JTW interview with Assoc. Prof. Selçuk Çolakoglu, USAK expert on Turkish foreign policy
The Black Sea region is one with unequal powerstructures amongst its states, possible clashing interests and numerous internal disputes. Since the establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in 1992 there has been, among others, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Russo-Georgian war. How do you think the BSEC has influenced these events, and more generally the security in the region?
The BSEC has been foundedunder the leadership of Turkey and Russia in 1992 as a widerBlack Sea regional organization, covering the Black Sea coastal states, Balkan states on the West, and South Caucasian states on the East. During the 1990’s there were many transitional problems. After the collapse of the Soviet Union there were many weak states-especially the former Soviet republics-and there was also a gap of security; there were many illicit networks and trans-border crime organizations.Furthermore, the Black Sea area was aneligible zone for illegal networks including weapon trafficking, drugtrafficking, humantrafficking and woman trafficking, especially from former Soviet countries to European countries. So, in the Black Sea zone there was need for better cooperation, for political dialogue, conflict resolution, creating an economic boom in the region, and maybe for combating some trans-border communal activities.The BSEC creates a good opportunity to provide all regional countries to get into these issues, problems, and opportunities together.
This is very important because there are a lot of frozen problems in the region, not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also the Turkish-Armenian normalization process, the Georgian-Russian normalization process, there are several North-Caucasus issues, and the South Ossetia and Abkhazia problems in Georgia. Besides, some of the coastal states have problems with each other, for example between Moldova and Russia or Ukraine and Russia, and there are many other problems and issues in the Balkans. After 9/11 the BSEC also began to focus on international terror networks. In that sense the BSEC is providing a unique environment or asset to get much deeper cooperation and dialogue between all the related countries. However, the present cooperation level is not sufficient enough, and BSEC is not very effective because ofseveral reasons. In 1999 BSEC became a permanent secretariat in Istanbul which has regular meetingsetc., butthere is a lack of common perspective between the member countries. On top of that, the wider Black Sea region lags behind on its potential, and many more things should be done in the near future. Turkey and Russia should be the sponsors and the leaders of BSEC, yet the participation of all regional countries is very important for the future, otherwise there will be no opportunity to solve the current problems.
What do you believe to be the internal and external threats for the Black Sea region in the (near) future, and what role do you think the BSEC can and will play in that?
There are still high risks, especially for illicit networks in the BSEC zone,because of the lack of unitary police actions or regional intelligencesharingon the ground. Much more and deeper multilateral cooperation is needed for combating these organized crimes, and the BSEC could provide an effective source for that. However, there is also a lack of common vision for BSEC in general; many countries have problems with each other, and a mentality change for union policy rather than zero-sum game in the BSEC regime is needed. Balancing and re-balancing against each other is not offering a good source of cooperation for the region. The BSEC should develop and promote a cooperation moodand a multilateral perspective for all regional countries. If Turkey and Russia put shoulder to shoulder in the BSEC region, they will gain benefits for themselves as well as for all regional countries, and they could manage the regional problems.
How have external organizations like the NATO, the EU, the OSCE and others influenced security in the Black Sea region?
The OSCE, especially just after the collapse of the communist world, had the role of confidence-building processes and thenpeace-building processes in the region. However during the last decade the OSCE has lost its ground. We can see this especially when we look at the OSCE deal concerning theNagorno-Karabakhissue; the organization was fully inefficient in that way. The OSCE focuses on a much broader region, and it has the problem of losing the ambition for its founders, especially during the last decade. So in that sense BSEC could be a much better alternative.
When we look at the EU, it had an enlargement process during the last decade and it has accepted Bulgaria and Romania as coastal states. It has also accepted some Balkan countries like Slovenia and now Croatia, which will be a part of the EU by July 2013. So the EU could be a source of cooperation, especially in some parts of the BSEC region, but it won’t cover the entire BSEC region since countries like Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are out of the agenda of the enlargement process. Of course the EU could be some leverage for cooperation between the Black Sea countries, but at the same time the EU would be a source of problems between EU member states and non-member states, and there would be competition rather than cooperation between these members and non-members. There is another risk for the EU, because since 2008 some EU economies are in crisis, Greece for example has been in a deep crisis for three years. So the EU will lose its attention for the eastward enlargement process, and also draw its final Eastern border for the Union. There is another issue, as the EU is currently discussing double-track unification, because some EU members like Germany and France are not happy with the performance of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece because of their economic perspective and competitiveness. The EU could not provide a common perspective for the wider Black Sea region because of its structural problems in recent years.
The NATO also has an eastward expansion like the EU, and Romania as well as Bulgaria recently joined it. However the same problem applies to the NATO as does to the EU;it only covers some parts of the Black Sea countries. In recent years, NATO caused some cases of confrontation where NATO countries were on one side and Russia and its allies on the other. Especially during the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, there was an escalation between some NATO countries and Russia. The NATO hascreated confrontation rather than cooperation among the Black Sea countries.Recently, President Obama declared that the US would strategically be more Pacific-oriented, in order torebalance China. So NATO and the US especially have come to lose attention for the Black Sea and NATO’s eastward expansion, and now Ukraine and Georgia are much more under Russian influence rather than Western influence.
So, non-regional actors, the OSCE, EU and NATO, have all come to lose their attention for the Black Sea region. The regional countries now stay alone with their problems. BSEC could give perspective to all regional countries and there is need for some further steps from now on. After a confidence-building process, regional countries can try to solve their problems including Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey-Armenian normalization, Russia-Georgia relations and some issues in the Balkans.
Is this what you think should happen, or do you think it is probable that this will indeed happen?
It should happen but it is also highly possible. The main obstacle is that there is still a trust gapbetween Russian and Turkish decision makers,although both countries have huge economic cooperation. After building some common strategic vision, it will be possible. Because the EU, NATO and OSCE arenot paying a lot of attention to the Black Sea region, Turkey and Russia should cooperate in a better and deeper format, and the BSEC could present a kind of leverage for that.
You have answered this question to a certain extent, but perhaps you would like to elaborate; how do you view the mutual relationship between Turkey and NATO on the one hand and Russia and its allies on the other?
Turkey played a very positive role during the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, and Turkey does not want any kind of escalation in the Black Sea. According to the Montreux convention third party’s warships cannot move into the Black Sea. Turkey applied this to US warships: At the time of the war, the US wanted to send warships to Georgian ports, howeverAnkara did not allow them to pass through the Turkish straits and prevented any potential escalation to the Black Sea zone. Besides, Turkey did not allow new basements, especially from NATO countries, for the ports of Bulgaria and Romania, so Turkey showed its willingness to cooperate with Russia. The characteristics of bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia are currently very positive, despite some disagreements on various international issues, one clear example being Syria. However, there is a mood of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara, so they have the capacity for a much deeper cooperation for the Black Sea zone. In the recent past Russia usually felt some threat from the enlargement processes of the EU and NATO, but now there is no risk for escalation of Western institutions on the one side and Russia on the other. So now the region is open for further multilateral cooperation.
So you are positive about the future of the region?
There are many reasons to feel so, as I've explained some major arguments in favor of the region's prospective future above. Therefore we have solid grounds concerning the contemporary political and security context around the Black Sea basin for us to be hopeful.
By Colette Beukman
"Turkey and Russia to determine the future of the Black Sea region"
March 6, 2013
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