Natalia GHERMAN, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia
The Role of Preventive Diplomacy in Expanding Cooperation in Central Asia
Slogan and logo for the 10th anniversary of the UNRCCA. (unrcca.unmissions.org)
The United Nations' Preventive Diplomacy
The technique of preventive diplomacy, which was for the first time successfully tested in the middle of the last century by UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, was conceptually developed in the report of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, “An Agenda for Peace." He defined it as “action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur."
Subsequently, the idea of preventive diplomacy was caught up by other international and regional structures and its implementation was accompanied by the development of new conceptual documents and special cooperation mechanisms within organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), etc. The practice of using preventive diplomacy confirmed its effectiveness and created the necessary legal basis for expanding its possibilities to apply it in different types of conflicts.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his first address to the UN Security Council, said that “too many prevention opportunities have been lost because member states mistrusted each other's motives and because of concerns over national sovereignty." With reference to the complexity of contemporary conflicts reflecting the problems of economic development, human rights and cultural diversity, Guterres stressed that preventive measures should be aimed at eliminating the causes of the crisis and declared the UN's readiness to continue supporting these efforts.
In order to identify potential conflicts at early stages, including those related to regional and cross-border challenges to peace and security, the UN has created a number of political missions with the mandate of preventive diplomacy. These include the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) in Dakar, Senegal and later the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) in Libreville, Gabon. These missions were created as a special regional UN mechanism for the provision of good offices based on early warning and mediation. One of their important tasks is to contribute to strengthening the capacity of countries and regional organisations in the field of preventive diplomacy.
Potential for Using the Principles of Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia
Despite the common historical and cultural roots and the similarity of natural and climatic conditions, since independence each of the Central Asian countries has chosen its own development model from the point of view of economic, social and foreign policy. Until recently, in the world economic and political space the states of Central Asia acted, mainly, individually. In general, over the past 25 years the region has rarely been able to unite into a single whole. The rapprochement took place either under the influence of external circumstances or through the efforts of individual leaders of the Central Asian states and, first of all, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Only today, in my opinion, regional cooperation and integration have become a priority in political, economic and social life for most countries in the region.
In recent years, the leaders of the countries in the region started meeting more often, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to constructively discuss problems, which have had no compromise settlement for years. These positive changes were largely due to the initiatives of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. For example, in March this year, for the first time in the past 13 years there was a Working (Consultative) Meeting of the Heads of States of Central Asian countries that was held in Astana, Kazakhstan, which, in fact, has become a new starting point in the development of regional cooperation.
It is not a coincidence that when opening this meeting, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev noted that, together with success in strengthening economic contacts, “significant progress has been made recently in political cooperation among our countries. We managed to establish a dialogue among five foreign ministries. These consultations showed the common desire for dialogue and joint efforts." UN Secretary-General António Guterres also stressed the growing dynamics of regional ties in his speech in January 2018 at an open debate at the ministerial level on Building Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia to Link Security and Development, perfectly organised by Kazakhstan as part of its presidency of the UN Security Council.
It is beyond argument that the implementation of economic and transport-communication potential, ensuring national security and sustainable development of each of the five Central Asian states and the region as a whole require collective efforts and coordinated positions of the countries.
I am pleased to note that cooperation between the states of the region is developing dynamically. This makes possible to solve such complex issues as delimitation of frontiers or fair water use. Even in the recent past, it was difficult for Central Asian states to discuss these topics. At the same time, a trustful and open dialogue is being established now. The range of acute issues is noticeably narrowing. Moreover, the UN is ready to contribute in every way to the development of these processes. Involvement in the dialogue of Afghanistan is a logical continuation of this trend. If the region has a sense of community, then it will be much easier to integrate neighbouring Afghanistan into these processes.
UNRCCA Experience of Cooperation with the Central Asian Countries
Since its formation in 2007, the UNRCCA has been implementing its mandate aimed at creating favourable conditions for constructive dialogue, seeking long-term and sustainable solutions to the existing disagreements and taking into account the interests of all the states in the region.
The priorities list of the Centre includes the promotion of water and energy dialogue in the region and support for efforts of the countries in counteraction to transboundary threats such as terrorism, religious extremism, organised crime and drug traffic. The Centre also analyses the possible impact of the development of the situation in Afghanistan on the regional security of Central Asia.
In December, the Centre marked its 10th anniversary. The day before at the initiative of Turkmenistan, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution stressing the central role of the UNRCCA in promoting political dialogue aimed at taking collective measures to solve common problems and strengthen social and economic cooperation in the region. The resolution, which was supported by 57 states, including all the Central Asian states, recognised the Centre as an important structure promoting the strengthening of preventive diplomacy throughout the region.
Over the past 10 years, the UNRCCA has held dozens of international sessions and roundtables on topical issues of regional security and trained more than 1,000 specialists in various areas of preventive diplomacy. Hundreds of rounds of meetings and consultations were held in the capitals of the Central Asian states and in other countries aimed at assisting governments in settling disagreements and rapprochement on complex regional issues.
Every six months, the head of the regional Centre reports to the UN Security Council on the work done and the analysis of the situation in the region. The proposals and initiatives, which shall be coordinated with the countries of Central Asia, are gaining wide international response in the UN Security Council.
It seems that the visits of the UN Secretary-General to all five Central Asian states in recent years have significantly increased the recognition of Central Asia in the world. At the same time, the Centre was able to effectively act as a platform for a dialogue on key issues of regional interaction. The annual meetings of the ministers and deputy foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries, organised under the auspices of the Centre, give an additional opportunity to discuss the problems in the region at a high level and outline the prospects for cooperation.
I believe that the regional Centre has played a certain role in improving the relations in the region as well. Obtained experience and results of fruitful cooperation with the countries of Central Asia allow us to hope for further strengthening of regional cooperation and achievement of the goals for peace, stability and prosperity in the region. We will continue to promote these political advancements in accordance with our motto, under which we celebrated our tenth anniversary: “Promote Dialogue. Prevent Conflict."