TURKEY’S POLICY IN THE BLACK SEA AND CASPIAN REGION
speech delivered during the International Conference “Black Sea States and European Union: from interaction to collaboration”
Odessa, 17 July 2008
My comments will be confined to Turkey’s policy regarding the broader region that includes both the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea regions, because I believe that there are more authorized experts in this forum that can elaborate on the policy of Russia, United States and the EU. However, for the sake of completeness, I will also touch upon, but only superficially, their policies as they are perceived by Turkey.
II. A Historical Background
The Black Sea region was subject to settlements and invasions throughout the centuries. Warrior Scythes tribes are known to have lived somewhere around the Black Sea. The legend of Argonauts says that several centuries before the Christian era a hero by the name of Jason brought Greek settlers to several coastal places around the Black Sea. More documented Greek colonies date back to a few centuries before the Christian era. Roman and Byzantine expeditions to the coast around the Black Sea continued at the early centuries of the Christian era.
Incursions to the coasts of the Black Sea took also place in the opposite directions from upstream regions towards the downstream regions along the rivers that fall into the Black Sea such as Dnieper, Dniester and Don. Iran and Byzance competed to impose their influence to various parts of the region. At the early part of the thirteenth century, Ginghis Khan’s hordes swept the Northern parts of the Black Sea and pushed several tribes living in this area towards the Eastern Europe.
Between 1500 and 1774 the Black Sea remained almost entirely under the Ottoman rule. In the 16th century the Ottomans controlled almost the entire coastal line of the Black Sea and in the second half of the 16th century they started to dig a canal to link the Don and Volga rivers in an attempt to send their navy to the Caspian Sea. This design was noticed by the Russian Tsars and they took all measures they could in order to abort the project.
With the Kainardja Treaty of 1774 Russia got access to the Black Sea and expanded its domination throughout the following centuries. The expansion of the Russian control to the North and South Caucasus caused several waves of emigration from these areas towards the Ottoman territories.
This mobile historical past made heterogeneous the ethnic composition of the population of the Black Sea region.
After the Second World War the Black Sea became the south line of “iron curtain” that divided the Soviet Union from the rest of the world.
The documented history of the Caspian Sea region could not be taken to antiquities as we do in the case of the Black Sea. The rivalry to dominate the Caspian Sea took place between Iran and Russia. The Caspian Sea was controlled in the North by Russia and in the South by Iran. Russia’s interest in the region goes back to the era of Peter the Great whose aspiration to reach the warm seas led him to occupy Baku in 1723. Later in 1828, by means of Treaty of Turkmentchai, the Caspian was divided between these two riparians namely Russia and Persia.
III. The Geopolitical importance of the Region
Before the discovery of oil, the importance of the Caspian Sea was due, among other reasons, to its closeness to the strategically important Black Sea. After the discovery of considerable oil and gas reserves in and around the Caspian Sea, the order of primacy may have remained unchanged, but the reason what makes them important has changed. The Black Sea became all the more important because of its closeness to the Caspian Sea and because of its role in the security of the supply routes of energy sources that originate from the Caspian Sea basin.
From the geopolitical standpoint, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea have different features:
– The international status of the Black Sea is determined by the Montreux Convention. As to the international status of the Caspian Sea, there are several international treaties that determine various aspects of it, but there are also important aspects that are not yet determined.
– The international status of the Caspian Sea affects the rights of the riparian countries to explore and produce oil and gas and transport them by pipelines to be laid in the seabed of the Caspian while the international status of the Black Sea regulates the size of naval forces that the non-riparian countries will be allowed to maintain in the Black Sea.
– Caspian Sea is the source of energy and the Black Sea is on the supply route of energy;
1. The International Status
a) The International Status of the Caspian Sea
1. Historical Background
The first document that refers to the international status of he Caspian Sea is the Turkmentchai Treaty. This Treaty provides that Persia will not keep a navy in the Caspian Sea, tsarist naval forces being the only ones allowed to have a presence there. This state of affairs went on until the Treaty of Moscow of 1920. Due to the special circumstances prevailing in Russia at that time, namely to the fallout of the Revolution, Persia’s situation regarding the Caspian started to improve. Under a new treaty in 1927 the Caspian was formally registered as “Soviet-Iranian Sea” thus legalizing the division. The Treaty characterized the Caspian Sea as an “enclosed sea” under the “joint sovereignty” of the two States. This was further confirmed in the Treaty of Teheran of 1940. All these, of course, were aimed at closing the Caspian to the interference of other powers.
On the other hand, in spite of these agreements and understandings against external interference, there had been no clarification of the division between Russia and Iran. Stalin used this lack of clarity to unilaterally determine the sea borders leaving 88 % of the Caspian Sea to the Soviet Union. The border was drawn between Astara and Hassan Kuli, the two southernmost points of the USSR on Iranian border. Iran was allocated only 12 % in the southern Caspian. Iran did not raise any objections, neither during nor after the Stalin era. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the issue of the sea borders was raised against weaker newly founded states by Iran who now laid claims on the oil beds north of Astara-Hasan Kuli line.
Towards the end of 1940s the Soviets found oil in the Azeri part of the Caspian, while Iran did not make a real effort in its own sector. For the sake of practicality, better planning and better exploration, the “Soviet sector” was divided to four regional sectors in 1970: Those of the Russian, Azerbaijani, Kazakh and Turkmen Socialist Republics. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there turned out to be four riparian states along the coasts of the Caspian. With the new republics identifying and declaring themselves as the inheritors of the former USSR in 1991, the 1970 division of the Caspian continued.
The New Independent Republics, in their quest for funds in order to better protect their independence and to implement much needed reforms, wanted to explore and exploit their oil and natural gas resources. This being a costly enterprise, they had to attract foreign capital.
Actually it was even before the dissolution of the USSR and during the Presidency of Gorbachev that, at the insistence of then President of Kazakh Soviet Republic and acceptance of the then Chairman of USSR Neftgazprom Victor Chernomyrdin, negotiations started with Chevron Oil Company over the exploitation of Tenghiz oil bed. However, Azerbaijan, with its previous experience turned out to be the most active and ultimately the most successful in this effort and signed the so-called “agreement of the century” in 1994 to enable the western oil companies to invest heavily in the Azeri energy sector to exploit oil beds.
This initiative, which opened up a new chapter in the evolution of Azerbaijani oil industry, also revived the issue of the international status of the Caspian Sea. All the riparian States started putting forth their views and stands simultaneously in an effort to claim shares in the allocation of rich oil and natural gas resources. Interestingly, the disputes over the status issue did not slow down the investments in the region as previously feared.
The policies and claims of individual countries tend to change in the course of time as well. Initially, Russia and Persia, with a view to keeping the Caspian Sea outside the scope of the Convention of the Law of the Sea, maintained that Caspian resources were to be jointly used, whereas Azerbaijan, arguing that it was a closed sea, thus falling under the said Convention, wanted the Caspian Sea to be divided into national sectors. The reason for Russia’s preference for joint usage was the lack of known resources in the Russian sector. However, when rich oil beds were discovered in Russian sector as well, Moscow changed its position and inclined towards the idea of division into the national sectors, thus reinforcing Azerbaijani position.
There seems to be a consensus on the need for a modification of the original agreements between Russia and Persia (those of 1921 and 1940), defining the status of the Caspian. However, apart from that, there appears no common ground on which a solution acceptable to all five countries could be built and the dispute has not been solved.
2. The Present status of the Caspian Sea
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation reached an understanding over the division of seabed on the basis of median line. However, this is to apply solely to the exploitation of underground resources. On the other hand, Iran and Turkmenistan are against the unilateral exploitation of oil and natural gas sources until and unless a solution, which will be acceptable to all riparian States, can be found. Iran is also against the bilateral agreements between countries on the partition and exploitation of the seabed.
Both Iran and Russian Federation are also against the laying down of underground oil pipelines to transport Caspian energy resources from Azerbaijan to western European markets on the grounds that such construction may cause environmental problems or pose threats on account of earthquakes. Again, these two countries maintain that the consent of all five riparians should be obtained before embarking on such projects.
Before shifting our focus to the Black Sea, it should be pointed out that between the two major players other than Russia in the Caspian, namely Azerbaijan and Iran, there is a difference of approach.
Azerbaijan aims to achieve financial gain, by means of which it hopes to improve its economy and buttress its military so as to be able to reclaim its territory invaded by Armenia and help to alleviate the situation of its internally displaced persons. Iran’s approach to the whole Caspian issue tends to be more political than economical. In view of the very rich oil resources in the Gulf, the Caspian oil is not, economically speaking, all that important to Iran. Its present share, which corresponds to 12 % of the Caspian, is minor anyway and Iran would like to extend its sector towards the interior of the Caspian, thus achieving strategic depth.
Iran’s main problem lies in the “South Azerbaijan” which causes Iran to perceive its northern neighbour and fellow riparian as the major regional threat. Consequently, it does not wish to contribute to the realization of oil contracts that will help Azerbaijan to further develop and become a centre of attraction in the “South”. Furthermore, the ever increasing US and western influence in the Caspian is a cause of deep concern to Iran. It feels that, despite western capital influx to the region, the US embargo does not allow Iranians to obtain their fair share from the proceeds.
b) The International Status of the Black Sea (The Montreux Convention)
There is an international Convention signed in 1936 in Montreux, Switzerland, that limits the tonnage of the military vessels that non-littoral countries of the Black Sea would be allowed to keep in the Black Sea. The provisions of this Convention should not be perceived as an obstacle to cooperation with non-littoral countries. It is rather meant to preserve a military balance for the stability in the Black Sea. The most important provisions that limit the tonnage of the military vessels of the non-littoral countries could be summarized as follows:
a - the aggregate tonnage of the vessels of the non-Black Sea Powers shall not exceed 30 000 tons;
b – this upper limit may be increased to 45 000 tons in case the tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea is increased above this figure;
c - the tonnage which any one non-Black Sea Power may have in the Black Sea shall be limited to two-thirds of the aggregate tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea.
If the United States establishes a naval base in the territory of one of the riparian countries or even if it increases its naval presence without establishing a naval base, a pressure may develop on the military balance structured on the Montreux Convention. Turkey believes that it will be wrong to expose to risks this military balance, which made an important contribution to the stability of the region for more than 70 turbulent years.
2. Energy Sources and Routes
The absence of an international agreement that regulates the rights and obligations of the riparian countries of the Caspian Sea does not hamper the exploration and production of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea, because the zones belonging to each riparian State have already been determined. However it hampers the transport of such energy sources from the Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea to the Western shores and from there to the Western European markets.
What is important for Turkey is that it should be possible to lay pipeline in the seabed of the Caspian Sea in order to transport Turkmen gas and Kazakh oil from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea to its Western coast, more precisely to Baku. Turkey believes that, if the parties of the problem, especially the Russian Federation, had the political will, the pipeline could be laid even before the determination of the international status of the Caspian Sea. Because, laying pipeline does not imply right to sovereignty of the seabed that it crosses.
The difficulty of laying pipeline looks like as if it was the result of the absence of an international treaty to determine the international status of the Caspian Sea. However, from the Russian perspective, it is not the result but the reason for not coming to an agreement on the question of determining the international status of the Caspian. If the Russian Federation were to sign an agreement to this effect, this will allow Turkmenistan to lay pipeline in the seabed and pump tremendous quantities of its natural gas to Western markets. This will contradict the Russian economic interests, because the two commodities, the Russian gas and Turkmen gas, will compete in the western markets and also because the Russian Federation will be deprived from the transit fees that Turkmenistan pays to the Russian Federation for allowing the Turkmen gas to cross its territory on its way to the western markets.
The main actors in the question of the international status of the Caspian Sea are of course the riparian countries. Turkey is a third party that is affected from the absence of a solution in between these riparian countries. Turkey is the co-owner of an oil pipeline that carries Azeri oil from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean harbour of Ceyhan. If it becomes possible to lay pipeline across the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan will be able to use the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to export its oil. This will boost Kazakhstan’s economy and it will increase the quantity of oil pumped through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and financial benefits will accrue from this to the Turkish economy.
Turkey is also co-owner of a gas pipeline that carries Azeri natural gas from Baku to Turkey. If it becomes possible to lay pipeline across the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan will be able to pump its gas to Turkey and from there to Europe through the already existing Baku-Erzurum gas pipeline or another version of it with increased capacity. At present it needs Iran’s consent to do so. Iran’s own national interests will suffer if it gives priority to Turkmen gas. Therefore it has reasons not to be forthcoming on this subject since it also exports gas to Turkey. Turkey is working on a gas pipeline project called Nabucco that will carry, if and when it becomes operational, 22 to 40 billion m3 gas per year. One of the problems that remain to be solved is to find the source of such a big quantity of supply.
Turkey’s interests in this area are divergent from the interests of Iran and the Russian Federation, but there is nothing to be exaggerated in this since this may happen even between very close friendly countries. However this problem has to be solved one way or another in light of the principle of equity that prevails in the international relations.
Two other main actors, namely the US and the EU, have interests similar to those of Turkey, because the EU wishes to diversify both the sources and the routes of energy. One way of diversifying it is to be able to transport the Turkmen natural gas and Kazakh oil across the Caspian Sea. As to the US, its interests are of a more general nature. The US wishes to contribute to the strengthening of the economies of newly independent CIS countries with whom it maintains good relations.
Apart from oil and gas, the region is important for Turkey for other reasons as well:The Caspian and Black Sea regions, taken as a whole, is the immediate neighbourhood of Turkey. Many territories in the region were parts of the Ottoman State at various period of their history. Ottoman Turkey played an important role in the shaping of the history of the region. There were big waves of migrations from these regions towards Turkey throughout the history. Turkey is directly adjacent to the Caspian Sea basin. The Caspian Sea is surrounded by many Turkic peoples. The instability in the region has negative effects on Turkey. Bordering countries of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea have very close cultural and historical ties with Turkey. Therefore it is only natural that Turkey is interested in the region.
3. Frozen conflicts
Another reason that makes this region important for Turkey as well as for other major players is the existence of several frozen conflicts. It has become a tradition to call them frozen conflicts, but some of them are not entirely frozen since they break out again from time to time.
There are several common features in 4 frozen conflicts. One of them is that they all resulted from the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Second, all of them are within the territory of the former Soviet Union. Third, the Russian Federation is the major player in all of them.
a) Trans-Dniester (Transnistria)
The breakaway State of Trans-Dniester was born when the Soviet Union began to fall apart. The Moldovan territories that were on the left bank of the river Dniester were inhabited by mainly Russian speaking population while the population living on the Moldova proper spoke Moldovan and identified strongly with the neighbouring Romania. This frightened the Russian-speaking population of Moldova living on the left side of Dniester who felt a much stronger allegiance to Moscow. As a result of this, it proclaimed independence in 1990. The independence is not recognized by any country.
The sustainability of this territory as an independent State is questionable without the diplomatic recognition of the international community. Its annexation to the far away Russian Federation is neither easy nor practical. And a solution that will satisfy both the Russian Federation and the remainder of the international community is not yet at sight.
b) South Ossetia
South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast of Georgia in the Soviet times. Now the greater part of it is controlled by the government of the de facto independent South Ossetian Republic which is not recognised by any country.
A cease-fire is monitored by a Russian dominated military force whose neutrality is questioned from time to time. However the EU did not show eagerness to share or take over the task of monitoring from the Russian forces.
In April of 2007, the Georgian government created a temporary administrative unit (Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) for this territory of 70 000 inhabitants. It is headed by ethnic Ossetians and it will enable Georgia to administer the region through local leaders and to negotiate with Ossetian authorities regarding its final status.
On 6 December 2006, the OSCE Ministerial Council in Ljubljana adopted a resolution supporting the Georgian peace plan which was subsequently rejected by the South Ossetian de facto authorities. On can guess that the Ossetians autorities could not do it without the support of the Russian authorities.
Abkhazia is recognized as an autonomous republic of Georgia. It has a population that dwindled from 550 000 in 2002 to 190 000 in 2007. Only 18 % of this population is Abkhazian. The secessionist movement of Abkhaz ethnic minority declared independence from Georgia in 1992. An armed conflict broke out in 1992 and 1993 between the de facto independent entity and Georgia. With the military assistance of the Russian army the Abkhazians forced the Georgian army to retreat and it resulted in an ethnic cleansing and mass exodus of Georgian population from Abkhazia.
The complicated nature of the conflict and of the region may be observed in the fact that Abkhazia is supported by Russia, but it also receives help from Chechen fighters, their traditional allies but at the same time the sworn enemies of the Russians. Still more strange is that Chechens who are helping separatist Abkhazians improved their relations with Georgia to such an extent that the Russian Federation accused Georgia for allowing Chechen fighters to take refuge in the Georgian controlled Pankisi valley in South Ossetia.
A cease-fire was agreed in 1994 and a Russian dominated force is monitoring the cease-fire. The soverignty dispute is far from being resolved. Only less than 17 % of the territory is cotrolled by the de jure government ofAbkhazia and the remainder by the Russian backed separatist government.
The Russian Federation extends various types of assistance to Abkhazians vith a view to bringing them closer to Russia.
South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts affect negatively the relations between the Russian Federation and Georgia.
This geographical region was an oblast within the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It has around 190 000 inhabitants. It is officially part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It declared independence on 10 December 1991, but it is not recognized by any country including Armenia. However Armenia does not recognize its being part of Azerbaijan either, claiming that the region declared independence at the same time that Azerbaijan became an independent State and that both of them are equally successor States of the Soviet Union.
This approach contradicts several international resolutions:
a. Three UN Security Council Resolutions (853, 874, and 884) and two UN General Assembly resolutions 49/13 and 57/298 refer to Nagorno-Karabakh “as a region of Azerbaijan”.
b. A Council of Europe resolution states that “the territory of Azerbaijan includes the Nagorno-Karabakh region“. Another Council resolution states that “Considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces”. The resolution further states that ” the occupation of foreign territory by a member State constitutes a grave violation of that State’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe “.
The EU declared that “it does not recognise the independence of Nagorno Karabakh. The European Union cannot consider legitimate the ‘presidential elections’ that were scheduled to take place on 11 August 2002 in Nagorno Karabakh”.
The US State Department issued a Report where it stated that “Armenia continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories”.
Despite this unequivocal position of all major international organisations, no concrete step is taken to resolve the dispute.
In view of the fact that Azerbaijan is steadily progressing in its way to become an oil rich country and a country that will be able to allocate more money for defence, the delay in the solution may force Armenia to pay a higher price for what it has to give away anyway.
Nogorno Karabagh is the core of the conflict, but it has more ramifications: Armenian forces occupy seven provinces in Azerbaijan proper and one million Azeris or one fifth of the population are evicted from their homes and became internally displaced persons.
Without the Russian support Armenia has no capacity to sustain this occupation. In 2006, Russia published a Great Encyclopedia in 63 volumes, which described Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent entity that belonged “historically” to Armenians. Without entering into the discussion of the veracity of thes statement, one may compare it to saying that the entire nothhern Caucasus belonged “historically” to various Circassian peoples.
Each one of thefrozen conflicts enumerated above is shaped by different parameters. The solution applicable to one of them may not be valid for another one. However we may say that 1) the political will of the major players is not strong enough to place these conflicts high on the agenda; 2) progress cannot be expected to resolve these conflicts without the cooperation of the Russian Federation.
Turkey’s position with regard to the Frozen conflicts
Turkey is very much in favour of an early and peaceful solution of the frozen conflicts. Two of them affect directly its relations with its neighbours:
The Nogorno-Karabagh conflict is one of the major impediments in Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Turkey’s position is the same as that of the remainder of the international community. It believes like all major international organizations that Nogorno-Karabagh is the territory of Azerbaijan and that Armenia has to withdraw unconditionally from the occupied Azeri territories.
On Abkhazia, Turkey, like almost all countries except the Russian Federation, is in favour of a peaceful solution within the framework of the territorial integrity of Georgia. The Russian Federation did not make any statement to the effect that a solution within the framework of the territorial integrity of Georgia is acceptable to it. The continuation of this conflict harms Turkey’s interests because of the pressure of very strong ethnic Abhazian and ethnic Georgian communities in Turkey.
The US and the EU have almost similar position as Turkey on both of these conflicts. However the US does not use its leverage on Armenia because of the very strong Armenian lobby in the United States. The EU countries of the Minsk Group that are supposed to draw up a plan for the solution of the Nogorno-Karabagh conflict, could not go far enough to put pressure on Armenia for an equitable solution. There are various reasons for it, the most important one being again the pressure of the Armenian lobbies in their respective countries.
Turkey’s interest in the South-Ossetian conflict does not go as far as its interest in the two conflicts mentioned above. The interest is even less in the case of the Transnistrian conflict.
The EU is interested in both of these conflicts. However its interest in the Transnistrian conflict is more active, because the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy covers both Ukraine and Moldova, which are adjacent to Transnistria. The European Parliament, in a Resolution that it adopted on 10 July 2008, points out that the EU should “play a more active role in finding peaceful solutions to the region’s conflicts, thus contributing positively to the security in the region”.
IV – Black Sea as an Area of Cooperation
1. The Military importance of the Black Sea
The role of the Black Sea region as an energy corridor and the frozen conflicts make it an important region from the military standpoint, but it also offers huge potentials for cooperation both in military and economic fields.
After two of the riparian countries of the Black Sea have become members of NATO and EU, the security and stability of the region has become a Euro-Atlantic issue at the same time. Other developments such as 9/11, the Iraqi war and the uranium enrichment program of Iran made the region all the more important.
As far as the security is concerned, we may talk of risks rather than threats in the Black Sea region. It is not beyond the capacity of the riparian countries to cope with these risks. There are two indigenous initiatives to address such risks: Blackseafor and Operation Black Sea Harmony. These initiatives are based on two pillars:
– The ultimate goal of the initiatives is to attain all littoral countries of the Black Sea.
– The maritime security of the region should be complementary to the Euro-Atlantic security system, because the maritime security is indivisible.
These two initiatives are recognized at present as major security providers in the Black Sea maritime area.
a) The Blackseafor
Originating from a Turkish initiative BLACKSEAFOR (Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Group) was created in 2001 with the participation of all the littoral States. It aims at contributing to friendship, good relations and mutual understanding in the region through enhancement of cooperation and interoperability among the naval forces of the littoral States. Operations and tasks of BLACKSEAFOR range from counter-terrorism to search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, environmental protection, mine-counter measures, goodwill visits and any other task to be agreed by all parties.
All littoral states of the Black Sea have the common understanding that the security in the Black Sea constitutes vital importance for the littoral States and that, therefore, they should take primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and stability in the area through engagement of their common assets and capabilities. BLACKSEAFOR is an instrument in place that can be used for the achievement of this objective.
Currently, with a view to better responding to new risks to security, BLACKSEAFOR is undergoing a transformation process.
b) Operation Black Sea Harmony
This initiative was launched by Turkey initially as a national operation to deter, disrupt and prevent the threat of terrorism and illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and related materials in the Black Sea. The Operation is now open to all Black Sea countries. Russian Federation and Ukraine have already joined the operations of the Black Sea Harmony. The aims of these operations are to:
– Demonstrate naval presence;
– Exchange of information on suspected merchant vessels;
– Conduct reconnaissance operations; and
– Trail or shadow suspected merchant vessels.
The operation consists of regular patrols with frigates and patrol boats in pre-defined surveillance areas in the Black Sea. Helicopters, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft and coast guard vessels assist in this activity.
Operation Black Sea Harmony is conducted in cooperation with the ongoing NATO Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean.
In addition to these initiatives, a meeting is held in Istanbul in 2006 with the participation of the coast guards commanders of the littoral countries. They signed during this meeting a document under the title of “Agreement on Black Sea Coast and Border Guards Cooperation Forum”.
There is also an initiative launched by Bulgaria. It is the creation of an institution called Black Sea Border Coordination and Information Centre. This Centre is established in Burgas in 2003 and is aimed at the maritime security of the littoral coastguards.
2. Black Sea as an area of economic cooperation
The complementarities between the economies of countries surrounding the Black Sea offer this region enormous potentials for cooperation. The cooperation initiatives in the military fields are explained in the previous chapter. As to the cooperation in the economic field, the most concrete initiative in this area is the establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
The establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) was the very first initiative to capitalize on the new parameters that were emerging in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union. BSEC was established on the idea that stronger economic cooperation among the Black Sea countries would enhance stability in the region by helping the member states to achieve sustainable economic structures. Thus, its institutional framework was set up with the underlying motive of integrating the region into the world economy. Taking economic cooperation as a common denominator, the founders of the Organization had the far-reaching objective of turning diverse approaches in the region into a common understanding of peace, stability, democracy and the spirit of conciliation. In this context, BSEC has come a long way towards helping the member States’ ongoing process of transformation.
It cannot be claimed that BSEC has met all the expectations in its 16 years of existence. However, a new spirit of cooperation has started to emerge between the member States. Several reasons might explain why BSEC could not achieve the desired level of effectiveness in its initial phase.
– Frozen conflicts in the region are perhaps the most important reasons.
– Lack of concrete, project-based achievements, which would have made BSEC more meaningful to all concerned; and
– Failure to draw up attainable short-term strategies, which might have given the Organization more visibility and credibility.
These shortcomings could be attributed to the fact that BSEC was the first example of an institutionalised and widely inclusive multilateral cooperation platform in the Black Sea region consisting of member countries with divergent economic and social experiences, as well as different visions and agenda for their future.
Consequently, a total consensus on the side of the members could not easily be reached with regard to their expectations from the Organization. However, recently, the Organization has achieved a visible degree of progress with the common efforts of all its members. This is due to a growing understanding among the members on the essentiality of BSEC, as a regional cooperation platform and a common determination towards shifting to a project-oriented and result-based approach within the Organization. These facts demonstrate that in its sixteen-year evolution process BSEC has been able to gather its members around common ideas, goals and policies that, itself, is sufficient proof of the success of the Organization.
The growing local and international interest in the Black Sea region imposes on BSEC the obligation to play a more active role and the re-emerging spirit of cooperation between the members gives the BSEC the chance to respond positively to new opportunities and challenges.
The BSEC area includes a population of 330 million inhabitants and an area of 20 million square kilometres with dynamic human potential and rich natural resources including oil and natural gas.
The BSEC needs to be restructured to ensure a more effective decision-making mechanism as well as due and rapid implementation of the decisions taken at the top level. This restructuring cannot be achieved by amending the regulations or by adopting a number of decisions. Instead, BSEC should be transformed into an organisation with a certain degree of flexibility to be able to respond quickly to new challenges in an ever-changing global environment.
Deepening of existing cooperation with other organizations, such as OECD and UNDP and effective implementation of ongoing partnership projects should also be regarded as a priority.
Another main pillar is the endorsement of a sector by sector approach, which will also correspond with the project-oriented vision that BSEC has recently adopted. At the level of a given sector, priority should be given to making further progress in the fields of trade and investment, transport, energy, environment and combating organized crime.
The EU is closely interested in the region and more specifically in the activities of the BSEC. The European Parliament adopted on 10 July 2008 a Resolution on the EU Commission’s 2007 Enlargement Strategy Paper. In this Resolution there is a specific reference to the Black Sea region and more specifically to the BSEC. It reiterates the “importance of devising a more sophisticated and comprehensive EU Strategy for the Black Sea region that goes beyond the current synergy initiative and envisages the establishment of a Black Sea Cooperation Agreement, which should include the EU, Turkey, all Black Sea littoral States as equal partners, while seeking the full involvement of Russia, and which could, at a later stage, develop into a Union of the Black Sea”. The EU believes that such a multilateral framework would offer the countries involved the possibility of strengthening their cooperation with the EU across a wide variety of policy fields.
V – Conclusion
The Black Sea basin is a region full of opportunities but full of challenges as well. The frozen conflicts constitute an obstacle for the full utilisation of these opportunities. The potentials cannot be mobilized with the efforts of individuals countries no matter how big their means may be. The littoral countries are the first to benefit from these potentials.
After Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to NATO and EU, the Black Sea has become an area of direct interest for the West. However, any action that does not take into consideration regional balances and sensitivities is likely to fail.