Can the Kazakhstan-chaired OSCE Step up to the Plate in Southern Kyrgyzstan?
With violence subsiding in southern Kyrgyzstan, the real dangers to regional stability are only starting to come into perspective. Yesterday's announcement by the UN that the refugee problem had ballooned to about 400,000 seems to have awakened the international community, but its response remains unclear. What is clear is that the scope of the problems that could now emerge as a result of population displacement and lingering animosity between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are significant and potentially could spark a much more serious regional conflict. While the international community was unable to adequately respond to the unrest that rocked the region this past week, it is now critical that there is an international response aimed at stabilizing the situation and preventing it from spiraling out of control any further.
Both Russia and the US have avoided responding militarily despite requests from the interim Kyrgyz government for assistance in stabilization. While one would expect more willingness on the part of these larger powers to assist Kyrgyzstan with establishing stability given that both have airbases in the country, it is also understandable that such bilateral action could inflame other geopolitical tensions regionally and even globally. What is needed now in southern Kyrgyzstan is a multilateral commitment to keeping the peace. The question is which multilateral commitment? The United Nations is theoretically the most neutral source of peacekeeping, but the UN bureaucracy can make response slow and poorly coordinated. Furthermore, since the situation has yet to escalate into a full-out war, it is questionable whether the UN would even deploy and, if it did, whether it would be the appropriate response.
On a more regional level, however, there are multiple possibilities. There is the CSTO (The Collective Security Treaty Organization), which is made up of former Soviet states, but it is unclear whether this organization has the capacity to field the type of peacekeepers who are needed. The same can be said of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which brings together a diverse group of regional powers, but has neither experience with peacekeeping nor a clear mandate to form a joint peacekeeping force. That leaves the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which, despite declining in its influence on the former Soviet Union, has a history of deploying peacekeeping observers in the Caucasus and the Balkans and has long had a substantial office in Osh staffed with regional experts. Furthermore, the OSCE's present chairmanship is held by Kazakhstan, the one power in Central Asia with the capacity and relative neutrality to take on a lead role in mitigating further conflict in the Ferghana Valley.
If the OSCE were to respond quickly now and establish a strong stable of peacekeeping observers for the south of Kyrgyzstan, it could have a substantial impact on the situation. Such an organization could mediate between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, protect the properties of refugees from further looting or usurpation, help reintegrate Uzbeks who have returned to protect their properties, and monitor the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Such quick and decisive action would be the perfect opportunity for Kazakhstan to demonstrate a positive leadership role within the OSCE and for the OSCE to show the former Soviet states that it can deliver support when critically needed.
The question that remains is whether Kazakhstan has the capacity to take on such a leadership role and push through the OSCE bureaucracy in order to field a professional, effective, and knowledgeable OSCE-led peacekeeping group in time to make a difference. If it did so, it would do much to reaffirm international confidence in Kazakhstan, re-establish a prominent role for the OSCE in the former Soviet Union, and potentially ease some of the geopolitical tension in Eurasia that the proponents of the “new great game” theory so enjoy promoting.