern security organisation, fully in line with the post-Cold War geopolitical reality. So, it is based not on the ideological unity, but on the time-proven Westphalian principles of international relations, set in the UN Charter. Those are, first of all, sovereign equality, independence, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs. It means that it is a joint enterprise driven by national interests, defined by each member-state and collectively.

In that regard the CSTO is contrasted by the present state of NATO, a security alliance, created at the time of Cold War to be a military tool of the ideological confrontation. That reality is gone, and the ideology that underpinned that security paradigm is no longer relevant. The dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation was the right response to the radical change of geopolitical coordinates. Unfortunately, the NATO was preserved as an old alliance, which is at the core of its problems ever since.

The search for a new raison d’etre gave birth to the idea of a global NATO, then brought the alliance back to its Cold War mission of territorial defence. The greatest damage to European security was done by its expansion towards Russia’s borders. The resulting confrontational dynamics explains a paradox when the very membership in NATO becomes a source of insecurity. Now we have to deal with the consequences of the European Union’s foray into zero-sum geopolitics as a NATO proxy in Ukraine.

That is why starting from scratch was a huge advantage for the CSTO. Nobody rushed things through. Nobody sought to dominate partners or push forward some hidden agendas. Instead, member-states were dealing with real problems as they arose in real life. It is a light flexible alliance unlike cumbersome highly bureaucratised entangling alliances of the past established to fight wars. The lack of ideological bias helps to cooperate with other organisations in Eurasia. For us it was not a problem engaging with NATO, especially when the alliance led the international military presence in Afghanistan. Although NATO wouldn’t even engage in a dialogue with the CSTO for the twisted logic of not willing to “legitimise” it. So, lots of opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan have been missed. The CSTO has been net-working on security matters with such organisations as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), doing its bit in harmonisation of integration processes in Greater Eurasia.

It is worth noting that primary security concerns of the member states are in the area which was the site of the famous Great Game of the 19th century. The present security cooperation, rooted in contemporary reality, is a direct opposite of that great power game. Now it is by the regional states for the regional states.

The CSTO has achieved tangible progress and brought quite a few positive outcomes with their impact felt beyond the region. It is working primarily to ensure stability in its area of responsibility by way of addressing transnational threats, such as terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, illegal migration. The member-state established the Collective Peacekeeping Force to help tackle those threats.

A high level of trust and mutual understanding has been achieved among the CSTO partners as a result of gradual integration, including regular joint exercises, daily contacts of our border services, assistance in training of personnel, supply of special equipment and weapons. A complex approach to security allowed us to strengthen external borders.

Our key priority remains finding negotiated regional solutions to crises and conflicts in our neighbourhood, especially in Afghanistan. The expansion of the “Islamic State” to Afghanistan, which brings the terrorist threat emanating from that country to a new, higher level, requires a coordinated response on the part of all regional and international players and their organisations. The CSTO is open to such cooperation. It includes NATO whenever the alliance is ready for that.