Recently, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has faced a situation where member states are questioning their membership. In particular, the border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the Karabakh Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia have led to discussions regarding the CSTO.
From this point of view, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views of Benno Zogg, Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) and Head of Switzerland and Euro-Atlantic Security Team, to evaluate the role and effectiveness of the CSTO in the context of the changing regional security system.
- How can we explain the reasons for the organization’s lack of effective working mechanisms for resolving both international and domestic conflicts?
Since the day it was founded, the CSTO has had its peculiar ambitions. The organization aims at cooperation that advocates the development of bilateral relations between all actors. In addition, the CSTO exists as a structure that aims to establish a regional security environment and aims at defense cooperation. However, the record of such alliances has been weak in the post-Soviet space. The CSTO has not been any different.
- Some members, in particular, the states of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, have begun to question the importance and future of the CSTO. How would you assess the role and effectiveness of the CSTO in the context of the changing regional security system?
The benefits and needs of the CSTO are controversial except for discounted Russian arms sales. For example, both Armenia and Kyrgyzstan believe that their membership in a defense alliance must create change. However, it is seen that they found themselves in armed conflicts. Moreover, in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Karabakh in 2022, the CSTO refused the calls for intervention and did not take an active role. The conflict could have triggered CSTO Article 4, stating that an armed attack threatening the security, stability, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of one of its members is an attack on all. Furthermore, Russian willingness and heavy lifting would have been essential for any involvement, but Moscow chose to maintain good ties with Azerbaijan and send its peacekeepers instead.
However, the CSTO again avoided responsibility in the summer of 2022 at a time when border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan escalated. Therefore, it can be said that the CSTO does not foresee conflict between its members and is not effective in solving problems or meditating and for this reason, remains weak. Accordingly, the intervention during domestic protests in Kazakhstan in January 2022 remains the only instance where CSTO mechanisms were activated. Even in this context, CSTO troops have not assumed a critical role. As such, the CSTO has never proved its effectiveness.
- The organization has been criticized for lacking the necessary implementation mechanisms and for the lack of a joint strategy for member states to intervene in conflicts. Do you agree with these criticisms?
On paper, the CSTO entails all the elements one would expect from a regional security alliance, such as a Collective Rapid Reaction Force, a Peacekeeping force, or a Parliamentary Assembly. It is therefore similar in structure and mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, one key element for any such elements to succeed and be employed is missing. That is the political will. Therefore, absent a unifying identity, common purpose, shared values, and trust, all these elements of the CSTO will remain only on paper.
- Cooperation in the humanitarian sphere in the CSTO is weak, especially in terms of cultural activities, education, and projects to promote democratic values. Do you think this is one of the main reasons for the organization’s lack of a peacekeeping image?
All these factors you have mentioned constitute the main deficiency of CSTO as a unifying factor. It should also not be overlooked that many member states do not share the same borders and do not have noteworthy economic cooperation. Member states were willing to follow Russia’s lead to a certain extent and entertained the charade of a genuine security alliance, mostly in exchange for a good image and subsidized arms from Moscow. Given Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, its poor military performance in the war, and its increasing economic decline and isolation, even this last unifying factor is waning. Therefore, CSTO members are looking elsewhere for security partners, including China, but also to the West.
- How do you see the future of the organization in the context of recent processes in the post-Soviet space?
With Russia’s decline and Putin’s eventual departure from power, the CSTO’s future will look even bleaker. There are a few signs for the CSTO’s members to change their approach to their neighbors and partners. Mistrust among most political leaders within the organization persists. Most likely, the CSTO will end up even more marginalized. The Beijing-driven Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has undertaken similar activities with similar members as the CSTO, such as joint military exercises or exchanges on armament cooperation and anti-terrorism exercise. With Russian power waning and security challenges from Afghanistan persisting, Central Asian states may increase cooperation among themselves rather than interacting with each other via Moscow. Moreover, China, despite its domestic problems, will remain the most powerful neighbor for CSTO member states and assume an increasing role in security projects. In this case, the CSTO either ends up completely marginalized, or there will be a major transformation in the organization once political changes in Moscow or other member states occur.
Benno Zogg is a Senior Researcher and Team Head of the Swiss and Euro-Atlantic Security Team at the Center for Security Studies (CSS). He is the editor of the CSS Analysis in Security Policy series. Zogg is the Co-Head of the Peace and Security Programme at the foreign policy think tank Foraus, a member of the Steering Committee of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks, and a Security Correspondent for Radio Monocle 24. Zogg holds a BA in Political Science and Modern History from the University of Zurich, and an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development from King’s College London. His areas of research include Swiss and European security, Russian-Western relations, and China’s influence in Eurasia.