A significant step in fostering bilateral relations and fomenting
By Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan, Armenia
Peacekeeping operations are one of the key domains of international relations. They play a paramount role in securing stability and fostering international cooperation. Currently, 14 peacekeeping operations around the globe are led by the UN Department of Peace operations. Several other international organizations are involved in peacekeeping missions, but the UN is the ultimate authority in this sphere.
Immediately after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 Beijing was not interested much in peace operations as it concentrated its efforts on domestic issues and bilateral relations with regional and global powers. However, the launch of China’s “Reform and opening-up policy” has brought significant changes. Peacekeeping contributions have steadily become an important part of China’s soft power strategy, allowing Beijing to advance its interests abroad while fostering collaboration with other nations, as it undergoes its peaceful rise. Peacekeeping proves an uncontested method of proving China’s commitment to global stability. China recognizes that upholding international stability, as well as international institutions and mechanisms, is vital to Chinese economic and political interests.
In December 1981 China agreed to fund UN peacekeeping operations for the first time, in April 1990 country joined its first military peacekeeping operation by deploying five observers to the UN Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East, and in April 1992 sent nearly 50 military observers and 400 military engineers to the UN Advance Mission in Cambodia. As of late 2019, China is the second-largest contributor to the UN's peacekeeping budget, accounting for 15.22 percent of about $7 billion in 2019, up from 10.28 percent in 2018. Currently, China has 2,534 military and police peacekeepers in seven of the 14 on-going UN peacekeeping operations, ranking 11th among the 122 contributors to UN peacekeeping and the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent UN Security Council members. In 2002 China opened a civilian peacekeeping police training center in Langfang, in 2009 military peacekeeping training center was established in Huairou (Beijing suburbs), and the first international training course for instructors from 14 countries took place there in 2011.
Peacekeeping operations are one of the strategic directions of Armenia’s defense policy. The small landlocked nation under the permanent threat of military incursion both from Azerbaijan and Turkey views peacekeeping operations as a significant tool to contribute to international security and stability and to transform itself from security consumer to security provider. Armenia formed its peacekeeping battalion in 2001 which was transformed into peacekeeping brigade in 2007. The first mission was launched in cooperation with NATO in Kosovo in 2004. Armenian peacekeepers served in Iraq in 2005 - 2009 and since 2010 they have been deployed in Afghanistan. Currently, the Armenian peacekeepers – more than 200 servicemen, are conducting missions in cooperation with NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan and since December 2014 they have joined the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon.
Since 2001 Armenia has received significant assistance from NATO to foster its peacekeeping capacities. NATO and individual Allies have supported Armenia’s efforts to develop interoperability with NATO forces of the Armenian Peacekeeping Battalion and enable it to become a brigade with associated combat support and combat service support units. Through joint Armenia – US funding peacekeeping training center was established near Yerevan in 2017 and became operational in 2018 providing necessary training services to Armenian peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, Armenia has not restricted its peacekeeping partnership only with NATO and NATO member states. Recently Yerevan made several efforts to increase its military cooperation with China. In April 2017 Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, the head of the Office for International Military Cooperation under China’s Central Military Commission visited Armenia and met the leadership of the Ministry of Defense. Then Armenian Minister of Defense Vigen Sargsyan visited Bejing in September 2017, and an Armenian Ministry of Defense delegation, headed by then Commander of the Peacekeeping Brigade Col. Vaghinak Sargsyan paid a visit to the UN Peacekeeping Missions Centre in China in March 2018. During the visit, an agreement was reached to expand the cooperation between the peacekeeping forces of the two countries. As recently as in October 2019 Armenian Minister of Defense Davit Tonoyan participated in the 9th Beijing Xiangshan Forum held in Beijing.
Thus both China and Armenia have emphasized the significance of peacekeeping operations and have made tangible actions to increase their relevant capabilities. Both countries have established peacekeeping training centers and have made initial steps to increase military cooperation including peacekeeping.
Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization along with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The organization has its own peacekeeping forces, a set of peacekeeping contingents designed to participate in CSTO peacekeeping operations. Each year CSTO peacekeeping forces organize military drills “Unbreakable brotherhood” to increase their capacities and representatives of Armenian peacekeeping brigade participate in these drills.
Armenia has been a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization since 2016. SCO was established in 2001 and originally was comprised of Russia, China, and four Central Asian states (except Turkmenistan) later joined by India and Pakistan with the key goal to foster security cooperation among members. The secretariats of CSTO and SCO signed a Memorandum of understanding of cooperation in October 2007. The memorandum confirms the readiness of both organizations to combine efforts to ensure regional and international security and stability, counter-terrorism, combat drug trafficking, suppress illicit arms trafficking, and resist organized transnational crimes.
Partnership in peacekeeping capacity building can be one of the effective tools to further the CSTO - SCO cooperation. Given the Armenian and Chinese vast experience in peacekeeping, these two states can play a pivotal role here. As was mentioned, Armenia with the US support established a peacekeeping training center, however, due to growing US - Russia and US-China tensions, it would be rather complicated to fully exploit the potential of this center as a hub for bringing CSTO and SCO member states peacekeepers together.
In this context, the establishment of the joint Armenia – China peacekeeping training center in Armenia will be beneficial for CSTO, SCO, Armenia, and China. It would strategically increase Armenia’s position in the world map of peacekeeping and raise its capacities and capabilities. It will substantially improve the cooperation between CSTO and SCO giving new breath to the 2007 memorandum of understanding and creating new bonds between member states.
The establishment of joint Armenia – China peacekeeping training center will contribute also to Armenia’s interests of defense security diversification, adding China to the pool of partners already including Russia and the US. Given the evolving comprehensive strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing, this step should not raise concerns in Kremlin regarding possible negative implications. Through establishing a joint center in Armenia China will reinforce its position as a global power committed to international peace and stability. Simultaneously, the deployment of Chinese peacekeepers in Armenia on a rotating base will strategically increase the Chinese footprint in the South Caucasus, which borders Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia - regions where China has vital interests.
Thus, time is ripe to start bilateral Armenia – China as well as multilateral negotiations within CSTO and SCO to establish the joint Armenia – China peacekeeping training center in Armenia.
About the Author:
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is Founder and Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and also, Executive Director, Political Science Association of Armenia since 2011. He was Vice President for Research – Head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia in August 2016 – February 2019. He joined Institute for National Strategic Studies (predecessor of NDRU) in March 2009 as a Research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Before this, he was the Foreign Policy Adviser of the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia. Dr. Poghosyan has also served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences and was an adjunct professor at Yerevan State University and in the European Regional Educational Academy.
His primary research areas are the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region. He is the author of more than 70 Academic papers and OP-EDs in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was appointed as a "Distinguished Research Fellow" at the US National Defense University - College of International Security Affairs and also, he is a graduate from the US State Department's Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security policymaking. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.