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The Idea of A Common Military Force In the Caspian Sea

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 Federation.



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 territories?


As far as the pollution is concerned the Russian Federation is the biggest polluter of the Caspian Sea. According to the reliable sources (  "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. Azerbaijan 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, Afghanistan, 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.


Iran 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 area.

... Payvand News - 11/14/05 ... --

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