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Central Asia: Expert Proposes Multilateral Regional Security System

Garmisch, Germany; 10 December 1998 (RFE/RL/) -- A top international security expert has urged the Central Asian states to build military stability in their region through mutual confidence-building steps and multilateral security agreements.

Susan Clark-Sestak, a member of the U.S. Institute for Defense Analyses, was speaking yesterday at a conference on Central Asia being held this week in the German alpine village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The event was organized by the U.S.-sponsored European Center for Security Studies.

Clark-Sestak told the participants that improved military co-operation could enhance the national security of all five of the Central Asian states.

She said the countries currently showing the most interest in taking such steps were Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. All three, in her words, have "recognized the need to foster better understanding and cooperation in a number of areas, including military, economic and environmental security."

She proposed that the five Central Asian states build a multi-lateral regional security system on the basis of the Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM's) agreed in April 1996 between China and four successor states of the Soviet Union -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

That agreement instituted a CSBM regime along the 7,000 km border between China and the four former Soviet republics.

She said the agreement could easily be adapted to Central Asia's needs by making all signatories individual partners, so that its provisions would then apply to the bilateral relations of all of them. The wording of the 1996 agreement refers to China as one party to the accord while the other four nations are collectively termed the other party.

"When work began on this agreement there were only two sovereign nations involved: the USSR and China," Clark-Sestak said, adding that "now with four successor states, there is good reason to simply treat all signatories as equal members and have all conditions apply equally to all of them."

The agreement begins with a broad commitment by the parties not to seek unilateral military superiority or to use force -- or the threat of force -- against the other signatories. It then lists ten specific confidence-and-security-building measures.

The first requires the signatories to exchange information on the number of troops and the main types of military equipment within 100 kms on both sides of the former Sino-Soviet border.

Another provision says the other countries must be informed when troops or military equipment temporarily enter this 100 km zone. They are also required to notify the other signatories of large-scale military activities and troop movements caused by an emergency.

Other CSBM's restrict the scale, geographical limits and the number of troop exercises annually, require all countries to invite the others to their exercises, and ban them from planning military exercises against another signatory.

Clark-Sestak told the conference that since all sides accepted the basic agreement, only details would have to be changed to now make it acceptable as a bilateral treaty. For instance, the number of kilometers from the border where restrictions would apply might have to be adapted in the case of smaller states such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

She argued that the next step in the process should be to expand the agreement to include Uzbekistan and, hopefully, Turkmenistan. She did not believe that involving Uzbekistan would be difficult but she said that Turkmenistan might be unwilling.

She said "such an agreement would not conflict with Turkmenistan's policy of neutrality," but added that "Turkmenistan has previously shown little interest in engaging in anything of a multilateral nature."

The U.S. specialist also argued that a system of security and confidence building measures could prove useful in combating common threats to all members of the region, such as drug and arms-trafficking.

In this case, she suggested that CSBMs could include such things as regularly-scheduled consultations or even a regional center to address border control problems. She said there could also be exchanges of data, exchanges of personnel and joint operations.

She said that "ideally, such efforts should include all member-states of the region". "But," she added, "if a multilateral approach is too difficult at the start, a bilateral or trilateral initiative could lay the foundations with the hope that the others would subsequently join in."

She said the difficulty for the near term was that Tajikistan was too embroiled in its own domestic problems and Turkmenistan appeared to have little interest in regional approaches.

Clark-Sestak told the seminar that the Central Asian states have already reached bilateral agreements to cooperate on issues such as combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime.

She said that given political will it should not be too difficult to agree on a system of confidence-building measures to enhance regional security and stability as well.