Central Asia in recent years has entered a new stage in the development of cooperation with foreign policy partners and international organizations, among which the United Nations occupies an important place.
The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, addressing the world community at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, noted the importance of strengthening cooperation in ensuring the security of Central Asia. Active interaction with the United Nations and its specialized agencies has enabled the countries of Central Asia significantly to strengthen their potential in matters of security and sustainable development and to draw the attention of the world community to the problems existing in the region in these spheres.
The UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO, UNESCO, ILO, FAO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), etc. are active in Central Asia today.
The states of the region have made significant progress in finding solutions to many pressing problems of regional development and security during the period of cooperation between the Central Asian countries and the UN. Among them are the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia, active participation in international settlement efforts in Afghanistan, adoption and implementation of the Joint Action Plan of the Central Asian countries for the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, establishment of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Center for Combating Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and their Precursors (CARICC), creation of the UN Special Commission on the Aral Sea, and adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The initiative of Tashkent to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ), launched from the tribune of the UN General Assembly in 1993, was an important contribution to strengthening the global non-proliferation regime and regional security. The Treaty on CANWFZ, signed in September 2006 in Semipalatinsk, entered into force in 2009. The signing by the “five” nuclear-weapon states of the most important international document – the Protocol on Security Assurances to the Treaty on the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Treaty – was a historic event. Thus, Central Asia became the only nuclear-weapon-free zone in the northern hemisphere.
Cooperation with the UN has now reached a whole new level as a result of the process of intensifying regional cooperation in the political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres launched in 2017. Among the main challenges that the Central Asian countries and the UN are jointly overcoming are the problems of stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, countering the threats of terrorism and extremism, radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, solving urgent problems in the areas of environmental and water security, etc.
The adoption in June 2018 by the UNGA of the historically important resolution “Strengthening regional international cooperation to ensure peace, stability and sustainable development in the Central Asian region”, initiated by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, was a vivid confirmation of the broad international support for regional cooperation on security and development of Central Asia.
The promotion of the peace settlement process in Afghanistan remains an important aspect of cooperation between the states of the region and the United Nations. Uzbekistan and the countries of the region pay special attention to efforts to engage Afghanistan in regional trade and economic ties designed to promote peace and stability in the country. The intensification of Central Asian countries’ participation in international efforts to settle and stabilize Afghanistan was facilitated by the holding of the High-Level International Conference on Afghanistan “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Cooperation” in March 2018 at the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. UN Secretary-General A. Guterres addressed the conference participants with a welcoming remark. The Tashkent Declaration adopted at the conference was circulated as an official document of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
The International Conference “Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development” held in July 2022 in Tashkent with the active support of the United Nations made it possible once again to draw international attention to the issues of promoting post-conflict reconstruction of the country and its integration into the world community. The conference participants emphasized the consistent efforts of the UN and its agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and spoke in favor of continuing assistance programs.
At present, the Central Asian states are actively participating in the implementation of UN programs on humanitarian assistance and peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. Through the International Multifunctional Transport and Logistics Hub established in Uzbekistan in the border town of Termez, humanitarian cargoes are regularly sent to the neighboring country by the World Food Program and other UN agencies. Central Asian countries have established supplies of electricity, fuel and food to Afghanistan. Infrastructure projects continue to be actively developed, such as Trans-Afghan transport and energy corridors, including the construction of the Surkhan-Puli-Khumri power transmission line and the Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railroad.
Combating terrorism and extremism remains an important area of security cooperation between the countries of the region and the United Nations. The Central Asian states are actively participating in the joint implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS). To date, the countries of the region have completed the second phase of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) on the GCTS, adopted in November 2011 in Ashgabat.
As UN Secretary General A. Guterres noted, “regional cooperation in Central Asia opens up great opportunities to address common challenges, including those related to combating terrorism, strengthening border security, facilitating dialogue with religious leaders and institutions, countering human trafficking and drug smuggling”.
The international conference “Regional cooperation of Central Asian countries within the framework of the Joint Plan of Action for the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” was held on March 3-4, 2022 at the initiative of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, which made a significant contribution to the consolidation of efforts of the countries of the region and the world community to implement the UN GCTS in Central Asia.
As a result of the conference, the Tashkent Declaration and the updated Joint Plan of Action for the implementation of the UN GCTS in the region were adopted, and a decision was made to open an office of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office in Central Asia.
The provisions of the Tashkent Declaration and the new JPA are a logical continuation of previously adopted documents – the Ashgabat Declarations on Countering Terrorism (2011 and 2017), the Samarkand Declaration on Enhancing the Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Leads to Terrorism (2018), and the Dushanbe Declaration on the results of the international conference “International and Regional Cooperation in Combating Terrorism and Sources of its Financing, including Illicit Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime”.
Thus, Central Asia became the first region to fully implement the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and the Joint Plan of Action became the first UNGCT implementation framework developed on the basis of a regional approach.
In recent years, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and its regional office, as well as CARICC, have played a significant role in the development of cooperation between the CA countries and the UN in the field of countering threats and challenges of drug production and drug trafficking through the CA countries. In November 2021, UNODC and the foreign ministries of Central Asian countries signed a new Drug Control Cooperation Program in Central Asia for 2022-2025 with a budget of $90 million.
In 2015-2021, during the implementation of the previous UNODC program, significant results were achieved in the fight against drugs, organized crime, corruption and terrorism. National and regional projects totaling about $15 million were implemented, including the establishment of inter-agency mobile teams and border interaction offices. Three port control points have been opened, which have succeeded in detecting and suppressing more than 100 serious cases of smuggling worth a total of $14.6 million.
An important area of interaction between the states of the region and the UN is the development of cooperation between the parties in addressing environmental security issues.
First of all, the Central Asian countries are actively involved in joint implementation of programs on the Aral Sea restoration, climate change control, environmental protection, ensuring the safety of hydropower facilities, etc. The Central Asian states cooperate in this area.
In this direction, the Central Asian states cooperate with the United Nations through such institutions as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), and the United Nations Regional Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The adoption in May 2021 of the UNGA Special Resolution on declaring the Aral Sea region a zone of environmental innovations and technologies was a significant contribution of Uzbekistan to addressing these issues. This document reflects the UN support to the establishment of the International Innovation Center of the Aral Sea region under the President of Uzbekistan and the establishment of the Multi-partner Trust Fund on Human Security for the Aral Sea region under the UN auspices.
The UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), based in Ashgabat, plays an active role in the development of cooperation between Central Asian countries and the UN. Since its establishment in 2007, the priority areas of UNRCCA’s interaction with the countries of the region in the field of security are cooperation in countering terrorism and violent extremism; border security issues; cooperation on common issues of water-energy-agriculture nexus, as well as continuation of joint efforts to mitigate the consequences of the Aral Sea drying up.
The UN Regional Center actively participates in major international events held in Uzbekistan and other countries of the region, and assists in promoting regional cooperation, including in key security spheres. The regular participation of its heads in the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia and other important regional forums is a testimony to the recognition of the Center’s merits in strengthening interaction between the countries of the region and the United Nations.
In general, in recent years there has been a significant intensification of cooperation between the Central Asian countries and the UN and its institutions in the field of security.
The growing activity of Uzbekistan and other states of the region in joint holding of international events, implementation of specific programs of technical assistance and practical interaction in the sphere of international security testify to the strong interest of the countries of the region in further deepening cooperation with the United Nations in implementing important initiatives to ensure peace, security and development in Central Asia.
Written by: Zilola Yunusova and Oleg Limanov
Zilola Yunusova, Head of Department, Center for International Relations Studies, MFA of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Oleg Limanov, Chief Researcher of the Center for International Relations Studies, MFA of the Republic of Uzbekistan