The European: Minister, at the end of Exercise Jeyran in Tashkent in November 2019, you concluded: “Finally we are striving together with the European Union for interregional cooperation in antiterrorism and CBRN mitigation.” Let’s take this ambitious objective as the starting point of our interview.
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: Indeed, this is my conviction, and there are several good reasons for it. Firstly, the Central Asian region is characterised by the presence of various threats against which our countries are trying to unite and strengthen cooperation. Secondly, the president of Uzbekistan is actively promoting the cohesion policy of Central Asian countries; and thirdly, there are a number of regional organisations striving to merge or consolidate the common interests of the countries of the region. Most importantly in this area, we are actively cooperating with the European Union in the framework of the partnership programme.
The European: What is the most convincing issue in the EU Initiative?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: “To live in a safer world” is a universal aspiration where no exceptions exist on governmental levels among the partner countries of the EU CBRN CoE network and the EU itself. It is even wider in the geographical scope than that, if you take into account various international commitments, including the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolutions 1373 and 1540 and subsequent relevant decisions to prevent the spread of terrorism. Repelling all attempts of terrorism proliferation around the globe, especially those forms of terrorism that are exploiting CBRN scenarios, could yield positive results. Currently, the EU CBRN CoE Initiative provides a reliable platform for an inter-regional forum to review and target common terrorist threats affecting regions. It is our duty to enhance and expand cooperation to protect the lives of citizens and help make the world safer. All the other Heads of the Regional Secretariats support this.
The European: Could regional objectives, which vary according to the regional threats, be harmonised?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: We all know well that threats may vary from region to region, but their goals and consequences are almost the same, wherever they occur. Regional objectives are determined by the needs of countries in these regions. Reconciling the objectives as well as coordinating them are among the most difficult and effort-consuming tasks, but they are also ones that can have the most discernible and effective outcomes. For sure, it is worth investing in the harmonisation of regional objectives with regard to CBRN risk mitigation and this is not a groundless statement from me.
The European: Could you underpin this by an example?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: Of course. During the previous round table meetings, the National Focal Points in Central Asia expressed a wish to have a Regional CBRN Action Plan focusing on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540. While practically every country has its own 1540 National Action Plan with varying priorities, developing a regional plan might have been seen like an insurmountable task at the beginning. Nevertheless, recognising the advantages of the regional coverage, we have taken this path in cooperation with our partners in the European Commission (EC), its Joint Research Centre (JRC), the United Nations (UN), also inviting the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to join in the discussion. Now we already have the first draft of the Regional Action Plan.
The European: Is it warranted to foster cooperation between regions on the priorities that might be shared by them?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: It will be prudent to begin with two or three regions, to develop a meaningful and applicable solution considering the similar character of the threat and interdependency between nations. For instance, pursuant to the EU CBRN CoE support to tackle the Covid-19 crisis announced in May 2020, the intention is to elaborate a tailor-made capacity building programme for the two neighbouring regions – Central Asia and Southeast and Eastern Europe. It is not only geographical proximity that dictates the necessity for inter-regional cooperation, but also the elements of common history among countries. These justify a common approach to the reinforcement of capabilities through trainings and webinars. Thus, a lessons-learned inter-regional post-Covid-19 conference is also envisaged for these countries in late 2020 or early 2021 in cooperation with the Biosafety Association for Central Asia and the Caucasus (BACAC).
The European: To start with two or three regions strictly devoted to one or two objectives seems a pragmatic solution. What could be the role of the EU and what about arbitration?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: The role of the EU is already embedded in the EU CBRN CoE Initiative, since it is funded by the European Union and implemented in cooperation with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The European External Action Service (EEAS) is also involved in the follow-up of the Initiative. And in my view, the best results are delivered when a multiplicity of well-informed views are brought to the table.
The European: That is what you did at the end of the Jeyran exercise at the end of November 2020.
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: Yes, I invited all our international observers, you included, to speak out and share their assessment of the exercise. Then the Regional Secretariat produced a report where all these valuable observations were registered to inform our future efforts when organising similar exercises or to enhance the interoperability of the services.
The European: Through what financial mechanism is the EU CBRN CoE Initiative being implemented?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: It is the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, an interesting managerial approach of the EU institutions to define a tool with a special fund to provide short and mid-term assistance on conflict prevention, crisis response and peace building actions around the world. As I understand it, the EEAS in the headquarters and EU delegations in the field are involved in running the instrument together with DG DEVCO. Concerning EEAS, it is an added value to use its ability to work closely with the foreign and defence ministries of the member states of the EU and benefit from its strong working relationship with the UN and other international organisations.
The European: When would it be necessary to set up such an exercise with all affected countries, institutions and people?
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: We first need to let the world settle after the Covid-19 pandemic, or for it to adapt to the “new normal” if we witness a new wave of the pandemic or if the coronavirus becomes endemic and never goes away. A field exercise takes time to prepare, especially an interregional one. Certainly, the duration of the preparations for a field exercise depends on international and national agreements, the number of experts involved and their commitment. My experience is to give it at least 1,5 to 2 years.
The European: Thank you, Minister, for this interview
Bakthiyor Gulyamov: Thank you very much, I appreciated talking to your magazine. Taking the opportunity provided by this interview, I would like to express hope that we will be able to hold an inter-regional field exercise, where we will have the pleasure of welcoming the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the EC, the Director of UNICRI and Director-General of DG DEVCO, as well as you, Mr Bühl.