By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of 371,000 km2 and a volume of 78,200 km3. It is in an endorheic basin (it has no outflows) and is bounded to the north by Russia, to the south by Iran, western Azerbaijan, and eastern Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Recently, the Iranian and Russian officials are talking about agreement for a collective security in the Caspian Sea. (1) Also, in the past, there has been proposals in the same field which include the decisions made in the Baku Summit Conference of the Caspian Sea states ( 18 November 2010)regarding security cooperation in the Caspian Sea based on a Russian proposal. (2) This is taking place while the 5 littoral states of the Caspian Sea (Iran, Russian Federation, Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) still differ on main issues, including the legal regime of the Caspian Sea, the ownership if important oil and gas reserves, the transportation of energy from the land-locked countries of the Caspian region, establishment of pipelines in the Caspian Sea, the legal regime of the Volga-don waterway, the level of cooperation of the littoral states with other countries. It is noteworthy that at the same time, Iran has conflicts of interests with all 4 other countries in the Caspian Sea.
Iran and Russia have conflicting interests in the Caspian Sea. Russians insist on their initiative called the MML (Modified Me4dian Line, which call for division of the Caspian seabed according to a median line and leaving the superjacent waters for common navigation of the littoral states). Iran insists that the division of the Caspian Sea must be based on “equitable and just principles” giving at least equal shares (20 percent) to each of the five states. At the same time, Iran’s Caspian doctrine (3) provides that if there is a decision to divide the Caspian Sea eventually with the consensus of the littoral states, the division should include the entire seabed and superjacent waters ( not only the sea bed, as proposed and practiced by the Russian MML).
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 due to the good and growing relations of the Republic of Azerbaijan with the USA and NATO. Also, the negative view of the Russians about a possible construction of a 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 and gas from the landlocked state makes Kazakhstan opposed to any formula that gives the Russians domination in the Caspian Sea. Iran is also concerned about the US presence all around the country and expansion of Israeli role in the economies of Caucasus and Central Asian countries.
Iran and Turkmenistan do not even agree with the criteria used for the division of the seabed in the Caspian Sea. Iran wants to have the Alborz oil/Alove fields (this could happen if the Iranian share is extended to at least 17 percent) that Azerbaijan is claiming them too. Turkmenistan insists at least on the separate arrangements for certain oil fields such as Sardar/Capaz that Azerbaijan is also claiming them. If the claims of Iran regarding equal share of the Caspian Sea is implemented, more than others, Turkmenistan and after that Azerbaijan Republic will be affected and therefore, so far, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijani Republic have not shown any interest in the Iranian proposal.
Iran could have a stronger position if the Russians had stood by their original positions regarding the Caspian Sea. But now that they are talking about the MML and they have left Iran alone facing the opposition of other littoral states.
According to an article posted in “Irdiplomacy” (a website in Iran close to the former Islamic Republic of Iran’s diplomats): “Russia’s dual, unfriendly, and provoking policy caused Iran great problem in receiving its share of the Caspian Sea. By moving towards bilateral agreements with its new neighbors and finalizing the approach of dividing the Caspian sub-basin, Russia left Iran alone. This was reminiscent of Russia’s traditional behavior with Iran and it caused problems for our country such that Iran stated despite all advantages of a joint use, the country supports full division of the Caspian Sea if it can’t receive its share of sub-basin” (4)
Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan that have their own conflicts about the control of several important oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea, do not have any intention of sharing these fields with Iran because they are practically out of the 13 percent share of Iran if the MML or any other criteria based on the extension of the current land borders is used for division of the entire or seabed of the Caspian Sea.
Under these conditions, it is not clear what is the meaning of the concepts such as the Caspian Sea Security Agreement, collective Security Initiative, and Caspian Common Force and so on. The Caspian states have not been able to agree on establishment of institutions such as the Caspian Sea economic council or the Caspian Sea Cooperation Council. Insistence of Iran and Russia that these arrangements are aimed at keeping the non-littoral states out of the Caspian Sea is only serving the short term policies of the two countries against presence of non-littoral states and it could not be a solid basis for creation of a collective security arrangement among the states that are following different political aspirations.
Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books. His latest books were published in 2011:
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