12.12.10 19:22

The Evolution of Neutrality

On the eve of national celebrations to mark the 15th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s status of permanent neutrality President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov answered questions from the reporters representing international and national media

- Dear Mr. President! Let me congratulate you on behalf of many readers of our magazine and the people of Turkmenistan on the remarkable date - the fifteenth anniversary of Turkmenistan’s international status of neutrality. What is your assessment of the value of choice made by the country 15 years ago?

 - Neutrality Day is, in fact, the second most important national holiday in Turkmenistan after Independence Day. Judging by the political, economic, legal, and social implications of this step, the choice our country made fifteen years ago was, without exaggeration, historic and crucial.

For our country the status of neutrality was a special way of national identification in the international community. Turkmenistan regards the concept of neutrality, speaking figuratively, not as an official protocol line that was fixed in the international instrument, but rather a multifaceted facility the construction of which does not stop even for a day. Moreover, I have no doubt that over time the Turkmen neutrality has become not only the great national value, but also the common value of the entire international community.

- Gurbanguly Myalikgulyevich, the notion of state neutrality per se has long existed in the international practice. What are the specific features of the Turkmen model of neutrality?

- Yes, you are absolutely right. The status of neutrality is not uncommon in the international legal field. The history of international relations tells us that to some extent the elements of neutrality, both short and long term, have been widely used in the international practice. The mechanism of recognition of permanent neutrality was first used in the XIX century. Such relations have been practiced between Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and key European powers.

Originally, neutrality was conceived as non-alignment with conflicting parties during wars. However, there later appeared a concept of permanent neutrality. Switzerland was the first country to declare itself permanently neutral, and it has strictly adhered to this status until now. In XX century, Austria, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Malta and Turkmenistan became permanently neutral states. So, we are certainly not the first to choose neutral status as a major form of interaction with the outside world. At the same time, there is probably no other country that treats neutrality as a defining set of aspirations in all spheres of human activity, as it occurs in Turkmenistan.

However, let's put it one by one. Let us recall that fifteen years ago it was extremely important for a young nation, which just gained independence, to preserve the sufficient level of security. To guarantee the achievement of this objective it was necessary to either enter into military alliances with the powerful counties or find an effective alternative to such alliances.

A simple declaration of neutrality could not ensure international security guarantees. That is why we created an unprecedented mechanism of coordinating our neutral aspirations with the international community. As a result, Turkmenistan was the first country to obtain the international status of neutrality through consensual agreement of all UN member states. It happened, as you know, on December 12, 1995, in New York, during the UN General Assembly session, where all 185 UN member states, without exception, voted for the adoption of the special resolution titled “Permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan".

By gaining a new status, neutral Turkmenistan undertook certain obligations to the international community. These are non-alliance with political, economic, military alliances and blocs; presence of army only for protection of peace and freedoms; renunciation of weapons of mass destruction; prohibition of transportation of such weapons by land and by air of our country; commitment to universal values, principles of democracy; guarantee of civil peace in the country; conducting own policies in close cooperation with the UN and humanitarian international organizations.

The unconditional refusal to participate in international military and military-political groupings and blocs allowed Turkmenistan to avoid being drawn into any form of military confrontation in the region, while ensuring its own security guarantees that were confirmed by the entire international community. I think you will agree that ruling out any possibility of being drawn into military conflicts, of which we have seen a lot in the Central Asian region, was a great achievement for a new foreign policy of the young state.
The first major implication of the status of neutrality for domestic policy was an obligation to promote human rights. In accordance with the Declaration “On International Obligations of Neutral Turkmenistan in the Sphere of Human Rights” adopted on December 27, 1995, Turkmenistan undertook additional commitments in this area. Subsequently, Turkmenistan first imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, and then, under the new constitutional law, completely abolished and prohibited the death penalty. The institutions of democracy and human rights are continuously developing in modern Turkmenistan in full accordance with the country's obligations.

Another major effect of implementing a policy of neutrality was an opportunity to successfully address issues of national economic development. Neutrality, from the economic and legal point of view, was instrumental in attracting foreign investments in major economic projects to develop mineral resources of the Turkmen land and take our energy resources to the world markets.

- Would you agree that there is a certain linguistic paradox: the very term "neutrality" that is associated with the synonyms for "passivity", "non-interference" in its original dictionary meaning has gradually become a tool for Turkmenistan to manifest an unprecedented level of activity in the affairs of the international community...

- Life itself has pushed us to adopt a new pattern of behavior within the framework of activities of the international community. It soon became clear that Turkmenistan’s legal status does not limit its own political opportunities to the concept of military security. It rather became an important instrument for ensuring peace processes in the region as a whole. The policy of neutrality, that is of impartiality, allowed Turkmenistan to act as a trusted mediator in resolving the civil conflict in Tajikistan at the time of acute political crisis in this country, as well as to provide all possible support to the UN in promoting the negotiation process for the peaceful settlement of the conflict during the civil war in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the evolution of a peacekeeping component of Turkmenistan's neutral status allowed us to offer the world community effective measures for ensuring security, peace and cooperation in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea, and for initiating new legal mechanisms to address the complex geopolitical problems worldwide.

There is no doubt that with the evolution of our neutral status and strengthening of its understanding by the international community as a reliable way to achieve security, the level of international political confidence in Turkmenistan increased significantly. Today, we are proud of the level and stability of the trustful relations established between Turkmenistan and the leading world powers, open partnerships with neighboring countries and other neighbors in the region.

Undoubtedly, the country’s prestige as an active conductor of ideas and programmes of the UN in global peacemaking processes has also increased. It was not accidental that Ashgabat was selected as a place for dislocation of the Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia. It was not by chance that we were able to host more than one high-level international forum under the auspices of the UN to address urgent issues of international security.

Having formally the legal status as a political tool, the Turkmen neutrality, as it turned out, was also effective in terms of economic development. Balanced and peaceful foreign policy aspirations, strict adherence to the international legal obligations, guarantees for not participating in any kind of military confrontation - all this in combination with high rates of national economic development favored the attraction of foreign capital into the country. Today, according to the World Bank, Turkmenistan, according to the level of foreign direct investment per capita, ranks among the countries with the most favorable investment climate.
The model of Turkmen neutrality is all the more precious for us because it is not a political scheme devised by highbrow analysts in the privacy of government offices, but rather a fusion of the modern world outlook and the centuries-old wisdom of people. Tolerance, friendliness, loyalty to the principles of good neighborliness - all these qualities were inherent in the Turkmen people for centuries. That is why our neutral status enjoys not only strong support in national public consciousness, but also makes us much more accessible and open to the outside world. This fact alone can already be considered the greatest value, can’t it? ...

- Gurbanguly Myalikgulyevich, you mentioned Afghanistan as an object of policy of the Turkmen neutrality. Can you elaborate on this issue? The possibility of construction of the gas pipeline Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India (TAPI) is a very urgent topic now. How likely is this idea in view of the continuing difficult situation in Afghanistan? Can prospects of economic benefits of such a project be compared with obvious political difficulties of overcoming Afghanistan's problems?

- Thank you for this question. It raises a very relevant topic for us. As you may know, speaking at the UN headquarters not so long ago, I put forward our initiatives to resolve the Afghan crisis that are made of five points. Construction of a pipeline as a measure aimed at reviving the Afghan economy comes under point four. Here, the number of proposed initiatives is comparable with the priorities for their implementation.

The idea of implementation of an ambitious project - the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipeline system with further extension to Pakistan and India certainly has long-term perspective of immediate economic benefits for us. However, much more important for us, for the whole region and the international community is finding ways to eliminate the source of tension in Afghanistan.

The long-suffering land of Afghanistan has for over thirty years seen the gunfire and explosions, and shedding of human blood. Tens of thousands of people have died in the continuing war. The number of civilian casualties is terrifying. In addition, the Afghan territory originates routes of the world drug trafficking that threatens life and health of people in many countries around the world. One of the primary tasks for the entire international community is to put an end to this nightmare.
Turkmenistan is the closest geographical neighbor of Afghanistan. Afghan territory is home to millions of ethnic Turkmens. Who will be more interested than us in the early normalization of life in Afghanistan.

We have repeatedly said that the current military model for resolution of the Afghan conflict is unpromising. Multimillion spending for weapons, numerous victims have so far not led to the attainment of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The range of our proposals includes a possible alternative (demilitarized) model to address a number of Afghan problems and contradictions.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Turkmenistan, while offering non-military means to influence the situation in Afghanistan, does not expect anyone else's approval, and without prior arrangements already applies them in practice. We continue helping our southern neighbor in the humanitarian sphere, in the construction of social infrastructure, electricity supply, and we are confident that such contribution to the change in quality of life of Afghan people is more effective than any military solutions. Today, we are ready to consider increasing supplies of electricity to Afghanistan, as well as expanding our energy infrastructure for subsequent extension and connection to the facilities in Afghanistan.

At the same time, we clearly understand that without the collective efforts of the international community the Afghan crisis cannot be resolved, and we are ready to make our maximum contribution to the common cause.

Among measures of political settlement, we see the prospect of holding in Ashgabat a high-level international meeting on confidence-building measures in Afghanistan and development of effective governance institutions under the aegis of the UN. We are ready to discuss plans for such a meeting with all interested parties starting today. The result of such negotiations would be to develop a long-term program to rebuild Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN.

No less important for us are measures of economic influence on the situation in Afghanistan. In a country where generations have grown up without knowing the other types of professional activity, except for the profession of warrior, one must find the use of peaceful occupations. That is why we offer our assistance in training the Afghan civil servants in different industries in Turkmenistan under the umbrella of a long-term UN programme for rebuilding Afghanistan.  

Initiation and implementation of major economic projects can help breathe new life into the bloodless Afghan economy. Given the specificity of the geographical location of Afghanistan, the most promising and profitable development projects can be in development of transnational transport infrastructure. That is why we propose construction of a railway from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, with the prospect of its further extension through Afghan territory to neighboring countries.

Another important project with a great generating force for the development of the Afghan economy can be the construction of the gas pipeline Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India. The intensive rounds of international consultations have allowed us to secure principal willingness of the parties to proceed with the project, and this willingness has found broad international support. I can now confirm the intention of leaders of four countries to meet in the near future in Ashgabat in order to make the final decision on the modalities and timing of the project.

I do not think it will be wrong to say that all the participants of the project see it as an effective opportunity to promote the reconstruction of Afghanistan's economy, creating many new jobs, social infrastructure, maintaining and consolidating political stability throughout the region.

- Mr. President, if we continue the topic of international and regional cooperation, we cannot ignore the very specific issue. Against the background of quite fruitful and long-term development of the partnership dialogue with the majority of neighbors in the region, relations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan leave much to be desired. There was even time when the parties suspended the work of their diplomatic missions in neighboring territories...

- You are right. A few years ago there was a chill of alienation and misunderstanding between our two countries. However, today we can confidently speak about the new finding of a high level of trust and understanding. In the last three years, we met regularly and exchanged views with my friend and colleague, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. By the way, the most recent such meeting took place in Baku, at the summit of Caspian states, where we unanimously acknowledged that current relations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are based on the principles of mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation. Both countries show the most constructive attitude to intensify friendly bilateral ties.

The very course of continuous intensive and open bilateral dialogue suggests that our two countries today have no insoluble contradictions. If there are small differences, they are not of principle importance, and, even more so, they cannot even marginally affect the course of the negotiation process of the five countries to determine the international legal status of the Caspian Sea.

I generally prefer not to mix these two topics. The negotiation process to determine the international legal status of the Caspian Sea is in constant development, some aspects are discussed at various official levels. Turkmenistan's position is unchanged – all matters relating to the Caspian Sea should be resolved strictly within the legal framework, taking into account the interests of all parties and the universally recognized norms of international law. And none of the parties doubt the fact that these issues will eventually be resolved.

As for our bilateral relations with both Azerbaijan and any other Caspian country (which implies the broadest spectrum of cooperation), then we do not juxtapose the intensity of their development with the success or failure of the overall negotiations on the Caspian Sea.

- Mr. President, the Caspian theme is connected, one way or another, with the idea of laying Nabucco pipeline. Many well-known representatives of the Western business directly link the prospect of this project with the political will and economic opportunities of the Turkmen side. Is Turkmenistan ready to facilitate the implementation of this idea?

- You know perfectly well that the implementation of any major international economic project is subject to the many conditions. Following the idea of diversification of export supplies of natural gas, Turkmenistan was always ready to consider any of the possible variants.
If you recall, some fifteen years ago the idea of building Turkmenistan - Iran - Turkey and Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India gas pipelines looked very much likely to be implemented. In those years, the idea of building a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China seemed a distant dream. And now a “wishful thinking” has come true as the sum of collective concerted efforts of four states - Turkmenistan, China, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. At the same time, projects that seemed most likely to translate into practice are still waiting in the wings.

Speaking about the Nabucco project, let's look at the conditions for its hypothetical implementation. Today, it seems to me, no one has any doubt about the resource capacity of our country. The wealth of the Turkmen natural gas reserves was convincingly confirmed by independent audit conducted in 2008 by well-respected Western experts in the areas of Southern Yoloten-Osman and Yashlar in accordance with the international system of evaluation and classification of gas fields. Additional geological surveys make it now possible to estimate the resources of the underground reserves within 18 trillion cubic meters of gas. These are reserves for the future, not to mention existing fields whose gas reserves are far from exhausted.
In general, according to expert estimates, the energy potential of our country is estimated at 45.44 billion tonnes of oil equivalent. Gas reserves in Turkmenistan, according to international estimates, stand at 24.6 trillion cubic meters. And this is not the final figure as geological surveys are continuing. We quite realistically expect to reach over the next twenty years the level of annual production of 230 billion cubic meters of gas, of which we are able to export at least 180 billion cubic meters.

This year we embarked on an ambitious project - the construction of the major Trans-Turkmen gas pipeline “East – West”. This pipeline will allow us to create a universal domestic gas pipeline infrastructure that can move additional volumes of hydrocarbons both to the western and the eastern borders of the country. In other words, today we are creating conditions for guaranteed supplies of Turkmen gas in any of the possible export routes.

All of this suggests that Turkmenistan is considering possible options for the establishment of export gas pipelines, proceeding primarily from the economic expediency of projects and availability of guaranteed reserves of hydrocarbons.
If in future there is a need for our guarantees to fill “Nabucco” gas pipeline, then it will be done without detriment to our international obligations on gas exports to other destinations. I think that the idea of constructing the Nabucco gas pipeline will maintain its relevance as long as there is coincidence of interests of suppliers, transit countries and consumers, meaning all the stakeholders.
In this case, we would like to hear less about any attempts of political speculations on the theme of participation of our country in the implementation of various large international projects on creation of pipeline systems. Taking our hydrocarbon resources to international markets, we are far from trying to support or block anyone's foreign policy interests, guided, above all, by pragmatic needs of development of the national economic capacity.

As you have probably noticed, our consistent efforts to develop an international mechanism for stable energy supplies in the world is also an attempt to stop forever the possible use of pipeline systems as a tool for political and economic pressure in international relations. All this, incidentally, is part of an overall concept of implementing a neutral policy of our state.
- Gurbanguly Myalikgulyevich, preparing to this meeting, the editors of "Turkmenistan" magazine collected mails that we received on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s neutral status. These are letters from Russia, many other CIS countries and from far abroad. Authors of letters, arguing on the Turkmen neutrality, associate with your name the successes of political and socio-economic development achieved by the country in recent years. They asked to convey to you the most heartfelt congratulations on such a significant event in the life of Turkmenistan...

- I am happy to use this opportunity to thank the readers for their attention to our country and understanding of the policy of neutrality which is equally aimed at addressing the issues of our own socio-economic development and achieving the global objectives of the international community - international security and mutually beneficial cooperation in all countries. The more clear and open we are for the world, the more sincere and benevolent followers we will get.
I wish you peace and well!

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