I have recently participated in the second International Conference on Mine Action – the Path to Reaching Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) hosted by the Mine Action Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan (ANAMA) and the United Nations Representative Office in Azerbaijan and attended by numerous demining specialists from all over the world.
Among the prevalent and urgent problems related to the military dimension in Asia and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) area is demining, or the process of removing landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) from an area.
Mines, as long-forgotten remnants of a past conflict, continue to destroy lives and livelihoods, affecting a country’s ability to recover its economy, infrastructure, environment, and more. Communities live in constant fear of landmines: farmers are unable to grow crops, refugees cannot return home and parents have to live with the knowledge that their children may be killed while playing outside. On a macro scale, countries and communities affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war are hindered in their efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Member states with significant demining problems include Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq. Moreover, worldwide along with Angola, Egypt and Iran – with 23 million and 16 million landmines in their respective arsenals – comprise more than 85% of the total number of mine-related casualties in the world. CICA has reaffirmed its readiness to unite efforts in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which displays its capability to cover mine action and related issues.
Azerbaijan, as a member state, has engaged in dialogue regarding landmines and unexploded ordnance across the conflict region of Nagorno-Karabakh through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which holds an Observer Status in CICA. Seven states are members of both CICA and the OSCE, in particular Azerbaijan, Türkiye, Russia and the Central Asian Member States. Following a similar model for interaction, CICA offers a platform for countries like Azerbaijan to share their experiences in demining with other Asian states, which are not a part of the OSCE.
The Conference on Mine Action concluded with the adoption of a declaration on prioritizing humanitarian mine action as an important prerequisite to achieving sustainable development. Not only did ANAMA share its valuable demining experience but also carried out field trials in the liberated area near the town of Aghdam.
Azerbaijani authorities shared with the participants their ambitious plans of rehabilitating and reviving those territories left for three decades in oblivion, and returning the peaceful population to their homes.
One of the personal observations was that people from different countries working in the field have developed strong bonds of professional camaraderie and even friendship. For many years, this community has been maintaining peer-to-peer contacts and exchanging experience and expertise, most advanced skills and techniques. And this is an example of the practical impact of multilateral cooperation on every affected country’s successful implementation of demining operations.
Some of the efforts to advance global mine action, such as renewing commitments to strengthening global partnerships and cooperations and promoting initiatives by mine-impacted states, fall within the capacity of CICA as a cross-sectoral platform for interaction.
In its 30 years of existence, CICA has steadily built a strong foundation as an important forum for dialogue to ensure peace, stability, and security in Asia. Today, CICA has 28 member states, covering a population of around four billion people with multitudinous ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, political systems, and religious denominations.
Maintaining stability in such a large and diverse continent requires an inclusive approach that operates on the principles of consensus and multilateralism and promotes mutual cooperation in various dimensions – which is what CICA’s scope of operation entails. The resolution adopted on the 30th anniversary of the Conference – at the Sixth CICA Summit with the participation of the heads of states or government of the CICA member states – to launch its transformation into a full-fledged organization further emphasizes its growing value in seeking joint solutions for new threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.
One of the five dimensions of confidence-building measures at CICA is the military-political dimension. In order to build and ensure mutual confidence, the member states are called to exchange information on arms control and disarmament and consult on unexpected and hazardous incidents of military nature, especially if they occur in the proximity of the borders with other member states.
CICA also endorses several policies related to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which displays a bright example of the organization’s interest and readiness to facilitate the development, implementation, and reinforcement of values and principles in accordance with the UN Charter and international law and regulations.
The acute need to strengthen deterrence and peaceful dialogue arises from the pressing issue of rising military tensions and conflicts throughout Asia and the subsequent CICA region. At present, nations from East Asia and South Asia including South West and East to West Asia are bolstering new defense strategies and increasing spending on arms amid worries over “escalating threats”.
The total military spending of CICA member states in 2022 constituted $546.76 billion and is projected to grow year by year. Taking into account the number of major conflicts on the continent and the defense budget and expenditure, the military capabilities of nations in Asia cannot be underestimated. Five CICA member states: Russia, China, India, South Korea and Pakistan are in the top ten of the 2023 Military Strength Ranking.
During the Sixth CICA Summit, Azerbaijan and certain other member states expressed concern that the indiscriminate use of landmines, improvised explosive devices and ERW threaten peace, security and stability, post-conflict rehabilitation, reconstruction and peace-building efforts. They called for international assistance for the affected member states and highlighted the importance of the establishment of a Like-Minded Group of Mine-Affected Countries to raise awareness.
To promote military diplomacy and cooperation among Asian countries, the CICA Chair, Kazakhstan, represented by the Ministry of Defence, organizes the annual CICA military-political seminar. In the previous seminar held on 13-14 July 2022, defense officials and military attachés from Azerbaijan, Egypt, India, Iraq, Jordan, Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Türkiye and UAE, participated in detailed discussions on security, conflict prevention, de-escalation, and expanding cooperation among the member states in the military-political dimension.
As part of the ultimate goal to build a security and cooperation architecture in Asia, post-conflict peacebuilding measures such as humanitarian mine action are necessary to develop a comprehensive approach to ensuring security.
The author is Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev, an expert in the military-political dimension of CICA. He served as ambassador of Kazakhstan to seven countries, including three CICA member states (India, Israel, Sri Lanka), and as permanent representative to various international organizations.