By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas
The Russian Federation has proposed formation of a
common military force or a kind of rapid deployment force in the Caspian Sea
with participation of all littoral countries (Iran, Russian
Federation, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) in
order to combat terrorism, proliferation of the weapons of the mass destruction
(WMD), prevention of pollution and control of the fishing. The force is proposed to be limited to
the coastal states of the Caspian Sea. This
formula is designed for the national interests of the Russian
First of all, no other state has a considerable
naval or civilian fleet in the Caspian
Sea. The mixture of the
Russian formula for division of the Caspian Seabed and leaving the its
superjacent waters for the "common navigation" with the new proposal about the
formation of a common military force, gives the Russians all required tools to
ignore the sovereignty of the other coastal states of the Caspian Sea. The Russians will inspect all ships all
over the Caspian Sea for stopping terrorists
and the narcotic drug traffickers.
What the others will get is a meaningless title of the "member of the
Caspian Common force".
Secondly, the Russian formula for the common Caspian
force does not make any sense until the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is determined. Otherwise, what are the laws and
regulations that the common force will enforce? Who will be in control of the force and
what under what jurisdictions? Is
the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (and the rules of the
international law governing international waters) observed? Is so the Caspian
Sea is considered a sea and it will no more will be a lake and under
the control of the 5 littoral states.
It is not possible to say that in some cases (like combat against
smuggling, pollution and fishing), the common force will conduct the rules of
the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and in some other cases it will
not. If the rules of the international law of the sea regarding maritime areas
is used for the Caspian Sea, then there are many issues that should be
addressed, such as: The territorial water, baselines, internal waters, river
mouths, bays, ports, islands and their territories, low-tide elevations,
innocent passage of commercial and military units, submarine traffic, passage
through Volga-Don waterway, sea lanes or traffic separation schemes, nuclear
powered ships, warships of the littoral and non-littoral state, responsibility
of the flag state, hot pursuit, safety of life at sea regulations, certification
of seaworthiness, indemnity for damages of the shipping and pollution,
contagious zone, research and survey activities, economic zones, regulations for
laying pipelines, responsibly for accidental and operational oil and
nuclear pollution and so on. If the
common force is allowed to inspect all suspicious ships in the Caspian Sea to
make sure that do not carry the "contraband" articles and observe "the rules",
then the common fore will be a way of giving the Russians full control over all
shipping activities in the Caspian Sea.
Also, the Russian Federation is concerned about
the unrest in the Muslim territories of the Federation. Is this a concern for the others?
The Islamic Republic of Iran is not paying any
attention to the fate of the Russian Muslims (including Chechens) due to the
reliance of the present Iranian regime on the Russians for the nuclear program
and the need to avoid the United Nations Security Council sanctions. Is this a
good reason for Iran and the other littoral states to
join the Russians for suppressing the Muslim peoples in the Russian dominated
As far as the pollution is concerned the
Russian Federation is the
biggest polluter of the Caspian Sea. According
to the reliable sources (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/caspian/environment.html):
"Untreated waste from the Volga
River-into which half of the population
of Russia and most of its
heavy industry drains its sewage-empties directly into the Caspian Sea." It seems that the Russians should be more
concerned about their own pollution In the Caspian Sea rather than controlling
the pollution by others through a common force.
It must be noted that the most important point in
the Russian formula is keeping the Western countries, especially the
USA away from the Caspian Sea.
However, the question remains that: "is this policy to the benefit all
Caspian States?" Definitely the
Republic of Azerbaijan is opposed to the idea of a common military
force with the Russians due to the good and growing relations of the
Republic of Azerbaijan with the USA and NATO.
Republic is the first place
for the American presence. The
Azeris have been asking for the US presence in the last decade in
every possible way. Also, the negative view of the Russians about a possible
pipeline by Kazakhstan (supported by the Western countries) in the Caspian Sea
in order to use the Baku-Jeyhan pipeline for the export of oil from the
landlocked state makes it to oppose with the Russian dominated force in the
Caspian Sea. Iran is
concerned about the US
presence all around the country and expansion of Israeli role in the economies
of Caucasus and Central Asian countries.
Americans are in Iraq,
Pakistan, Arab countries of
the Persian Gulf, Turkey, and
now they are establishing bases all over the Central
Asia. At time like this, Iran is to thinking of the Russians
as good allies. But this does not work. The decision-makers in
Iran have forgotten that
Russia is not a superpower anymore
and is not able to be one.
Iranians and the Russians have fundamental
conflicts about the legal regime of the Caspian
Sea. Also, there
is a deep lack of trust between Iran and Russia with historical roots. The Iranians have never forgotten the
memory of the imposed war of one of the most advanced armies of the world with
the backward army of Iran
during the Qajar period that resulted in secession of parts of
Iran and conclusion of the imposed
treaties called Golestan and Turkamanchi. The Russians have been ready
to use any occasion for disintegration of Iran. The 1905 and 1907 treaties of the
British and the Russians and the crisis of Iranian Azerbaijan after the Second
World War (the Russians and the Americans called Iran the Bridge of Victory
during the Second World War. However, after the war, contrary to the Tehran
Accords of the three leaders of the allied countries, the Russians refused to
evacuate the Iranian territory and they remained there until the nuclear threats
by the USA (Truman).
The division of the Caspian
Sea still remains a thorny problem in the relations of the littoral
states. In the last couple of
years, the littoral states made efforts and failed in finding a collectively
agreed solution. Following the
failure in the collective diplomacy, the bilateral efforts gained a new
weight. The result was conclusion
of several treaties between the Russian
Federation, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and
these two. But the so-called the
southern states of the Caspian Sea, i.e. Iran and Turkmenistan have declared them as
null and void, while acting to the contrary.
Even those states that have concluded bilateral
treaties have not solved all issues.
The concerned treaties are concentrated on the division of the seabed on
the basis of the modified equidistance or median line, leaving many other issues
unresolved. The formula, which is
devised by the Russian
Federation, leaves the waters of the Caspian Sea free for shipping of all littoral states
(there is nothing clear about the shipping of the non-littoral states). The littoral states, except than the
Russian Federation do not
have any important naval units or commercial ships in the Caspian Sea.
So it is clear that the formula used in the concerned bilateral treaties
is devised according to the interests of the Russian
Federation. Also, there is distinction between the
military and commercial shipping.
Leaving the door open for all kinds of disputes.
and Turkmenistan do not even
agree with the criteria used for the division of the seabed in the Caspian Sea.
Iran insists that the
division of the Caspian Sea must be based on
equitable and just principles giving at least equal shares to all five
states. Iran, which could not convince others to accept
the common administration of the sea, now is insisting on the equitable division
of the whole Caspian Sea. Iran demands the Alborz oil/Alove fields that
Azerbaijan is claiming that too. Turkmenistan insists at least on the separate
arrangements for certain oil fields (Sardar/Capaz) that Azerbaijan is
also claiming them.
If you mix these regional issues to the existence
of undemocratic, corrupt, and unstable governments in the littoral states of the
Caspian Sea, and the inclination of the great
powers to use the Caspian oil as rival or alternative to the OPEC oil, and the
expansion of NATO to the East, then you see the real picture.
Under these circumstances and noting all the
existing conflicts, the Russian proposed common force is only a plan to cover
the free navigation of the naval and civilian units of the Russian Federation all over the Caspian Sea.
This formula is against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all
other states in the Caspian Sea.
About the author:
Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law, is a consultant
to the World Resources Company in the Washington DC