CICA at 25: Review and Outlook

Composed by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

Entrusted by the Second Conference of the CICA Non-governmental Forum

June 2017


Executive Summary

I. Asian Security Challenges

II. CICA Evolution and Asian Security Architecture Building 

III. Outlook and Ways Forward 

Executive Summary

The Asian security landscape has recently become increasingly complicated and multifaceted. While traditional security challenges have yet to be effectively contained, security issues of a nontraditional nature are multiplying and escalating, posing a common threat to all Asian countries. Due to the significant differences among Asian countries in terms of ethnic composition, religious belief, political system, cultural tradition, and geographical location, various competing sub-regional security arrangements advocated by major powers inside and outside of the region have fallen short in settling regional security issues. Therefore, for Asian countries, it has become an urgent requirement to build a new security institution which should be more representative and inclusive in nature so as to accommodate and coordinate various sub-regional security mechanisms.

The idea of convening CICA was first proposed in 1992 and after seven years of hard work, the first meeting of foreign ministers of CICA member states was held in 1999. The Declaration on the Principles Guiding Relations between the CICA Member States adopted at the meeting, and later the Almaty Act adopted at CICA’s first summit meeting held in Almaty in 2002 became the stepping stone toward future evolution of CICA. The establishment of the CICA Secretariat in Almaty of Kazakhstan in 2006 and the first chairmanship handover from Kazakhstan to Turkey in 2010 marked a new stage in CICA’s institutionalization.

The Fourth CICA Summit held in Shanghai in 2014 represented another milestone, where Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a new concept of “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” for Asia, winning broad-based approval. With its further enlargement and growing international influence to unprecedented levels, CICA has become a comprehensive forum for official security dialogues and people-to-people exchanges.

As the most representative multilateral security institution in Asia with 26 member states and 14 observers, CICA plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific landscape.

To begin with, CICA has developed into an open and inclusive multilateral security institution as well as a venue for substantive consultations and dialogues on regional security challenges, capable of building a broad-based consensus among regional countries.

Moreover, bearing in mind diverse security concerns of the countries in the region, CICA is well-positioned to meet the shared security demands and advance a common security agenda for all stakeholders in the region.

Last but not least, CICA is capable of providing a solid institutional foundation for and charting the shortest path toward an Asian security architecture.

Looking ahead, greater efforts should be made in the following aspects in order to fulfill CICA’s set-goals:

First, fostering a pan-Asian sense of shared destiny through substantive inter-civilzational dialogues and closer economic cooperation.

Second, strengthening capacity- and institution-building to increase CICA’s relevance and influence in Asian security dynamics with a view to laying a solid foundation for a viable Asian security architecture.

Third, building a common vision out of divergent views and creating synergy within the CICA framework by making full use of the comparative advantages of all stakeholders especially those of small and medium-sized countries.

Fourth, improving the Track II dialogue mechanism within the CICA framework to build consensus and provide recommendations on CICA’s future development.

First conceived in 1992 and after 25 years of evolution, CICA has become a major forum for dialogues and consultations on regional security issues. In an increasingly complicated security environment, CICA has a unique role to play in maintaining peace, security, and stability through multilateral confidence building and concerted cooperation. To cope with the changing socioeconomic foundations and multiple security hot-spots, CICA needs to calibrate its long-term objectives and make detailed plans for institution building.

I. Asian Security Challenges 

Since the end of the Cold War, Asia’s security environment has become increasingly complicated. In traditional security field, military tensions in some parts of Asia such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Korean Peninsula continue unabated. Meanwhile, multiple non-traditional security challenges, such as terrorism, extremism, pandemic diseases, massive flows of refugees, drug trafficking, and water/food security have kept escalating. In the wake of the U.S. rebalancing strategy, the Asia-Pacific region has entered a period of power realignment involving major players, such as the United States, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Local conflicts and tensions flare up time and again: the ongoing civil war in Syria; the persistent anti-terror war in the Middle East; territorial disputes in the South China Sea; and tensions over THAAD development in South Korea. The intense situation not only presents a common threat to all Asian countries but also sends shock waves across the globe.

Although faced with the same common security threats, Asian countries have not developed a common Asian identity due to their significant differences in ethnic composition, religious belief, political system, cultural tradition, and geographical location. It is therefore, natural for the Asian countries to perceive and plan about various regional security issues differently. Lack of consensus among major Asian countries has resulted in divergent, inconsistent, and even conflicting strategies and approaches to address regional and sub-regional security issues. Such an environment will not only lead to waste of resources in building overlapping functions but also create new grounds for competition among regional countries.

Therefore, for Asian countries, it has become an urgent requirement to build a new security institution which should be more representative and inclusive in nature so as to accommodate and coordinate various sub-regional security mechanisms. This new security institution must be flexible and broad-based to provide sufficient strategic space for every stakeholder on the one hand, and capable of managing major security issues, bridging divides and settling disputes, and making long-term plans for Asian security on the other.

II. CICA Evolution and Asian Security Architecture Building

The idea of convening CICA was first proposed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1992. In March 1993, the first meeting of experts and government officials were convened in Almaty under Kazakh sponsorship, beginning the discussion on CICA’s guiding principles and operational mechanisms and setting in motion its evolution. After seven years of dialogues and communications from 1992 to 1999, the first meeting of CICA foreign ministers was held in 1999, adopting CICA’s first founding document—Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between CICA Member States. CICA’s first summit meeting held in Almaty in 2002 adopted two important guidelines documents: Almaty Act and Declaration on Eliminating Terrorism and Promoting Dialogue among Civilizations. The second CICA meeting of foreign ministers in 2004 produced a CICA Catalogue of Confidence Building Measures and the first CICA Rules of Procedure, laying out a detailed list of confidence building measures for the member states. The establishment of the CICA Secretariat in Almaty in 2006 and the chairmanship handover from Kazakhstan to Turkey in 2010 ushered in a new period of CICA’s institutionalization.

The year 2014 witnessed another milestone in CICA’s evolution: the Shanghai Summit, at which China assumed CICA Chairmanship. Since then, China has fulfilled its commitment by putting the CICA process on a fast track.

China has expanded CICA’s international influence by proposing a new security concept and enlarging CICA’s membership. The new concept of “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Summit has won wide approval among Asian nations. Identifying themselves with the new security concept, Bangladesh and Qatar joined CICA as member states and Belarus was welcomed as an observer. With an expanded membership and a popular security concept, CICA’s global relevance and impact has been expanded. Meanwhile, China has also strengthened CICA solidarity by expanding areas of cooperation within the CICA framework. For example, China helped to establish the CICA Youth Council and CICA Business Council and organized a series of events marking the CICA Day which was set on October 5. China has built a comprehensive platform for security dialogues and nongovernmental exchanges for the countries of the region by hosting the first annual meeting of the CICA Nongovernmental Forum in Beijing and five international roundtable meetings of CICA think tanks, and sponsoring multiple training programs and experts’ workshops among CICA members states.

As a result of accumulative efforts of successive chairmanships, CICA has developed into the most inclusive multilateral forum for regional security dialogues with 26 member states and 14 observers (including international organizations). As the only pan-Asian security forum, CICA is unique in terms of its core ideas and institution-building capacity, and therefore well-positioned to play a larger role in the Asia-Pacific security landscape.

To begin with, CICA is an open and inclusive multilateral security institution with no threshold for members’ accession. It has spared no efforts to invite as many Asian countries to be member states as possible, and has also invited countries outside the region yet deeply involved in regional affairs to participate as observers. As such, the high level of inclusiveness and representativeness has enabled CICA to not only reflect the variety of security demands of regional players, but also build broad-based security consensus through substantive consultations and dialogues.

Besides, taking into account the diverse security perceptions and interests of regional countries, CICA is also capable of meeting their security expectations by overcoming the incompatibilities of various regional security mechanisms and creating a common vision of indivisible security.   CICA includes not only major powers such as China, Russia, and India, but also most of the middle powers in the region capable of playing an active role in security issues. In the past 25 years, many CICA member states have experienced rapid economic growth and remarkable capacity buildup, enabling them to shoulder more responsibilities for regional peace and stability. Not only does the CICA framework provide ample space for wide consultation but also flexible arrangements for sharing security burdens and promoting a common security agenda with a view to living up to the reasonable security expectations of all stakeholders.

Last but but least, CICA has laid a solid foundation for a viable Asian security architecture. After 25 years of development, especially the last decade’s fast evolution, CICA has grown into a full-fledged institutional network comprised of summit meeting, foreign ministers meeting, senior officials committee, and other mechanisms for consultation and dialogue. At the same time, CICA has formulated a number of basic documents laying out its mission, vision, operational mechanisms, and institutional structure. It has also signed memoranda of understanding with various regional and international organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Fully utilized, the existing mechanisms within the CICA framework will be the shortest path toward a robust Asian security architecture.

CICA’s fast growth implies a bright outlook, yet it has to overcome a number of challenges before it could play a larger role in the Asian security landscape. Chief among the challenges is lack of a common “Asian awareness” or “Asian identity.” Asia’s security environment is very complicated and sensitive in nature. While European countries share similar cultural and religious origins, Asia is more of a geographical concept imposed on the nations of the region by Western narrative. In such a vast land with striking distinctions and immense diversities in terms of geographical condition, ethnic composition, religious belief, and ideology as well as their historical development, the difficulties in evolving a common recognition of Asian entity will be tremendous, let alone the acceptance of a shared community of Asia. In the contemporary Asian landscape characterized by increasing fragmentation, sub-regions remain the premier arena of political interactions among all Asian countries.

III. Outlook and Ways Forward 

Over the past 25 years, CICA has developed into the most representative and inclusive pan-Asian institution in regional security field. To live up to the expectations of the CICA members, China as the rotating chair has stepped up its efforts to revitalize CICA by fulfilling many of its commitments made at the summit, including initiating and sponsoring the CICA nongovernmental forum, international roundtable meetings of CICA think tanks, and CICA Youth Council. All these activities are conducive to the promotion of CICA’s publicity and recognition both within and outside the Asian continent. However, CICA’s overall influence on Asia’s security agenda is still limited. There is yet a long way to go before CICA could fulfill its vision. Asia’s unique security environment demands a more active CICA, and CICA also needs more sound and effective institutions to maximize its role in Asia’s security system. To maintain CICA’s positive evolutionary momentum, greater efforts need to be made in the following aspects.

First, fostering a pan-Asian sense of shared destiny. The absence of a common Asian awareness or identity is what stands in the way of a robust pan-Asian security institution and CICA has a due role to play in helping Asian nations cultivate such an awareness. It takes time to bridge the existing religious, cultural, geographical, and historical differences, but Asian nations share a common aspiration for economic prosperity and regional stability, which could serve as a cohesive agent binding them together. As a pan-Asian institution, CICA should promote an Asian awareness/identity based on the sense of shared destiny through substantive inter-civilizational dialogues and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.

Second, strengthening capacity and institution building. In this regard, CICA still has many deficiencies and shortcomings. CICA’s Secretariat and other existing administrative bodies should be made financially stable and staffed with adequate personnel. The Secretariat should also be given the mandate to monitor the implementation of confidence building measures. CICA should also try to increase the frequency of working and experts meetings, and set up more high-level meetings, such as meetings of defense ministers, ministers of public security/the interior and other senior officials concerning issues related to domestic or international security. To promote member states’ participation and CICA’s capacity in addressing and resolving Asia’s security issues, it also needs to make good use of various institutional arrangements to establish a network at multiple levels and fields. The establishment of regional chapters or pillars is also worth serious consideration. To better address regional risks, CICA may also need to build crisis-management and emergency-response mechanisms as a way of increasing its relevance to Asian security matters and laying a solid foundation for a new security architecture.

Third, accommodating small and medium-sized nations’ security concerns. In the course of promoting its development and upgrading, CICA should not only pay attention to major countries’ roles and responsibilities, but also make full use of small and medium-sized countries vision and innovation. CICA should be such an international institution that it is conducive to optimizing the comparative advantages of small and medium-sized countries, which are capable of supplementing major countries’ efforts to enhancing CICA’s influence with their unique visions and strengths. It is therefore important to develop divergent views into integrated visions which will create synergy and further strengthen CICA’s framework.

Finally, giving Track II dialogue an institutionalized role in promoting CICA’s evolution. Since CICA members have not reached an agreement on the direction and mission of CICA’s development, it is essential to conduct comprehensive dialogues and communications through all channels available. In this regard, consultations and discussions should first be carried out at the Track II level to build consensus and put forth practical recommendations. CICA members’ think tanks have a deeper understanding of CICA’s missions and responsibilities, and they should try to contribute more valuable ideas and research products aimed at enhancing Asia’s peace and prosperity. It is also necessary to set up a network of think tank cooperation within the CICA framework to tap the expertise of think tanks on the one hand, and strengthen cooperation between think tanks inside and outside CICA on the other with a view to promoting the security cooperation process in Asia. Track II dialogue must be further institutionalized to promote cooperation between the CICA Secretariat and various Track II mechanisms and solicit more intellectual contributions from think tanks for the benefit of CICA evolution.

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