On Wednesday May 26, the Belarusian Parliament ratified Belarus joining the Collective Security Treaty Organizations (CSTO) Rapid Reaction Force. Belarus will provide up to 2,000 soldiers for this Central Asian military alliance. Due to a trade dispute with Russia, Belarus delayed signing the agreement for a year.
The CSTO is a military defensive alliance formed in 2002 out of the remains of the Commonwealth of Independent States (which was an attempt to form a coalition of the parts of the former Soviet Union). CSTO members include Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Since it is based in Central Asia, the CSTO is not a Warsaw Pact II despite initial concerns over the organization. Ukraine recently declined an invitation to join because the alliance was based too much in Asia.
The CSTO possesses a Rapid Reaction Force that is dedicated to repulsing military aggression, conduct anti-terrorist operations, fight transnational crime and drug trafficking, and neutralize the effects of national disasters. The CSTOs Rapid Reaction Force is meant to protect the stability of its member states. Emergencies caused by large scale insurgencies and border security would allow for the deployment of CSTO forces. With 5,500 soldiers based throughout Central Asia and led by a joint command center in Moscow, the CSTOs Rapid Reaction Force does possess the resources to react to any Central Asian security threat.
The CSTOs experience is limited. Besides annual military exercises which involve at least 1,000 soldiers, over 100 tanks, and several aircraft, CSTO forces have only conducted a small amount of counternarcotics operations in Belarus. However, the CSTO has taken steps to strengthen its military forces. In 2007 an agreement was signed that allowed for all CSTO member states to purchase Russian weapons at Russian domestic prices. Russia, who has been an influential member of the CSTO, has been pressing to increase the size of the Rapid Reaction Force to up to 16,000 soldiers.
By joining the CSTOs Rapid Reaction Force, Belarus is possibly inviting Russian troops into its country. For example, in 2003, Russia made a deal with Kyrgyzstan that allowed for a Russian airfield to be built to conduct antiterrorist operations. As the CSTO becomes more integrated, member states will spread the Rapid Reaction Force onto more bases to allow for better security. Also, by joining the Rapid Reaction Force, Belarus is allowing for Russian soldiers (and soldiers from other member states) to intervene if there is a security crisis. This option significantly strengthens the influence of Russia.
Belarus decision to contribute 2,000 soldiers to the CSTOs Rapid Reaction Force is a great step for the defensive military alliance. It not only strengthens the capabilities of the force, but also provides confidence for the inexperienced military organization. As the CSTO becomes more organized and efficient, it will have much more influence on Central and Southern Asian affairs. --By Bret Perry