Improve CSTO? Kick Out Uzbekistan, Says Medvedev's Think Tank

By Hugh Raiser

A think tank chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has come up with an interesting idea for getting the largely ineffective Collective Security Treaty Organization off the ground: Kick out Uzbekistan.

The Institute of Contemporary Development, known by its Russian acronym, INSOR, is presenting a report on the CSTO at the Global Policy Forum in the Russian city of Yaroslavl this week that will include proposals to reform decision-making within the bloc from the current consensual format to a simple majority vote.

As INSOR head and Medvedev ally Igor Yurgens told Kommersant newspaper, the biggest obstacles to the CSTO's efficiency are intractable positions invariably adopted by Uzbekistan.

"In light of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, we need to decide what is more important: [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's opinions or the security of Russia and its allies," he said. "It is evident that nobody needs the CSTO as just a talking shop."

Karimov's strongest objections to the internal organization of the CSTO have been over the implementation of a rapid reaction force. Uzbekistan remains deeply wary of Moscow's ultimate intentions and appears to suspect the Kremlin of attempting to gradually take over Central Asia's security.

The report also proposes overhauling relations between the CSTO and NATO. While the Russian-led bloc was initially intended as a counterweight to NATO, it is increasingly evident that the two groups share joint challenges dealing with security in and around Afghanistan.

"Russia and NATO need each other, especially in light of the situation in Afghanistan. It is primarily a question of political will today, a question at the level of the presidents of Russia and the United States," Yurgens told Kommersant.

Another challenge ahead is transforming the CSTO into a peacekeeping force in Central Asia and neighboring regions, according to INSOR.

The report says the CSTO "should monitor and sound an early warning for conflicts that threaten the security of member states." That is a change, since the CSTO signally refused to get involved during last summer's ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.