Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


60. The United Kingdom is able to exert influence and promote stability in the region through its involvement with, and commitment to, a number of multilateral organisations to which the states of the region also either belong or are in partnership. We examine a number of these organisations and the opportunities they present in the following sections.

United Nations

61. The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, the sixth largest contributor to the UN Regular Budget, the fifth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and one of the world's largest contributors to voluntary UN funds and programmes.[120] All states in the region are Member States of the United Nations. However, perhaps because of the delicate geopolitical situation, the UN has failed to play a prominent role in the region. Of the four major regional conflicts, the UN has only sent observation forces to Abkhazia (UNOMIG) and Tajikistan (UNMOT), while Russia has supplied the lion's share of peace-keeping troops sent in by the CIS. Seven British personnel have been contributed to UNOMIG.[121] The UN has also established the Geneva Process to seek a solution to the Abkhazia crisis.[122] UN agencies are more prominent. The UNHCR is the principal agency in the region dealing with the vast problem of refugees and internally-displaced persons, who are mainly fleeing from regional conflicts and ethnic violence. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is assisting with the developmental tasks related to transition across the region. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are also active. Perhaps as a reaction to its UN "permanent neutrality" status, Turkmenistan appears particularly to value those UN agencies working within its borders. We believe that it is in the United Kingdom's interest to foster the work of the UN in the region and we note below[123] the important work which can be done through UN agencies to ensure adherence to human rights standards.

The European Union

62. We have indicated at paragraphs 10 to 12 above the range of interests which the EU has in the region. It endeavours to maintain these interests by building relations with the governments of the region, and claims "some success" in doing so with all states save Tajikistan.[124] Georgia and Armenia have expressed a long-term wish to join the EU.[125] The EU has signed and ratified Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCAs) with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan: these entered into force on 1 July 1999. A PCA with Turkmenistan awaits ratification by the Parliaments of the Member States and the European Parliament. These agreements will provide for Ministerial, official and parliamentary contacts and the development of trade and investment.[126] The European Commission told us that they were "a force for positive change."[127] We will discuss later the opportunity which the PCAs present for the United Kingdom and other EU states to exercise influence over the human rights policies of the countries in the region.[128]

63. The EU also provides substantial aid and assistance to all the countries of the region, through a number of channels including humanitarian aid, food security assistance, rehabilitation support and technical assistance[129]. Technical assistance is delivered via the EU's Tacis programme, and operates on both national and regional levels. The Select Committee on the European Communities of the House of Lords conducted a detailed investigation into the environmental management aspects of Tacis in the last Session.[130] Tacis has not been an overwhelming success: Mr Hyman told us of the initial difficulties which had been caused for Tacis by "subcontracting to unreliable firms and people", which had affected "its image and its actual performance"[131]: Mr Sammut told us that some aspects of Tacis had been mismanaged, with unfortunate consequences.[132] However, the performance of the programme in general appears to be improving, and the EU is working to re-focus Tacis and tighten up its procedures.[133] The EU is also developing land transport and energy corridors across the region via the TRACECA and INOGATE projects, in pursuit of its stated aim to bring the regions "closer to Europe."[134] We heard from Dr Herzig that these projects were in operation and delivering concrete benefits.[135] We set out in Table 2 below the total of EU and Tacis assistance to the region. These large sums show the opportunity which exists for the United Kingdom and its partners to exercise influence in the region.


Total EU and Tacis assistance to region, 1992-98 (£ million)

Source: European Commission, Appendix 33, Evidence p. 211

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)

64. All states in the region are members of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and all bar Tajikistan are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, which brings the states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia into an association with the alliance which permits co-operation and training activities.[136] The Central Asian members of PfP have formed a joint battalion which performed exercises with NATO troops in 1997. Two of our visits took place at the height of the NATO bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and although a number of governments fully supported the campaign, some disquiet was expressed in certain quarters at the Alliance's strategy. It did not, however, appear to us that there was any constituency advocating the scaling down or termination of relations with NATO.

65. The Alliance is particularly popular in Georgia and Azerbaijan. In Georgia we heard that the Government aimed to achieve full membership within ten years. President Aliev has often indicated that he may invite NATO to establish a base on the territory of Azerbaijan. While the Select Committee on Defence has recently concluded that this is a "ludicrous and empty threat", they note that it has caused great concern in Moscow and is often cited in Russian circles as evidence of an alleged expansionist policy on NATO's part.[137] The policy of both these states is influenced by the existing military cooperation and the transfer of arms between Russia and Armenia. Moreover, the regional security alignment between Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova (GUUAM), which is increasingly touted by its members as a more pro-Western alternative to membership of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, has as a founding principle a desire to improve links with NATO. This cannot but disconcert Moscow.

66. The new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, agreed at the Washington Summit in April 1999, set out the security tasks fundamental to the Alliance's essential purpose.[138] These envisage the operation of the Alliance within a Euro-Atlantic security environment. According to the Government, "the Euro-Atlantic Area has not been defined within the Strategic Concept."[139] However, the UN, OSCE, EU and Western European Union are all said to have made "distinctive contributions to Euro-Atlantic security and stability."[140] The Alliance is specifically tasked "to contribute to effective conflict prevention and to engage actively in crisis management" to enhance such security and stability.

67. Since all but one of the countries of the region are now members of PfP, and as NATO operates in association with the OSCE, one of the principal multilateral organisations with a presence in the region, it is conceivable that the definition of the Euro-Atlantic area could be extended to include the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Thus NATO could find itself involved in conflict prevention and crisis management tasks on the borders of Iran, Russia, Afghanistan or even China. While in the South Caucasus we heard on numerous occasions that, following a resolution of the situation in Kosovo, NATO should turn its attention to a solution of the region's various conflicts. Given the diplomatic difficulties resulting from the involvement of the Alliance in crisis management and response operations in the Balkans, we are sceptical about the value of any development which might extend the theatre of NATO operations into the South Caucasus, let alone Central Asia.

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

68. The states of the region all succeeded to membership of the then Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which had been a founder member of the Conference. The operation of the OSCE is based on the CSCE's founding documents, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990. Although the organisation produces no binding conventions or principles, its moral authority is persuasive. The OSCE plays a practical role in the region in assisting the mediation and resolution of conflicts: we have referred above to the attempts of the OSCE-sponsored Minsk Group to find a solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and to the OSCE's activities in South Ossetia.[141] In Central Asia the OSCE established a liaison office in Tashkent in June 1995 and opened centres in Bishkek, Almaty, and Ashgabat early in 1999. These centres serve to "promote the implementation of OSCE principles and commitments" and the inclusion of governments of the region in all dimensions of the OSCE's work, "including the economic, environmental, human and political aspects of security and stability", as well as to develop contacts with organs of civil society.[142] The OSCE intends to open regional offices in Baku and Yerevan later this year.[143] The OSCE also has Missions to Georgia and Tajikistan which seek to work for the resolution of the conflicts in those countries.

69. The OSCE's institutions all contribute to the development of security, co-operation, human rights and good governance in the region. We refer below to the work of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.[144] We also refer to the election monitoring carried out by the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).[145] It carries out a number of activities in the field of democratic development and good governance in the furtherance of OSCE's Human Dimension. The High Commissioner on National Minorities has most recently organised a conference on the issue of Meskhetians wishing to return to Georgia. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media was appointed in November 1997 to provide a rapid response to instances where participating OSCE states have not complied with their principles and commitments to freedom of expression and of the media. The OSCE is another significant instrument through which the United Kingdom can help to exert pressure in the region.

Council of Europe

70. The Council of Europe has become an important gatekeeper and guarantor of democracy and human rights in its member states. In recent years the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has (through its Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe) become more vigilant in ensuring that its member states do not fall short on the delivery of the rights which the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees. Membership of the Council has therefore become an important aspiration for states which wish to demonstrate that they have thrown off the repressive ways of the Soviet empire. Of the states in the region, only Georgia has so far been admitted to the Council of Europe—in April 1999. It was clear to us during our visit to Georgia that the country took great pride in this achievement, and that, for example, human rights groups realised that this was an additional opportunity open to them to ensure that their country did not depart from democratic and human rights norms.[146] Indeed, Georgian membership of the Council of Europe was only approved on the basis of a number of conditions set out in an Opinion agreed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, following a detailed report from its Political Affairs Committee, of which Mr Terry Davis MP was Rapporteur.[147]

71. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly allows a form of associate membership to states which are in transition to full membership. This is known as Special Guest Status. This was given to Georgia in May 1996. In January that year, Armenia had also received special guest status, and the same status was extended to Azerbaijan in January 1998. There was a clear desire among all whom we met in Armenia for their country to proceed to full membership of the Council. The hope was expressed that the elections on May 30 1999 would be judged free and fair, and that no obstacle would then remain to membership.[148] In the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan the desire to join the Council is an important lever which can be used to promote change, as Mr Sammut of LINKS told us.[149]

72. We were also made aware of a strong desire in Kazakhstan to join the Council of Europe. Other Central Asian states, many of which have substantial populations of European origin, may also in due course wish to join. This poses something of a problem for the Council of Europe. The fundamental text which defines eligibility for membership[150] restricts membership "in principle" to states "whose national territory lies wholly or partly in Europe." It accepts that the boundaries of Europe "have not yet been comprehensively defined", but goes on to list states which are regarded as eligible. Kazakhstan is not in this list, though part of its territory lies west of the Urals, and thus is regarded by some as part of Europe. On some definitions, the Caucasus would not be regarded as European, but the text contains an interesting passage in relation to the South Caucasus states:

    "In view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe. However, a new iron curtain should not be drawn behind these states as this would run the risk of preventing the spread of the Council of Europe's basic values to other countries. Neighbouring countries of "geographical" Europe should, if they so wish, be viewed as possible candidates for suitable co-operation."

We believe that Kazakhstan and the other countries of Central Asia should certainly be encouraged to subscribe to the Council of Europe's basic values. We note the British Government's view[151] that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus are the only countries within the former Soviet Union which are not already Member States of the Council of Europe which are eligible in principle to join the Council. However, at the very least, we believe that Kazakhstan, and any other state in the region which expresses the desire, should be eligible for Observer status at the Council of Europe—a status enjoyed by Israel and Canada. We note that Ms Quin appeared sympathetic to meeting in some way the aspirations of the states concerned. Ultimately it is for the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to decide which states are eligible to join. We recommend that the British Government work within the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to achieve a suitable status within the Council for the countries of Central Asia which have undertaken to subscribe to its core values and which have made material progress in that direction.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO)

73. The Kyrgyz Republic acceded to the WTO[152] in December 1998, having substantially liberalised its trade regime. It is the first country in the CIS to join the WTO: other states of the region are in various stages of negotiations towards membership. However, the other states which have customs agreements with the Kyrgyz Republic through the CIS, have reacted badly to the accession of the Kyrgyz Republic to the WTO, and have imposed, or threatened to impose, tariff barriers. It remains to be seen how the accession will affect Kyrgyz trade with Russia and with China, neither of which is yet a WTO member. Overall, the requirements of WTO membership (which set thresholds encouraging member countries to adhere to free trade norms) are an important incentive for countries in the region to liberalise their economies.

120   Cm 4209, p. 26. Back

121   Evidence p. 81. Back

122   See above, paragraph 38. Back

123   See below, paragraph 130. Back

124   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 203. Back

125   Financial Times, 23 June 1999, p. 2. Back

126   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 207. Back

127   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 205. Back

128   See below, paragraphs 133-140. Back

129   Appendix 33, p. 204. Back

130   Thirty-third Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities, Session 1997-98, Partnership and Trust: The Tacis Programme: the environment of Russia and the New Independent States, HL 157. See also HL Deb, 22 April 1999, cols. 1307-1336. Back

131   QQ 23-25. Back

132   QQ 80-82. Back

133   The House took note on 8 June of a new European Council Regulation for the provision of assistance to economic reform and recovery in the NIS and Mongolia, to include an improvement of Tacis procedures, following debate in European Standing Committee B on 19 May. European Standing Committee B, Stg Co Deb, 19 May 1999. Back

134   Appendix 33, Evidence p. 202 and Evidence p. 3. Back

135   Q45. Back

136   Tajikistan has not at present joined PfP for financial reasons. Back

137   Third Report of the Defence Committee, Session 1998-99, The Future of NATO: The Washington Summit, HC 39, paragraph 132. See the memorandum from the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United Kingdom setting out Azerbaijan's position on relations with NATO: Appendix 42, p. 233. Back

138   Strategic Concept of the North Atlantic Alliance, approved by the North Atlantic Council, Washington, 23-24 April 1999, Article 10. Press release NAC-S(99)65, available via NATO website: Back

139   HL Deb, 25 May 1999, col. 74. Back

140   Strategic Concept, Article 14. Back

141   See above, paragraphs 26-35. Back

142   Decisions of the OSCE Permanent Council of 23 July 1998, Nos. PC/DEC 245, 243 and 244 respectively. Back

143   HL Deb, 21 June 1999, col. 648. Back

144   See below, paragraph 144. Back

145   See below, paragraphs 131 and 132, and also HL Deb., 14 June 1999, col. 2w. Back

146   QQ73-75. Back

147   Doc. 8275, December 1998; Opinion 209, January 1999. Back

148   We deal with these elections at paragraph 107 below. Back

149   Q62. Back

150   Recommendation 1247 (1994) on Enlargement of the Council of Europe. Back

151   HC Deb 31 March 1999 col. 694w; see also Q233. Back

152   The WTO describes its purpose as "to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible" by "administering trade agreements; acting as a forum for trade negotiations; settling trade disputes; reviewing national trade policies; assisting developing countries in trade policy issues, through technical assistance and training programmes; cooperating with other international organisations." Overall, the WTO enshrines the important MFN or "most-favoured nation" principle, that each member country has to treat all its fellow-members equally: it cannot discriminate between members. If one country grants another country a special favour (such as a lower duty rate for an imported product) that favour also has to be given to other WTO members so that they are all equally "most-favoured". See the WTO web site: Back

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