CSTO response to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: what about international law?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It is no secret that leaders of Republic of Armenia have long since included its membership in Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) into its Nagorno-Karabakh conflict rhetoric, specifically implying that CSTO should support Armenia in possible armed confrontation with Azerbaijan. Main thought is that if the Republic of Azerbaijan should decide to regain control over its occupied territories using its right to self-defense, response should be already interstate and collective. While Armenian statements are speculations, more recent statements of the Organization’s Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha suggest that CSTO is not that far from the same thought. Basically, when answering the question of CSTO action in case of escalation of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during the press-conference with RIA “Novosti”, Bordyuzha reacted that as a member of the Organization, Armenia shall get all the necessary support. More recently, he went as far as stating that Armenia has a “special status” in CSTO .
The main questions are how legitimate and real is such an assistance of CSTO in accordance with international law. Keeping in mind that any relations between states are built upon and regulated by the corresponding norms of international law – in our case international treaty law.
First, let us take a look at what is CSTO. On May 15, 1992 Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have signed collective security treaty (CST) in Tashkent.  Azerbaijan have signed the same treaty on September 24, 1993, Georgia – on September 9, 1993, Belarus – on December 31, 1993 and the treaty entered into force on April 20, 1994. That treaty was set out for five years with possibility of extension. On April 2, 1999 presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan have signed the protocol on the extension of the treaty for another five-year term, however Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan refused to sign the extension and the same year Uzbekistan joins GUAM. On the Moscow summit on CST on May 14, 2002 state-parties have made a decision to transform the CST into the full-scale international organization – Collective Security Treaty Organisation. On October 7, 2002 in Tashkent the member-states have signed Charter and Agreement on the legal status of CSTO, that are already ratified by all the members of the CSTO and have entered into force on September 18, 2003. On December 2, 2004 UN General Assembly have adopted a resolution that have granted Collective Security Treaty Organisation an observer status. After the recognition in the UN it is safe to say that CSTO became an accepted regional organization on maintenance of peace and security in accordance with Article 52 of the UN Charter.
It is worth mentioning that CSTO as a regional organization have gone through a long process of its establishment as a political body since 2004. Taking into account the membership in the organization as well as the recent trends in the development of CSTO, the outlook of the body suggests the regional security union of the Central Asian states and Russia, that focuses on the security problems particularly of the Central Asian region. At the same time considering the lack of common borders of the Republic of Armenia with its partner from CSTO and very narrow corridor of military support linking Armenia with Russia through Georgia due to geopolitical reasons, further role of Armenia in CSTO is somewhat obscure and contradicting the logic of the processes that encompass the Organization.
Now let as take a look at the aims and goals of CSTO. They are listed in the Article 3 of CSTO Charter: “The goals of the Organization are the strengthening of peace, international and regional security and stability, protection – on a collective basis – of the independence and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member-states. In order to accomplish these goals the member-states give priority to political resources”. As it can be seen from above, basic goals outlined in the Article 3 are strengthening of peace, international and regional security (that is in accordance with UN Charter) and the organization-specific goals are protection of the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member-states on collective grounds. These special goals are the main cornerstone in the arguments of the Republic of Armenia and the statements by Bordyuzha when addressing the issue of possible regaining of the control over its occupied territories by the Republic of Azerbaijan. In that sense the first question that comes into mind is that if such action of Azerbaijan would constitute a threat to independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia?
First of all it is quite obvious that the regaining of control over its occupied territories would be considered as a use of force (in international law terms) on the part of Azerbaijan is beyond any doubt. At the same time there is also no doubt that the occupied territories belong to the Republic of Azerbaijan as the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in universally recognized.  The fact of occupation of the territories is recognized by such an international organizations as UN, Counsel of Europe, OSCE and others. Thus the actions of Azerbaijan under international law would have to be qualified as an indivisible right of any state to self-defense, until the UN Security Council would implement an appropriate measures to maintain or restore international peace and security (in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter). Until today no such practical measures were implemented on the part of the UN Security Council.
With that in mind we have to acknowledge that any possible actions on the part of Azerbaijan in restoring its control over occupied territories cannot constitute any threat to any aspect of the Armenian statehood and thus Collective Security Treaty Organisation shall not have any international legal reasons to support the Armenian claims. At the same time taking into account the strategic relations of the Republic of Azerbaijan with the vast majority of the CSTO member-states, the possibility of their involvement in the conflict in reality is close to complete zero.
It is obvious that statements of the CSTO Secretary General are provoked by the tensions around Iran that spread to the Caucasus region also. However, it is always good to be careful with your public statements – you may be later estopped under international law.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)

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