In 1997, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova formed a political, economic, and strategic alliance. Two years later, Uzbekistan joined the group. But can GUUAM -- the English acronym for the five-country association -- really offer its member states any benefits? Analysts met yesterday in Washington to discuss GUUAM's future. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew Tully attended the meeting and filed this report.
Washington, 12 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A group of international policy analysts agree that the alliance of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan will have a favorable future only if the individual members are each successful in pursuing internal reform. The alliance -- known in English by the acronym GUUAM -- was created in 1997 and expanded two years later to include Uzbekistan. Its goal is to increase cooperation on political, economic and strategic matters, and to enhance the members' independence.
Yesterday (11 July), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) -- an independent Washington-based policy institute -- held a forum about GUUAM's future. Analysts discussed an array of subjects facing the five countries, but were most emphatic on two issues: each nation's commitment to internal reform, and how all five nations can work together to develop their disparate economies.
One analyst addressing the symposium was Marshal Billingslea, a staff adviser for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said Congress would be far more willing to extend U.S. help to GUUAM if it knew its five member countries were taking concrete steps to establish free-market democracies with respect for human rights.
Other panelists agreed. One was retired General William Odom, the director of national security studies at another U.S. policy organization, the Hudson Institute. Odom said GUUAM cannot succeed unless each member nation takes reform seriously.
"If you cannot establish good courts, stable property rights, [a] capacity to reinforce -- enforce -- contracts, provide basic rights that you need for business, for human rights, etc. -- the things that we all know are absolutely essential for effective economic performance over the long run -- if you provide those, then GUUAM inevitably will have a good future."
The participants also agreed that for GUUAM to become a meaningful regional alliance, it must help member countries in the difficult transition from managed economies to the free market. According to Odom, an important way to accomplish that -- and an easy way, as well -- would be for GUUAM to constitute a free-trade zone. He said eliminating import tariffs among the five countries would greatly enhance their economic credibility.
But another panelist disagreed. He is John Tedstrom, an economist at the RAND Corporation policy center. Tedstrom argued that a free-trade zone would concentrate commercial activity too much among Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
"Creating a free-trade zone, by definition, will concentrate trade within the GUUAM member states. That's what free-trade zones do. I don't think that's a good idea for these countries. I think they should be targeting Europe."
Tedstrom said trading outside GUUAM is the only way to ensure economic credibility for all five counties.
The analysts also addressed the question of whether accusations by many Russians that GUUAM is hostile to Russia are correct. The Russian critics underline that the alliance is the only grouping of former Soviet states which does not include Moscow. Odom said some in Russia have even characterized GUUAM as, in his words, a "secretive military arrangement."
Odom said he disagrees with this view. But he said the members of GUUAM should make the most of Russia's misapprehension. He addressed this observation to the ambassadors of the five GUUAM countries who attended the forum.
"I think the leaders of GUUAM should take that as a badge of honor. You're really getting the Russians' attention here -- you must be doing something good. [Laughter] And you should just march ahead and say, 'This is a sign of progress.'"
Another panelist -- Paul Goble, the communications director of RFE/RL -- said it is important for observers to be able to look at a map of the GUUAM nations without thinking of them as being part of the Russian sphere of influence.
Analyst Frederick Starr was of the same mind. Starr is the chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies. He said all former Soviet states knew as soon as the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 that their most important challenge would be to assert -- and to ensure -- their independence.