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This year marks the 25th anniversary of international recognition of Turkmenistan's neutral status, and the country celebrates it on a grand scale together with the entire international community. This date is indeed significant. It is the most important event in the independent history of the Turkmen state, a milestone in its foreign policy. At the same time, it presents a good opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved over these years, take stock of the achievements and look at the current stage of development of Turkmenistan as a neutral state.
It was on 12 December 1995, in New York, during a session of the UN General Assembly, that all 185 member states of this organization at that time unanimously adopted the special resolution "Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan". On that day, the neutral foreign policy course that Turkmenistan pursued de facto, yet technically remaining political-declarative, was given an internationally recognized legal status. A few days later, Turkmenistan passed a constitutional law and carried out procedures giving the decision of the international community an intrastate status. It was at that time that December 12 was declared a public holiday.
At the same time, strictly speaking, it would be wrong to assume that Turkmenistan's neutrality "originated" on 12 December 1995. The actual starting point was July 1992, when at the summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now OSCE) in Helsinki Turkmenistan for the first time proclaimed positive neutrality as a fundamental principle of its foreign policy. It was at that summit that Turkmenistan outlined its main characteristics, such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, non-interference in their internal affairs, non-use of force in interstate relations, priority of UN decisions in international affairs, strengthening good neighborliness and cooperation with all countries.
However, it took another three years of strict observance of the stated commitments before Turkmenistan's neutral foreign policy received its first official international recognition, yet at the regional level, in the final declaration of the Summit of the Organization for Economic Cooperation in Islamabad in March 1995. Then, there was a meeting of heads of state and government of the countries participating in the Non-Aligned Movement in the Colombian city of Cartagena that supported Turkmenistan's neutrality. And finally, Turkmenistan's neutrality received international recognition at a session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 12 December 1995. It is significant that a number of neighboring states and great powers - permanent members of the UN Security Council - cosponsored the UN resolution on Turkmen neutrality.
Now that almost a quarter of century has passed, one can talk about notable positive results of the neutral status of Turkmenistan (and its practical implementation).
Foreign policy aspect. At the global level, Turkmenistan managed to build equal partnerships with great powers and major world centers of power - the USA, Russia, the European Union and China. In fact, Turkmenistan's policy of "equi-closeness" to these centers has become a reality, if we are talking about compatibility of their interests in the region on the basis of fair and healthy competition. At the regional level, Turkmenistan established good-neighborly and equal relations with neighboring countries, major regional powers, such as Iran and Turkey, Pakistan and India. The interests of these states have never been in conflict on the Turkmen geopolitical "platform". It is quite the opposite. In this sense, the essence of the philosophy of neutrality could be defined as follows: to be equal friends and maintain good relations with everyone, but not to be friends with anyone against someone.
Military aspect and security. The principled and unconditional non-participation in international military and military-political alliances and treaties allowed Turkmenistan not to get drawn into any form of regional rivalry or someone's temptation to involve the Turkmen military and economic resource in potential conflicts. The military doctrine of Turkmenistan is purely defensive in nature. It clearly bans the use of the Turkmen Armed Forces outside the country. This allowed Turkmenistan not to disperse financial, material and human resources for the use outside its borders and focus on strengthening its own defenses, modernizing the national army in accordance with modern requirements. According to foreign experts, the Armed Forces of Turkmenistan now rank among the most advanced and efficient in the region. At the same time, Turkmenistan does not reject military-technical cooperation with other countries that is devoid of political requirements. The same can be said about bilateral and multilateral cooperation, primarily through the UN, in combating common threats to the region, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, transnational organized crime.
Economic aspect. The neutral status of Turkmenistan that provides for minimal foreign policy risks, coupled with the greatest resource potential and internal stability, predetermined great interest to the country from top foreign companies and ensured a serious inflow of foreign capital into the national economy. Nowadays, companies from China, the USA, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, the Arab states, Malaysia and the EU countries successfully operate in Turkmenistan. Thanks to their contribution, the textile industry was actually built from scratch, the oil and gas complex and agriculture were modernized, large-scale road and housing construction is underway, communications infrastructure was virtually re-equipped, and the tourism business is being developed. According to the World Bank, Turkmenistan has consistently held a leading position among the post-Soviet countries in terms of direct foreign investment per capita since 1999.
There is another aspect of Turkmen neutrality that cannot be measured in numbers. This is about a non-confrontational tolerant world outlook, a certain system of views by the new post-Soviet generation of the people of Turkmenistan on themselves, neighboring countries and peoples and the rest of the world that matured under the influence of the neutral foreign policy course. This is precisely what President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had in mind when he spoke at the UN about the conformity of the philosophy of neutrality with the principles of equality, morality and humanism in international affairs.
One may recall the quite lively discussions among politicians, diplomats and journalists that followed the emergence of Turkmenistan as the first neutral state on the geopolitical map of Central Asia. Although this fact was basically perceived positively, there were skeptics who predicated Turkmenistan's self-isolation and almost stagnation on the outskirts of world politics. Time has proved them wrong. One has to simply recall the role played by Turkmenistan in resolving the intra-Tajik conflict in 1995-1996, the country's participation in the UN peacekeeping efforts on the peaceful, political settlement of the civil conflict in Afghanistan in 1999 that confirmed Turkmenistan's active positive influence on the regional affairs. One should recall Turkmenistan's recent initiatives aimed at preventing regional crises and joint development of new non-confrontational political models of cooperation for Central Asia and the Caspian basin, as well as proposals to resolve the situation in Afghanistan. It seems the logic of trends in the region will sooner or later make the international community realize the importance of implementing these ideas.
Ensuring the continuity of the policy of neutrality is supported by new approaches aimed at the use of the country's status characteristics to boost regional and interregional cooperation. Turkmenistan in its international activities places a special emphasis on the economic, or rather geo-economic aspect of neutrality, namely opening up new associated opportunities to give a new impetus to the entire system of international relations in such an important component as energy supplies. In this context, the United Nations recognized and supported the innovative initiative by the President of Turkmenistan on development of a universal and systematic approach to this problem, taking into account the interests of all parties involved, convergence and compatibility of their views and ideas about the configuration of energy supply routes.
This process is currently taking shape. The UN General Assembly twice unanimously adopted Turkmenistan's draft resolution "Reliable and Stable Energy Transit and its Role in Ensuring Sustainable Development and International Cooperation" co-sponsored by dozens of countries. The text of this document offers practical and extremely specific recommendations for initiating global cooperation in the energy sector. It seems logical that it was neutral Turkmenistan that came up with the idea of holding a broad international dialogue on these issues and initiated coordinated actions by states. Turkmenistan's consistent policy of peace, good neighborliness and cooperation based on accommodation of interests, including in the energy sector, the country's readiness to use its rich resource potential not in words but in deeds, the benefits of its geographical location to promote both domestic development goals and interests of large-scale international partnerships - all this fits into the logic of Turkmenistan's actions in the international arena.
In this context, one should take a closer look at Turkmenistan's commitment to the principle of diversification of its energy exports, in particular when building export pipelines. It is in this aspect that neutrality provides an additional weighty condition that detaches the broad geographic orientation of Turkmen energy supplies from politicization and bloc commitments. At the same time, the resource opportunities and advantages of the country's geographic location are considered by Turkmenistan as factors of positive influence on development of regional and interregional economic cooperation, an important condition to maintain a balance of interests in the Eurasian energy space on the basis of equal access to sources of Turkmen hydrocarbons and means of their delivery. This is a principled position.
Adhering to this position, along with the use of traditional routes, Turkmenistan has implemented a number of major projects to take its energy resources to the world markets, including the Turkmenistan - China gas pipeline and the second line of the Turkmenistan - Iran gas pipeline. Another major energy project is underway - the construction of the Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India (TAPI) gas pipeline. It enjoys support of all participating countries, major international financial institutions, including the Asian Development Bank. The TAPI project is a logical continuation of a long-term energy strategy involving construction of new international gas pipelines in various directions.
The initiatives put forward by the President of Turkmenistan on creation of international transport corridors at the regional and continental level are of particular relevance. These initiatives provide a framework for Turkmenistan to implement large-scale international transport projects along the North-South and East-West vectors. Turkmenistan believes that putting the transport infrastructure at the service of development and progress of states and peoples, stabilization of the international and regional processes are an imperative of the day and a necessary condition for the successful implementation of sustainable development goals at the global level.
All these achievements, the successful implementation of international projects are largely due to the neutrality of Turkmenistan, which has never politicized economic cooperation. And this fact is properly understood and highly appreciated by the partners of Turkmenistan. It allows developing equal, mutually beneficial relations with various countries and companies. As a neutral state, Turkmenistan confidently develops its long-term foreign economic strategy, relying on clear and understandable principles arising from the international status of neutrality.
Turkmenistan traditionally sees the United Nations and its specialized bodies as having a special role in ensuring the stable and steady development of regional processes. A number of specialized UN agencies operate in the country on a permanent basis, including the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, the Office on Drugs and Crime, the Population Fund, etc. This cooperation is carried out on a systematic basis. Turkmenistan welcomes such interaction, gratefully accepts the support provided by the UN through various projects and programs.
Following the establishment at Turkmenistan's initiative and with the support of neighboring countries and the entire international community of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia in December 2007, a new impetus was given to the peacekeeping agenda and increasing opportunities for developing and implementing constructive models of interaction between states based on the universally recognized international standards, relying on the enormous moral authority of the UN and its invaluable experience in resolving crisis situations. In this regard, it seems important to establish within the framework of the Regional Center a multilateral consultative and negotiation mechanism involving diplomats and experts to help harmonize the approaches of states on issues relating to the socio-economic development of the region, create and use well in advance a set of political, legal, diplomatic and economic instruments of prevention and neutralization of regional challenges and threats. As practice shows, it is under the UN auspices that the levers of preventive diplomacy can work effectively and bring real results.
Turkmenistan pursues its foreign policy course in an atmosphere of peace and creation, good neighborliness, respect and mutual understanding with its friends and international partners. The country clearly sees the prospects, confidently makes plans for development of the state and society and responsibly pursues a course towards broad and multifaceted international cooperation. Neutral, peace-loving Turkmenistan makes an important contribution to the strengthening of peace and security on the planet and successful implementation of the UN agenda on sustainable development and progress.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005