By Mariam Levina
Interview of the head of Arms Control and International Security Department at the Armenian MFA Samvel Mkrtchyan to Armenian News-NEWS.am.
How do you assess Armenia's participation in international peacekeeping activities?
It is definitely a positive development. Politically, involvement in peacekeeping is improving the international image of our country. This means that we care about international security problems and Armenia is ready to contribute to establishing peace and ensuring the success of those political processes which lead to the normalization of the situation in conflict zones.
Another advantage is that our servicemen have a great opportunity not only to improve their skills but often serve as an example, to establish the necessary contacts to represent our country. I was witnessing it when I met our soldiers in Kosovo a few years ago. Armenia has serious plans for involvement in the UN peacekeeping activities. CSTO may provide such an opportunity as well.
Presently the Armenian troops are participating in two missions - in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Do you expect to change the format of participation in the near future?
In December 2011 Armenian peacekeepers were withdrawn from Kosovo after seven years of service due to reasons not depending on us. This was due to financial difficulties in Greece. Our troops have been deployed and served within the Greek battalion. At the moment we are actively holding talks to return to KFOR mission in the partnership with one of the NATO states.
As to Afghanistan, the first deployment of the Armenian troops in Kunduz was carried out in early 2010. A year later, the number of our military continent tripled reaching 126. As you know, NATO has already made a decision to withdraw the main military forces by the end of 2014. Our position, which was recently announced by Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian at the Chicago summit, is that we will stay in the country until the end of this period, and after 2014 will continue to provide all possible assistance to the Afghan authorities.
How do you assess the work of the Armenian side within the framework of the CSTO, and specifically in the development of Collective Rapid Reaction Force ?
Armenia is a very active member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. We not only adopted and ratified the majority of new agreements within the framework of the Organization, but are also putting forward proposals and initiatives to strengthen and raise the efficiency of the CSTO. This is particularly related to structural changes, steps aimed at a higher level of integration and the deepening of military and military-technical cooperation. The activities of the Armenian side were highly appreciated. Secretary General of CSTO Nikolay Bordyuzha noted that during its presidency in 2008-2009 Armenia, a number of complex documents were adopted with the support of the Armenian leadership.
The Ministry of Defense, National Security Council, the Ministries of Economy and Finance and other institutions are actively involved in the CSTO activities.
The efforts to coordinate positions in the international agencies have been recently intensified.
The meetings were held and joint statements were approved on various topics, including on the issues of UN General Assembly agenda.
This year, a separate diplomatic mission in Armenia at the Organization opened under the decree of President Serzh Sargsyan. Ara Badalyan was appointed a permanent representative to the CSTO. Our representatives are actively involved in the work of the secretariat as well.
Can you tell a bit more about the upcoming collective rapid reaction force exercise?
The exercise titled “Interaction 2012” will be held this September. During the exercise the servicemen will work out actions in a crisis situation. It’s actually a large anti-terrorist operation with the involvement of civil services, police and other agencies.
What is the direction of developing cooperation with NATO, noting that Armenia repeatedly stated it does not set a goal of membership in the Alliance?
Our relations with NATO can be characterized as a partnership. We established relations in early 90s with the involvement in the activities of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), later within the Partnership for Peace program and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. It is necessary to stress that these relations were developing progressively toward expanding areas of cooperation, enhancing mutual trust in the political dialogue at various levels.
Since 2006, we have a solid basis for bilateral cooperation. As the Alliance was undergoing reforms and expanding the forms of cooperation with partners, it became necessary to develop individual formats that are best matched to the needs of each partner country. For this purpose, n Armenia and NATO agreed on Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). We have recently started the implementation of the third stage of IPAP, a document that covers political issues, defense, emergency situations and science.
Armenia has strong, efficient, highly organized Armed Forces. However, many things are changing around us, it is necessary to carry out reforms to preserve what we have achieved and to raise it to a new level. To make the reforms effective, we need to learn the best practices, learn about recent achievements in building the armed forces and adapt them to our needs. This is particularly urgent for military training, reorganization of the structures in the field of defense.
We collaborated with the International Secretariat of NATO for several years to work on the concept of crisis management and creation of the Situation Centre at Armenia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations.
Cooperation in elimination of obsolete pesticides proved to be efficient as well, the program continues to monitor the seismic activity. So, there is a multi-faceted cooperation.
Is membership in the CSTO and cooperation with NATO providing the country’s security?
The concept of security in our time is broader. Success in ensuring security depends on effective correlation and balance of its components. Armenia adheres to the principle of cooperative security. We are full members of the CSTO and, definitively the Organization is the main guarantor of our security. On the other hand, we are an active partner of the North-Atlantic Alliance.
We have partner relations with Russia as well as friendly and confidential cooperation with the United States.
Our historically good relations with the northern and southern neighbors are crucial for a number of parameters of our security, among them communications, energy supplies.
The times of confrontation of various military-political alliances has passed. We must build a common platform, which would bring closer the positions of the countries with different visions of security, at the same time trying to rule out the danger of mutually exclusive approaches and confrontation.
What is Armenia's involvement in the struggle against weapons of mass destruction? Can we call it effective?
Armenia is a party to almost all international treaties and conventions in this area, for instance the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction. These international mechanisms stipulate certain procedures to provide relevant information on implementation which the Armenian side exactly following.
In fact, we have done significant work in the struggle against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction since 2009. Amendments were made to the Arms Act and the licensing of the Penal Code.
In 2010, a new law on export control on dual-use items and their transit transportation through the territory of Armenia, as well as information transfer and intellectual activity. Government of Armenia adopted a number of relevant decisions of the licensing procedure for determining the export and import of military goods and their transit and brokering activities in this area, as well as those confirming the national list of military goods.
We started the cooperation with other international organizations, such as Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA),with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). Active work is underway to implement the 1540 UN Security Council resolution as of 2004, which says “all States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery”. We are presenting the relevant reports at the UN and OSCE.
To what extent does Armenia adhere to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)? Does Armenia consider this treaty viable?
Since joining the CFE Treaty in May 1992, Armenia has been fully implementing the legal requirements of the document. We carried out reduction of the conventional weapons. The Armenian side regularly provides information and receives inspection as part of its international obligations.
Unfortunately, during the recent we experienced some difficulties with the full implementation of the agreement. But it is encouraging that are active consultations. I represented Armenia during the last year’s four-round talks on modernization of the treaty framework held in Vienna. This work has not yielded concrete results yet. Armenia stands for the preservation, restoration of the viability of the CFE Treaty. Termination of the contract and vacuum in the field of conventional arms control is fraught with serious negative consequences.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan is permanently violating CEF Treaty. Is there any information on precise figures?
Absolutely right, Azerbaijan violates the provisions of the CFE Treaty. According to official information on Azerbaijan’s implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, as of January 1, 2012 Azerbaijan exceeds the set rates in two out of five categories of the conventional arms: 381 battle tanks instead of 220 set by the Treaty and 516 artillery pieces instead of permitted 285.
In 2011 Azerbaijan significantly increased the number of its weapons: by 47 pieces of artillery, by 5 helicopters and by 106 pieces of armored fighting vehicle (AFV).
Thus, Azerbaijan has officially exceeded its set levels and categories of AFV: 287 armored vehicles, instead of 220, deliberately refraining from the reflection of this fact in the annual exchange of information under the CFE Treaty. Azerbaijan repeatedly increased its military budget over recent years (the military budget for 2012 makes $ 3.47 billion).
We continually attract the attention of our partner countries, various international on the issue and call for an adequate response.