Looking Ahead of GUUAM

“During the past four years, GUUAM did not become an instrument to strengthen ties between its member states, neither did it achieve significant economic integration,” said Abdulaziz Kamilov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, while explaining Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from this organization.

The GUAM group (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), was born on the margins of negotiation of the Agreement on Conventional Weapons in Europe, when the member-states elaborated common approach regarding some of the most pressing issues. Formally, GUAM was established on November 25 1997 in Baku, and Uzbekistan joined the union in 1999.

Formally, the union was intended to facilitate joint approach of the members towards the various political and economic issues. However, its initial scope was clearly within the domain of the national security. Joint declaration, adopted in Baku in 1997 lists fields of potential cooperation: political interaction, fight against separatism, peaceful resolution of the conflicts, humanitarian activities, development of the Eurasian transport and energy projects, accession to the European and Euro-Atlantic security systems.

Dominance of the security-related agendas and thinly veiled support of the United States was certainly perceived with caution and sometimes even irritation of the Russian politicians. It was argued, that the GUUAM was created as an alternative to the CIS to obstruct reintegration of the post Soviet space by Russia. This determined US support to the member states to quite considerable extent.

Uzbekistan and Ukraine were the strongest states in GUUAM both militarily and economically. But this strength was depleted enough by the hardships of economic transition and political upheavals to preclude meaningful leadership of any or the states in shaping the institutions of the new entity. In addition, every member state, except Azerbaijan, is completely dependent on Russian energy resources and Russia used this leverage against the GUUAM member states with some efficiency.

Therefore, an ability of the GUUAM to move beyond general political declarations was always questioned. In fact, bilateral relations between the members developed more than multilateral interaction within the GUUAM. President of the Georgian Foundation of Strategic and International Studies Alexander Rondeli says that the GUUAM’s “biggest disadvantage is weakness of internal ties and practical absence of economic relations”.

Uzbek leader named underdeveloped economic relations as a primary reason of Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the GUUAM. Experts say that the decision was absolutely pragmatic. Uzbekistan never insisted on turning the union into a security umbrella as President Islam Karimov was quite aware of the weakness of other members. For him the GUUAM was, above all, a transportation corridor, through which the goods from Uzbekistan would reach European markets 12 days earlier than through the northern route. However, increase of transit tariffs by the member states and corruption of their law enforcing structures made dashed these prospects.

Fallout from September 11 events also affected GUUAM. Increased involvement of the United States in Central Asia and the Caucasus is apparent: the U.S. military bases are stationed in Uzbekistan and train-and-equip program has been launched in Georgia. With the view of the new security relations between Russia and the United States, bilateral relations between GUUAM states and the U.S. seem to carry more weigh than a dysfunctional union, especially as its members were backtracking on serious commitments for participation.

The recent years proved that Moldova’s contribution would be only a letter “M” in organization’s abbreviation. The Chishinau’s interest towards the union has been decreasing after the communist came to power in the country. Ukraine, which was expected to provide strong leadership to the GUUAM, was recently troubled by the political tensions within the country which decreased the priorities of the foreign policy agenda.

However, Uzbekistans decision was met with certain disappointment. “Though GUUAM is far away from full realization of its potential, nevertheless we still believe that this promising initiative is committed to improve regional relations and enhance cooperation between its members. We hope that the Government of Uzbekistan will reconsider its decision,” the representative of the U.S. Department of State said. 

“The US really wanted the GUUAM project to be a success. But when Russia does not [want the same], it is hard to say whether the member states want it or not. It is hard for the US to be omnipotent in such situation,” argues Director of the Military-Civil Relations Center David Darchiashvili.

Experts hope that Uzbekistan’s withdrawal will probably make Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova to care more about the future of the organizations. “May be two “U”-s were not so good after all. Though one “U” was taken away, the abbreviation did not change much,” Alexander Rondeli said. Uzbekistan might reconsider their withdrawal indeed, because existence of the organization seems not to have lost political importance for the United States.

One thing is clear: internal weakness of the member states and absence of joint perspective of development makes formation of this organization as an agile and effective structure almost impossible. Until today GUUAM was more a sign of protest rather than a real union. It seems that the member states will continue to pursue their interests through various international organizations and bilateral relations with other countries and the GUUAM will remain just one abbreviation among many.

By Revaz Bakhtadze, Civil Georgia