CICA – An attempt at a security structure for Asia

The idea of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) was conceived by President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. He made this proposal in his maiden address at the UN General Assembly in October 1992. This was the time when world was undergoing major upheavals. With the collapse of Soviet Union many independent states had emerged in Eurasia; and a new political order devoid of cold war was evolving. Kazakhstan was largest of newly independent countries and had inherited an arsenal of nuclear weapons. One of the earliest steps of President Nazarbayev was to renounce nuclear weapons, which brought him recognition as a pacifist and leading politician of Central Asia.  Proposal of convening CICA was another step in this direction. The idea was to move towards a unified Asian structure for collective security on a stage-by-stage basis. With persistent efforts of President Nazarbayev, CICA formally came into existence in September 1999 when Foreign Ministers of fifteen countries adopted Principles Guiding Relations Between CICA Member States. First Summit was held in June 2002 where charter of CICA, Almaty Act was adopted.

CICA was conceived as Asian analogue of Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the parent body of Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Guiding Principles and Almaty Act were indeed influenced by the Helsinki Documents. Catalogue of CICA Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), adopted in October 2004, was a comprehensive document detailing aspirations of the member states to implement CBMs in five broad areas of military-political dimension; fight against new challenges and threats; and economic, environmental and human dimensions. Catalogue of CICA CBMs too was influenced by Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) of OSCE.

Here similarities between CICA and CSCE and its successor OSCE ended. When CSCE was convened, there were primarily two groups on either side of the cold war. Each group had a very clear idea of its security considerations. It is a different story that in recent years, OSCE has become a talking shop with big budget. Asia on the other hand is an extremely diverse continent with varied security considerations as well as multiple flash points with significant conflict potentials that have been in existence for historical and other reasons. Security considerations of Kazakhstan had nothing in common with security considerations of India. Similarly, security considerations of Mongolia have nothing in common with security considerations Turkey; and so on so forth. Middle East, South Asia, South China Sea and Korean Peninsula are among the major flash points in Asia.

While basic documents of CICA are very effusive and were adopted with much fanfare, it has little to show in terms of real achievements. While signing the basic documents, Iran expressly mentioned that it does not recognise Israel. Israel too expressed its reservation about the status of Palestine. Member States vehemently opposed any attempt by CICA to resolve conflict situations or bilateral disputes. As a result, there has never been a meaningful dialogue on security issues within CICA. In the Almaty Act and Catalogue of CICA CBMs, military-political dimension of CBMs was given primacy but many of the member states developed cold feet soon thereafter and it was decided to shelve this dimension indefinitely. After considerable efforts by Kazakhstan and the Turkish Chairmanship, member starts agreed in 2014 to take some baby steps in this direction but there was no tangible achievement. Even in the four socio-economic dimensions, there has not been any real progress. Nearly half of the events for implementation of CBMs were cancelled for want of adequate participation by the member states. Even in those events that were held, participation was minimal and that too at the level of junior diplomats in the diplomatic missions.

It is a foregone conclusion that any organisation is as strong as its members wish it to be. While CICA has the potential to be a meaningful platform for promoting peace and security in Asia, member states have not shown any willingness to do so. In most of the organisations, member states compete or at least are quite willing to assume Chairmanship; but at CICA, Kazakhstan is left with the unenviable job of persuading other member states to assume Chairmanship. While Kazakhstan was able to persuade Turkey and China to assume Chairmanship for two terms each (2010-14 and 2014-18 respectively), it could not persuade any of the leading member states for the 2018-20 period and had to call upon Tajikistan to take on the responsibility.

When CICA came into existence, it was hoped that within a decade or so, it will evolve into a fully-fledged organisation like OSCE within a decade or so, but that has not happened. In 2012, President Nazarbayev proposed evolution of CICA into Organisation for Security and Development in Asia (OSDA) in his address to mark 20th anniversary of CICA. He reiterated the proposal at the Fourth CICA Summit in Shanghai. Majority of the member states felt that CICA had not yet reached the stage of evolving into an organisation. The proposal was shelved. 

In conclusion, it can be said that while CICA was established with good intentions and has the potential, member states need to show the willingness to engage within this platform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *