The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), under Turkey’s chairmanship, aims to fill a void in security cooperation in the Asian continent, Deputy Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Mehmet Fatih Ceylan has said.
Turkey’s chairmanship of CICA -- which started in 2010 -- has been extended for two more years, from 2012 to 2014. Ceylan laid out Turkey’s vision for the international platform, noting that Turkey is primarily aiming at laying the groundwork for closer security cooperation, which is a neglected field in Asia despite the many international structures founded to meet that goal. “International security and confidence-building measures are not being comprehensively discussed in Asian-based regional organizations such as ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], the Shangai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization [which was established among ex-Soviet states]. They are instead focusing on economic and trade cooperation and some of them have a limited membership which constrains their area of influence. We want to fill that void on the Asian continent,” Ceylan said during an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman.
Creating an OSCE like body
Defining the CICA as a step aiming at increasing dialogue on security issues in Asia, Ceylan claimed the ultimate aim of the conference is to create an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-like security cooperation body in Asia.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev conceived the formation of the CICA at the 47th session of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1992. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of Korea, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam are members of the conference. Many of the member countries have historically been involved in hostilities. Their shared history makes the conference, a gathering together of “24 dissimilars” around the same table, a remarkable accomplishment. Four of these countries -- Iraq, Vietnam, Bahrain, and Cambodia -- have joined the conference since the start of Turkey’s first presidential term in June 2010.
Following June 2010, the Philippines and Bangladesh have participated in the conference with observer status. There are currently eight observer countries, including the US, Indonesia, Japan, Qatar, Malaysia and Ukraine, and also international organizations with observer status, which are the OSCE, the Arab League and the UN.
The ambassador claimed that none of the member states opposed Turkey taking over the chairmanship of CICA for a second time. “Obviously the efforts Turkey has made are appreciated widely and no one opposed the extension of Turkey’s presidency for another two years; instead, all members have shown great support for Turkey to continue its mission,” he stated.
The conference was established with the aim of increasing cooperation in all humanitarian, economic, environmental, security and military-political dimensions. Ceylan claimed that the conference had neglected the military-political dimension in previous years.
“Turkey has come up with a vision based on creating mutual confidence and dialogue within the platform, which would lead the way for stronger security cooperation. Many members had been initially skeptical of such a vision, but in time they have also come to accept that there is a void in that field,” the ambassador said.
Ceylan added that it is an important achievement for Turkey to facilitate discussions between member countries -- some who perceive other members as threats -- about serious security and political issues during its two-year presidency, demonstrating Turkey’s capability for leadership in the region. “This is an important indicator of the fact that Turkey enjoys good ties with all those involved in serious disputes,” he noted.
Under Turkey’s presidency, the conference has held various meetings. Among them was an unofficial foreign ministerial meeting in New York, a business forum and a meeting on the migration problem. During its second two-year presidency, Turkey aspires to transform the conference into a respected institution, developing the argument for the conference to increase its international prestige as a security and defense cooperation body. Enmity between Iran and Israel, which was recently demonstrated in the tension over the Iranian nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestine dispute, problems between India and Pakistan and the turmoil in Afghanistan are a few of the thorny issues that involve the CICA.
Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member and a candidate to join the European Union, has sought to raise its international profile in recent years, mediating on issues ranging from ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iran’s nuclear program.
Turkey, however, is not without its problems with some CICA countries. June’s summit saw Israel and Turkey, two countries with ever-deteriorating relations which became more strained than ever following Israel’s raid on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in May 2010, faced with further tension. Turkey attempted to produce a declaration condemning Israel’s actions during the summit, and although the leaders of most CICA countries indicated that they deplored the Israeli action, the final declaration issued failed to deliver any such condemnation due to failure of reaching full consensus on the issue.
The CICA focuses on the security issues with primary importance such as terrorism, energy security and nuclear proliferation. But in order not to strain the environment of dialogue, issues which are the subject of deep tensions within the region are not discussed.
“Not all parties want to discuss every issue [as certain topics are sensitive for them]. In such cases, we may create a group of countries that want to discuss that issue, based on the principle of volunteerism. At times an adequate level of flexibility will be needed to maintain the dialogue between parties which are ready to discuss some issues,” Ceylan underlined.
“Bringing together all those countries and facilitating discussion around the same table is an achievement in itself for Turkey,” Ceylan said.
Turkey: an experienced member
Turkey, one of the group’s 24 members, is the country which has the most experience in multilateral negotiations due to its decades-old memberships in Western international organizations. Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952, is one of the founding members of the UN and was one of the first countries to join the Council of Europe (CoE). “Turkey synthesizes all its experiences in multilateral platforms with the primary aim of creating a culture of political dialogue in Asia within the CICA,” Ceylan explained.
While the European continent is rich with structures that would boost an organization such as the CICA, such as the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and NATO, countries in the Asian continent have not yet been integrated with one another in terms of security cooperation through such formations, mostly due to long-standing problems among themselves and lack of dialogue.
However, as the global powers turn their eyes to the Asia-Pacific region due to its increasing economic significance, having such confidence-building mechanisms as the CICA in the region to improve the security environment also grows in importance. US President Barack Obama has already declared the twenty-first century the “Asia-Pacific Century,” as the region is a market with crucial importance with its vast consumer base and unprecedented investment opportunities. Political analysts say that for Asia to stay committed to global progress, the security conditions in the region should be evaluated very carefully.
The CICA has also provided an important network to Turkey to enrich its relations with Asia-Pacific countries. Ceylan went on to explain: “The CICA is one of the main platforms helping Turkey to develop its Asia vision. If global trends continue in the way they are going, this century will see a strong shift towards becoming ‘the century of Asia.’ Turkey has to be vigilant and should closely follow these trends. Otherwise, it will not be possible for Turkey to continue economic growth, maintain the current level of development and deepen ties with the regions it is connected to.”
Elaborating on Turkey’s Asia vision, Ceylan asserted that Turkey has firstly tried to achieve an integration policy with its immediate neighbors through signing free trade and visa exemption agreements and creating high-level strategic cooperation councils; from these points it moved on to develop ties with a wider area beyond its borders.
“Turkey cannot confine itself to one region, thus we should go beyond [our immediate neighbors]. Asia-Pacific is the region that Turkey should place an emphasis on; this will let us gain both new political and new commercial networks,” the ambassador asserted.
Forging ties with Asian states
Ceylan also indicated that Turkey aims to forge ties with Turkic states in the CICA group, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Turkey may transform the common history, culture and language it shares with these countries into greater economic and political cooperation. “Turkey is an ideal country for these countries due to its functioning political and economic systems. It is their transit route to the West. We want our relations to be based on mutual benefit, profiting both Turkey and these states.” Ceylan added that Turkey would, without overshadowing its strategic priority of relations with the West, continue to develop its networks in Asia.
The ambassador pointed to bilateral visits from Asian countries to Turkey and vice versa starting from 2012 as indicative of Turkey’s cooperation with Asia as part of its multi-dimensional foreign policy. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Turkey in late February of this year and in April the Chinese government received Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In addition, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received a warm welcome from Turkish government officials during her visit to Turkey this past April. February also saw visits to Turkey from Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who emphasized his country’s strong relations with Turkey and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who paid an official visit which led to an increase in cooperation between the nations in several economic areas.