How would you describe the level and the focus of cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for that matter, in fighting terrorism and extremism? How would you summarise the results of the CSTO meetings in Dushanbe on Sept. 14?
Kazakhstan considers the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation as key mechanisms of providing regional security.
From its outset, the SCO was designed as a multifunctional multilateral structure. It does not stipulate military cooperation in the classic sense of the term and is not a military bloc.
In addition, the SCO does not apply the generally accepted principle of collective security in which aggression against one member state is considered an aggression against the other member states (“one for all and all for one”).
The priority task of the organisation is counteracting “three evil forces,” i.e. terrorism, separatism and extremism. The Regional Anti-Terror Structure (RATS), which includes experts from all six member states, was created to solve these problems. It coordinates the interaction on identification and assessment of terrorist threats, development of a joint response measures, information exchange and personnel training.
Joint anti-terrorist exercises are conducted regularly under the auspices of the SCO RATS. An agreement on cooperation and coordination of border issues was signed at the SCO’s latest summit in Ufa on July 10 in order to block penetration of persons involved in terrorist activities in the territories of SCO member states. In addition, it was decided to elaborate a SCO Convention on Combating Extremism.
The Collective Security Treaty Organisation was established on the basis of the Collective Security Treaty of May 15, 1992 to secure efficient defence against an external military aggression. It has formed a unified system of coordination, which includes combat use planning, control of military contingents, military training and logistical support.
In recent years, the CSTO is being adapted to meet new challenges and threats, such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal migration and cybercrime.
Today, the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF) are optimised to fulfil various tasks – from repelling an armed attack from outside to conduction of special operations to combat drug trafficking. The CRRF includes units of the armed forces, police and intelligence services.
At the same time, the CSTO is a military-political organisation, which is designed to participate in the fight against international terrorism by using military means. For this purpose, annually trainings and exercises are held to enhance combat skills and coordination.
In May 2015, such exercises were held in Tajikistan for the first time in the form of a sudden inspection. This included regrouping and deployment of more than 2,500 troops, 200 items of military equipment and 20 aircraft of different types in the area of the Tajik-Afghan border.
On Sept. 15, Dushanbe hosted a regular session of the CSTO Council. The main theme of the session concerned the issues of countering contemporary risks and threats, as well as considering the results of the CRRF sudden inspection.
During the session, the council signed a protocol on the composition and basing of Collective Air Force and a decision on the system of CSTO Collective Forces management.
As we see it, issues of securing transport needs for joint events and actions in the framework of the CSTO (both on railway and in air) were one of the priorities of the summit.
In a joint statement at the Dushanbe summit, the heads of CTSO member states expressed deep concern over the activities of terrorist and extremist organisations that feed the political, religious, social radicalism and spread of international crime.
Of particular concern is the worsening situation on the borders of the CSTO responsibility zone, unresolved regional conflicts, activation of the ISIS terrorist group and the turning of Afghanistan into one of the world’s largest centres of drug production.
The document notes that the CRRF is becoming an important security factor in the CSTO responsibility zone, including control of extremist and terrorist aspirations around the perimeter of the external borders of the organisation’s member states.
Some outside observers have recently concluded that neither ISIS nor instability from Afghanistan represent immediate threats to Kazakhstan. Do you think the threat to Kazakhstan is being underrated?
Because of its balanced foreign policy, Kazakhstan does not face a threat of direct military aggression and maintains friendly relations with all states.
At the same time, we should not underestimate existing and potential risks and challenges.
True, in this interconnected world, problems that seem distant can suddenly become close. For example, the long-term socio-political crisis in Afghanistan, instability in the Middle East and some African countries today have become one of the causes of the refugee crisis in Europe, which is located quite far from these regions.
The situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban movement controls about half of the country’s territory and accounts for more than 40,000 militants is a natural concern for us. Today, there are eight training centres of the ISIS terrorist group on the territory of Afghanistan. Some of the participants come from the post-Soviet countries.
Radically minded people have begun travelling to Syria and Iraq, where they are brainwashed and trained to acquire terrorist skills. According to experts, today the number of radicals from Central Asia in the Middle East exceeds 2,000.
Several hundred of our citizens, including women and children, left Kazakhstan for the areas in Syria and Iraq controlled by terrorist groups. Dozens of them have already died. This is a result of their tragic delusion. I am quite certain that none of them will have a happy future as long as they are associated with international terrorist organisations.
In the future, our region could face a massive return of bandits who have links to international terrorist structures and have received money from abroad.
In practical terms, the threat posed by ISIS and other international terrorist organisations is connected to the spread of the ideology of violent extremism. This propaganda is not limited to the Middle East region and is conducted not only in Arabic but also in other languages.
Unfortunately, today the terrorists manage to work quite freely in the information field.
Therefore, it is only natural that countering this propaganda was the focus of discussions involving politicians and experts during a number of regional conferences organised in the continuation of the Washington Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.
Kazakhstan supports the international community’s efforts in this direction. On June 29-30, Astana hosted a conference of ministers and high representatives of nine countries of Central and South Asia, which was also attended by official delegates of nine partner states and 11 international organisations, international experts and representatives of non-governmental sector to discuss countering violent extremism.
Current discussions about countering violent extremism focus on the need to take an integrated approach in opposing that ideology. What specifically is the Security Council doing to help facilitate cooperation among Kazakhstan’s military, legal, penal and social entities in order to effectively counter violent extremist messages?
In Kazakhstan, measures to prevent violent extremism are systemic and based on broad support from civil society.
In order to implement the adopted State Programme on Combating Religious Extremism and Terrorism in 2013-2017, the government has allocated about $600 million.
The Anti-Terrorist Centre was created to coordinate the work of state bodies in this direction. The priority of its work is prevention and campaigns to raise awareness of the threats associated with extremism, which involve theologians, psychologists and close relatives of potential recruits for international terrorist organisations.
The government recently helped launch the Akniet rehabilitation centre on de-radicalisation of certain categories of our citizens.
Overall, because of the joint efforts of government and civil society, our compatriots began better realising the futility of a radical ideology. For example, last year more than 80 people changed their minds about going to the regions controlled by extremists.
Kazakhstan’s Security Council is an advisory body chaired by the President. Given the diverse nature of the risks, challenges and threats to national security, the Council includes the Prime Minister, Chairs of the Chambers of Parliament, Secretary of State, Head of the Presidential Administration, Secretary of the Security Council, and the leaders of defence and law enforcement agencies.
Thus, the principle of collegiality and interagency cooperation is already laid out at the stage of preparation of proposals to the head of state.
To ensure the authority of the President of Kazakhstan in the field of security, the Security Council coordinates the activities of government agencies involved in national security.
The main format is preparation and organisation of meetings and daily briefings of the Security Council to discuss most important issues. They are not public, but independent experts, representatives of business and academics are involved in the process of preparation.
Supporting institutions are the council of experts, inter-agency panels, which conduct preliminary examination of materials and recommendations for subsequent submission to the Security Council.
You previously worked as Kazakhstan’s ambassador to China. Does your appointment as Secretary of the Security Council signal an interest by Kazakhstan’s leadership to work more closely with China on security issues, or to better understand their perspective? How would you assess how China’s role in regional security is developing, especially in light of its call last year for a new Asian security concept?
I am not inclined to support a hypothesis on direct correlation between the personnel-related decisions and geographical associations of someone’s previous jobs. In those cases, a set of factors is considered.
Kazakhstan successfully cooperates with all states, including on issues of international security.
Along with our main strategic partners, China plays a special role in the system of regional security.
An important contribution of Beijing in this respect is economic assistance. China has become one of the main trade and investment partners for all countries in the region. Its concept of the Economic Belt of the Silk Road suggests implementation of large scale infrastructure projects linking Europe and Asia.
Special funds were created to this end – the Silk Road Fund of $40 billion and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with a capital of $100 billion.
Over the past two years, Kazakhstan and China signed a number of bilateral agreements on investment projects totalling $73.5 billion.
Kazakh-Chinese cooperation in the field of security is based on three pillars.
The first one is a common interest in peace and stability in the region, as well as a common vision of challenges and threats to regional security.
The second one is collaboration within international organisations, including the SCO and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). The latter is an initiative of the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, which he put forward in 1992. Today, China currently holds chairmanship of the conference. It is not by coincidence that at the May 2014 CICA summit in Shanghai, the concept of universal Asian security was proposed.
Finally, the most important aspect is the high level of cooperation and personal trust between the leaders of the two countries.
Earlier in September, Nazarbayev at the invitation of President of China Xi Jinping paid a state visit to China. This is the fourth meeting of the two leaders this year.
During the talks, a joint declaration on a new stage of all-round strategic partnership was adopted. As a result of the visit, Kazakhstan signed $23 billion in agreements with China. Agreements on the establishment of about 45 new enterprises in the manufacturing industry in Kazakhstan were approved.
A high frequency of meetings is observed between the foreign ministries, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies. Inter-parliamentary, cultural and humanitarian relations are developing well too.
In general, long-term geopolitical factors determine the importance of Kazakh-Chinese cooperation.
In the interview with the Xinhua news agency on Aug. 28 the Kazakh President highlighted that maintaining good neighbourly relations with China is one of the main priorities of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy.
“Looking ahead, I see an upward trajectory of the development of our relations,” he underlined.
A diverse career in the military, business, diplomacy and government
Nurlan Yermekbayev, 52, is a sinologist with over 20 years of experience working with or on relations with China, including as a Soviet military staff officer – analyst in the 1980s and an ambassador for an independent Kazakhstan in recent years.
Having graduated from the Moscow-based Military Institute of the Soviet Ministry of Defence in 1986 with honours with a major in Chinese language, he served in the army until retiring in 1991. According to his official biography, Yermekbayev worked in various private banks and companies in Kazakhstan until 1999 when he set up the first representative office of the Halyk Bank,one of Kazakhstan’s biggest second-tier banks, in China.
In 2003, Yermekbayev was tasked with setting up Kazakhstan’s first diplomatic mission in Singapore and worked on organising President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s state visit to that country two months later. In 2004, he was appointed the head of the newly established Centre for Foreign Policy at the Akorda Presidential Residence, assuming also the position of an advisor to the President in 2006. In 2007-2010, he served as deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan, overseeing bilateral and multilateral relations with countries in Asia and Africa, where he was known for promoting the idea of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and where he headed a working group developing the country’s Foreign Policy Concept.
Yermekbayev served as assistant to the President for foreign policy in 2010-12, a period marked by such important international initiatives and events as Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010 and in the OIC in 2011-12.
As ambassador in Beijing in 2012-14, he was credited with contributing to the expansion of commercial ties between Kazakhstan and China, including through the signing of $70 billion worth of bilateral deals in the following years. Kazakhstan’s diplomacy also scored success as China decided to assume the chairmanship in the Conference of Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), an important initiative of Kazakh President, from 2014 onwards.
Yermekbayev has served as Assistant to the President – Secretary of the Security Council since Nov. 2014.