Автор: Oleg Laptyonok, Director of the International Organizations Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Belarus.
The system of international relations is in a state of permanent evolution and transformation. Each sovereign state needs to have the main trends of this evolution. National foreign policy concepts will transform differently depending on the principles that underpin such transformations and the prevalent tendencies that determine the basis for the emerging system.
Last year several major events determined the situation in Europe and across the Atlantic. That is the military campaign on the Balkans as a follow-up to the NATO expansion and the adoption of its new strategic concept, which extended its area of responsibility beyond traditional limits; the adjustment of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe to the latest changes and new realities; the attempts by the USA to revise the fundamental provisions of the ABM Treaty and its refusal to ratify the CTBT; the OSCE Summit in Istanbul, the signing of the Charter for European Security; the steadily progressing integration and expansion of the European Union, introduction of euro since January 1, 1999; the reshaping of the balance of forces in Europe accompanied by the collision of strategic interests of the EU and the USA in the CIS area. These may considerably aggravate the entire situation on the European continent.
At the same time the attempts of "oases" of relative well-being to fence themselves from the rest of the world by a variety of restrictions starting with sanitary norms and technical standards and up to direct economic sanctions and attempts at establishing blockades, become more and more distinct. The contours of new economic, commercial, ecological, technical and other barriers are gradually emerging. Substantial modernization of technological lines, better quality of final products and their full conformity with the new international norms and standards are the must. Various technical, ecological and other artificial restrictions have to be dealt with in order to clear the way for Belarus products to the European and international markets.
The states of Central and Eastern Europe toughen their visa policies in respect to foreign citizens. The accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the Shengen Agreement as a precondition for their full membership in the EU, entails introducing visa procedures for the citizens of Belarus. It will have a negative impact on our economic, political and cultural relations with the western partners and might impair the trade regime between us. Such a logic of relations could only generate retaliatory measures. The result will not be to the benefit of any side.
The introduction of euro, also, will have its practical implications for Belarus. Exports. along with housing and foodstuffs, makes part of Belarus's development strategy. Belarus's exports are going mainly to the EU countries. Belarus is among the top ten states in terms of the specific share of its export in the GDP (55% in 1999). The role and place of the country in the European region and in the post-Soviet area are extremely favorable. The geographical situation as a transit state, supplemented by an advanced industrial and scientific basis, highly professional labor, industrial engineering, managerial and scientific staff along with sufficiently favorable conditions for the development of agriculture are the factors which are well taken in account by our partners.
A wave of large-scale acts of terrorism in Russia has produced its own impact an international life. It made the Russian political elite aware of the threat of the international terrorism and mobilize its will to resolutely combat the Chechen bandit formations to achieve a long-term settlement of the crisis in Chechnya. The Russian events were also elections to the State Duma and changes in the leadership of the country.
Developments highly important for the future of the states of the region took place in 1999 in the Middle East. The Israeli elections in May 1999, with the centrist left government led by Ekhoud Barak now in power, marked a positive trend in the entire Middle East peace process. The negotiations between Israel and Syria, launched late last year, inspired aspirations for the year 2000 to become the one of radical changes in
the process. New political leadership in Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain signaled similar imminent changes in the entire region. The forthcoming proclamation of the Independent Palestinian State will definitely make an important event with an impact on the situation not only in the region but, also, globally.
Asia has not yet recovered from financial and economic shocks provoked by large-scale speculations of the international risk capital. The events in East Timor have added serious political intensity to the situation. Numerous regional and intra- state conflicts have yet to be settled down in turbulent Africa; Latin America has been living through a period of intensified integration.
These and many other events have given a new content to the world politics.
Last year we saw very meaningful events in the Republic of Belarus. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the increasing gravity of two adjacent centers of force: East and West, Russia and NATO, Belarus is faced with a strategically new situation, which has urged for a number of thoroughly thoughtful decisions.
A new external perimeter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reached our borders. Many events and factors have direct implications for the national security of Belarus. We can not ignore such new realities in our region and we actively respond to them.
The foreign policy of Belarus, as stated at different levels, is aimed to attain a number of main objectives. As all other countries of the region, Belarus strives to strengthen the sovereignty and independence of the state, ensure its national security; facilitate democratization processes with due account of the realities and traditions; protect rights and interests of the citizens of Belarus abroad; maintain ecological safety; develop market economy structures, achieve maximum integration in the European economy and the international economic and political institutes; promote integration in the post-Soviet area; provide for a favorable environment in the region; strengthen regional security and cooperation systems; mobilize international efforts to help address and implement complex programs and projects to mitigate the consequences of the Chernobyl's disaster.
A number of steps have been taken to materialize these foreign policy directions. The Union State agreement is signed and ratified by the parliaments of Belarus and Russia. This is an important factor of stability and peace in the region. The agreement is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of the participating states. It contains elements of economic, currency and customs union and anticipates the creation of common institutions. Through the Union State we sum up and multiply combined strategic potential of the both states.
The signing and ratification of the Union State agreement by Russia and Belarus has awakened the CIS countries from their lethargy and protracted meditations on their own perspectives. As is well known, co-operative stagnation in the post-Soviet space resulted in the situation when each and every CIS country is simultaneously involved into multiple parallel regional and global networks or initiates such new structures in the sub-region. The emergence of post-Soviet sub-regional "centers of gravity" comprising the countries of Central Asia, Black Sea Basin, Baltic States corroborates this observation.
The experience gained by Belarus and Russia through the Union State will influence the choice of other CIS countries. The number and the geographical scope of our supporters will obviously grow.
Late in 1999 Belarus and seven other States ratified the Agreement on creation of a free trade zone within the CIS. Earlier the same year, the heads of five states approved the program of action to form a Customs Union and create a Common Economic Space in 1999-2002. That will also serve to reinvigorate their economic ties. A full-fledged free trade zone within the CIS with a overall capacity of the market exceeding 200 million people might create a good integration environment. Conducive to the enhancement of the Belarus and Russia core, it will be a commensurable match in its cumulative capacity to the EU market.
The understanding of the vital necessity to reintegrate has been painfully gained by the CIS in hard time. It is obvious that in reality the European Union as a universally recognized center of gravity in the region, has yet to become a "common house" for all Europeans countries. Though, true, it is rather a remote possibility, if any. So far it has not taken place. Therefore, the post-Soviet space should develop its own integration structures and generate a harmonized Eastern vector, which in the future would symmetrically add up to the West European integration.
The Union of Belarus and Russia serves a nucleus for a most efficient prototype for such a vector. United in the Union State, Belarus and Russia maintain their sovereignty, independence and remain legitimate subjects of international relations as full members of the international community. The Union State is not directed against any other country. It is open to any interested candidates. It is not incidental that a possible perspective for the Union State to attract at a later stage other CIS countries caught the attention of many observers abroad.
Belarus is not a global power, but the global processes effect more directly on our national interests.
All knowledgeable western politicians recognize today openly the impossibility to ensure security and stability in the European region without Russia. Therefore we do not differ from the others in such perception of the 'Russian factor". The difference is that Belarus, more than any other country in the post-Soviet area,
has real and great opportunities to engage this factor in its practical external policy. Under the circumstances, all our partners in pursuing their policy with respect to Belarus or Russia will have to take into account the interests of both the States.
The dangerous proximity of the Balkan events last spring and early summer compelled us not to stand aloof. In April 1999 the President of Belarus visited Yugoslavia with an intermediary mission to help find an early settlement to the Balkan crisis. The request of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to join the Union of Russia and Belarus was an important factor.
Time and modern realities make our state face new challenges. We have bound to react if we do not want the next reorganization of the world turn into a new "Kosovos", political and economic blockades or similar scenarios.
New national, regional and global political and economic realities require national security doctrines of each and every State to fully match them. Our approach to the national security becomes more and more complex and multidimensional. It covers not only military and strategic parameters, but, also, the economic, ecological, social, human and other components.
The central place of Belarus on the crossroads of the European transcontinental routes, the very perspectives our country defined for itself in the post-Soviet area as the CIS coordinating center, now complemented by the agreement on the Union State, the indivisibility of integration processes in Europe and globally, indeed, promise real benefits to Belarus ready to comprehensively participate in all these processes. Belarus is an ideal place to organize one of the major European markets at the geographical center of Europe and at the transcontinental crossroads of East-West and North-South communications.
The existing realities dictate basic priorities. They are obvious. That is to implement the Union State Agreement; create favorable trade regimes with all our main partners, fully employ the advantages of the common economic space within the framework of the Customs Union of five countries - Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tadjikistan, as well as those of the CIS free trade zone.
Emphasizing the development of economic relations in the CIS, expansion of mutually advantageous relations with the neighboring countries as a political constant, we do not forget that our country is a European state. Belarus is an obvious part of policy for the Western Europe, as well as the West is an integral part of the foreign policy of Belarus.
The main objective of the European policy of Belarus is to ensure an active involvement of the country in the European affairs and the shaping of the European security system, to facilitate a rapid and harmonious integration of Belarus into the international democratic community and world economics. The very logic of international politics today is that cooperation with the West is a necessity for all the states in the region. Therefore, it will develop in every possible way.
The Western Europe is a big market with goods and services of the highest quality, a major source of investment resources, modern management and high technologies. Relations between Belarus and EU have been suspended too long, which does not meet either interests of the EU that has opted for the strategy of expansion and integration of the entire European continent, or our own goals. On the contrary, to normalize relations with the EU and to channel them into a constructive dialogue is one of the major tasks of the foreign policy of our state. Belarus looks forward for the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation with the EU coming into effect soon. More over the shortest way for the EU to get to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, - the emphasis on that objective is noticeable in the EU policy today - can well pass through Belarus. Since 1998 our country is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and, thus, is advantageously placed both at the East- West and the North-South crossroads.
The EU realizes the need to further improve the relations with Belarus. In February 1999 the EU Council adopted the decision that cancelled the EU policy on visa restrictions for the Belarusian officials. The liberalization of trade between the EU countries and Belarus gradually becomes manifest. In 1999 the Agreement on Trade in textile products between Belarus and the EU for 2000-2003 was initialed. The TACIS Program on civil society development was signed, many of its regional technical assistance programs are now under way in Belarus. The European Commission approved a project on the border arrangement between Belarus and Lithuania. A package of humanitarian programs for Belarus is being developed, including the Chernobyl related issues, medical care, social rehabilitation, food support, etc. In 1999 the total amount of 1,660,200 euros was allocated by the Humanitarian Office of the European Commission to finance humanitarian projects in Belarus in health care and social rehabilitation.
In 2000 a major issue in the relations with the EU is to renew the ratification procedures related to the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation, give effect to the Temporary agreement, step up political and economical relations between Belarus and the EU, implement the Agreement on Trade in textile products, facilitate rendering humanitarian assistance to the territories affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe.
The expediency of invigorating cooperation in all these areas is obvious. A special case is the regulation of migration. Belarus is a buffer-zone for the ever increasing flows of illegal migration heading to the West
. We restrain these flows but our own potential, including financial resources, is not unlimited. There are no sources for "surplus" currency earnings in Belarus. Obviously, this is perfectly clear for our western partners who will find themselves in a difficult situation if Belarus fails to further block those flows of migration as effectively as before. A business-like approach to the problem should be translated into foreign investments to help strengthen the respective mechanisms in Belarus.
One of the priority-driven orientations of foreign policy is to ensure the entry of our country into the European Council and as a short-term perspective an early renewal of the "specially invited" status in the EC Parliamentary Assembly. It is noteworthy that the EU countries did not recognize the alternative presidential elections in May 1999.
The relations of the Republic of Belarus with the neighboring states are based on unconditional mutual recognition of the inviolability of the borders. The same principles underlie the initiative to create a "good neighborliness belt" and develop a positive relations model between the Central and Eastern European countries. The point is to strengthen economic ties with the states of Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Ukraine, consolidate inter-state relations in the region, promote mutually advantageous transborder and sub-regional co-operation, help facilitate solution to ecological problems, including post-Chernobyl rehabilitation, redressing the river basins, prevention of the ecological catastrophe in the Baltic Sea. This would, also, contribute to solving the problems related to illegal migration, drugs trafficking, organized crime and many other issues. It would allow to engage on a wider scope the potential for cultural and humanitarian cooperation, too.
Sub-regionalism has drawn attention of the political elite, of small and medium- size countries, for the most part involved in the global processes and politics indirectly. The integration drive is on the rise among the countries of the Danube basin and the Black Sea region. Those countries strive to strengthen the "The Southern and Eastern Europe Cooperation" (a regional initiative, including Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Turkey). The Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe serves the same purposes. A noticeable revival of regional cooperation may be observed within various "triangles": Romania-Poland-Ukraine, Hungary-Slovenia- Romania, France-Germany-Poland, etc.
From the early 1990's the Central European Initiative (CEI) has been proposed by Austria and Italy in order to involve the countries of the Eastern Europe in the process of market reforms and facilitate their integration into the EU. Belarus has been participating in the initiative since 1996. The priorities for Belarus are: accession to pan-European transit corridor projects, personnel training under economy in transition and European integration reforms, assistance in developing small businesses, rehabilitation of the Chernobyl affected areas in Belarus and Ukraine.
A major priority in the multiple vectors foreign policy of Belarus is to maintain steady and dynamic relations with the EU as the center of economic and political gravity on the continent.
Belarus stands for good-neighborly relations, constructive political dialogue and practical cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The national security concerns of Belarus related to the NATO expansion envisage the signing of the official document on confidence- and security-building measures and good neighbor relations with the Alliance offered by Belarus in 1997 as part of a single package. It is obvious that Europe can not afford any "vacuum of security" in the region.
An account of the international activities of Belarus would be incomplete without mentioning intergovernmental international organizations and specialized agencies. International organizations and institutes have a special role to play in multilateral cooperation encompassing interaction within the inter-parliamentary and political bodies, economic institutes or mechanisms of social stabilization.
The Republic of Belarus takes an active part in the work of many multilateral forums on security and disarmament, such as the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (on disarmament and international security), the Conference on disarmament in Geneva, the UN Disarmament commission, the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC).
In 1999 Belarus was elected a member of the UNESCO Executive Council, the Board of governors of the IAEA, the UNIDO Council on industrial development. In 2000 the third triennial term of Belarus membership in ECOSOC will have expired. Belarus' representatives were repeatedly elected chairmen of the UNGA First Committee, the UN Disarmament commission, and to many other elected posts.
Today Belarus receives technical assistance basically through UNDP, the European Economic Commission (EEC), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). For instance, the financial resources allotted to the Republic under the Country Framework of Cooperation between Belarus and the UNDP in 1997-1999 amounted to US $ 5.6 mn.
Enhanced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in such areas as international safeguards and technical cooperation is of particular importance. All its available nuclear material placed under the safeguards of this international organization, our country has created a national control of nuclear material and stockholding accountability system that meets all the state-of-the-art requirements. The total
cost of the IAEA regional projects Belarus participates in is estimated at US $ 11 mn.
Belarus is an active OSCE member state. The environment there is a complex one because of the difference of opinions among the participating states on the perspectives of the European development as vividly manifested when the drafting of the Charter for European Security was under way. The perceptions of the future of this organization, also, vary in different groups of the member states. The emphasis the USA and some other Western states make on the human dimension to the detriment of other OSCE priorities undermines its central role in maintaining politico- military security in Europe. A number of the Western countries in an open denial of the OSCE's role in fostering the European political and military security try to transfer this responsibility under the NATO control.
The ever growing attention by the OSCE to the economic and ecological dimensions in its activities is a matter of principled importance.
Cooperation with the OSCE advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk makes an important part of the interaction between Belarus and the OSCE. In the spirit of constructive cooperation we carefully consider all its recommendations concerning the draft laws and the jurisdiction currently in force. The parliamentary bodies of the European Council, the European Parliament, the OSCE had an opportunity to see for themselves that we act in the spirit of openness for cooperation. All the missions and groups, which desired to visit Belarus, had such an opportunity; they could study the situation on the spot meeting both with the governing bodies and with the "opposition".
Our State attaches great importance to its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a contributing factor to the integration of Belarus into the global economics. Belarus initiated the process of joining the WTO in 1993. In compliance with the entry procedure, Belarus is now in the negotiating stage with the WTO members states.
Stepping up cooperation with the international financial and economic institutions - the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development takes on particular significance. Basically, Belarus and international financial institutions have similar objectives and aims of assistance to sustained economic development, reducing poverty, increasing production, long- term crediting, implementation of a balanced monetary policy, etc.
But the present level of relations with the international financial institutions has yet to meet the requirements of the national economy. All the more so, since the solvency figures for Belarus are far from being critical. This means that Belarus has the potential to pay its foreign liabilities. Our position has been clearly stated on a number of occasions. We are for equal, constructive co-operation based on existing realities. There is an adequate response, too. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development contemplates to consider shortly its new strategy with respect to our country.
The importance of Asian and African countries has acquired increased significance of late in the foreign policy of Belarus as a perspective and sufficient market capacity. Belarusian goods are well received in the countries of Asia and Africa. Cooperation with the countries of the Middle East offers good opportunities, too.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has recently become an important part of the foreign policy of Belarus as a factor of increased balance in our external relations. Belarus became a full member of NAM in 1998. Among the CIS countries Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are, also, full members of the Movement, whereas Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have observer status. Russia and practically all industrially developed countries have a guest status.
With 115 member states in its ranks, the Non-Aligned Movement exerts serious influence on the substance of most important multilateral documents elaborated and adopted by major international forums. NAM presents itself as one of the key players and influential factors of the international politics in multilateral diplomacy. Mutually beneficial co-operation within the Movement is politically important both for Belarus and the NAM in the UN and in the context of bilateral relations in the coming years.
In their aggregate, all of the above orientations of foreign policy aim at creating favorable political environment for the integration of Belarus into the global economic and financial system. All of the political, parliamentary and diplomatic institutions are actively involved in this work today. We expect an essential progress along those lines in 2000.
Constructively engaged to put the existing potential in all the above domains, Belarus and our partners will contribute positively to the sound foundations of international relations in the next century.