Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 120

Heads of state and governments of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova — the GUAM group of countries — met June 18-19 in Baku, together with the presidents of Romania, Poland, and Lithuania. The meeting marks the tenth year of GUAM’s existence. The anniversary summit was not a celebratory one, however, as GUAM is still a group in search of a specific role and mission.

Ten years ago, the presidents of these four countries (at that time Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma, Heydar Aliyev, and Petru Lucinschi) met during a Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg in October 1997 and decided to establish a consultative forum of the four countries, effective immediately. Together, those four presidents attended the 1999 NATO summit in Washington, where Uzbekistan joined, turning it temporarily into GUUAM.

The venues chosen for those meetings symbolized these countries’ aspirations to develop ties with the West as a counterbalance to Russian “integration” efforts through the Commonwealth of Independent States. The United States strongly supported GUAM from the outset, politically through the State Department as well as financially through a $44 million grant from the U.S. Congress for GUAM economic projects. For its part, Russia (irrespective of any U.S. intentions) has misrepresented GUAM all along in official Russian rhetoric and the controlled mass media as an anti-Russian project.

Since GUAM’s inception, the secessionist conflicts and foreign troops on the territories of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova have topped the agenda of shared concerns among GUAM countries. Although the group is ten years old officially, its unofficial creation — including the acronym GUAM — dates to 1996, and the founding father is Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Araz Azimov, who in that year put together the first GUAM group during deliberations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Vienna.

GUAM held its first official summit in June 2001 in Yalta, Ukraine, adopting a Charter and resolving to advance to the status of an international organization. From that point on, however, GUAM went through a prolonged eclipse when Ukraine reverted to a “double-vector” policy and Moldova to a pro-Russian one. The Congressional funds for GUAM remained largely unused for lack of convincing projects. Uzbekistan suspended its membership in 2002 and quit the group officially in April 2005, citing GUAM’s lack of specific goals and achievements.

After a four-year hiatus, GUAM met again at the summit level in April 2005 in Chisinau, amid hopes generated by regime change in Ukraine and an orientation change among Moldova’s leadership. Dubbed the “GUAM Revival Summit,” it was, however, derailed by Ukraine’s surprise announcement of an ill-conceived plan to settle the Transnistria conflict, outside the summit’s agenda and to objections from most participant countries at the event (see EDM, April 20, 21, 25, 26, 2005). That summit merely decided to create the post of GUAM National Coordinator in each of the participant countries and adopted a symbolic declaration on GUAM’s course toward European integration and the creation of common security, economic, and transport spaces.

Institutionalizing GUAM was the goal of the Kyiv summit in May 2006 (see EDM, May 25, 2006). That summit augmented the group’s official title to Organization for Democracy and Economic Development–GUAM. It adopted a GUAM Charter, created a GUAM Secretariat under a secretary-general with headquarters in Kyiv, and established an annual sequence of meetings (the heads of state to meet once a year, the ministers of foreign affairs twice a year, the national coordinators four times a year). In addition, the Kyiv summit considered the possible creation of a GUAM peacekeeping battalion and decided to create a GUAM Free-Trade Zone through legislation in the four countries.

Institutionalization would enable GUAM to advance from the status of an informal group to the status of an international organization. However, the institutionalization agenda and other Kyiv summit decisions remained unfulfilled in their most important respects by the time of the Baku summit.

The idea of enlarging GUAM’s scope through associate memberships or other formal and informal procedures is also a legacy of the Chisinau and Kyiv summits. Presidents Traian Basescu of Romania and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania took an active part in those two summits and again in Baku, where President Lech Kaczynski of Poland joined the GUAM summit for the first time.

These three European Union member countries promote within the EU the strategic goals declared by GUAM countries in terms of Caspian energy transit to the EU and resolution of secessionist conflicts on terms consistent with EU interests in the region. The EU remains almost demonstratively aloof from GUAM as a group, however, and the Baku summit was the third one to which the EU presidency and EU commission turned down invitations to attend.

To the GUAM countries’ delighted surprise, Japan has recently showed interest in launching partnership relations with GUAM as a group. The Japanese government announced this concept in policy-setting speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso in November 2006 and March 2007, most recently published in the government’s Blue Book. The policy outline envisages Japanese support for the creation of an “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” stretching from Central Asia to the Caspian and Black Sea basins to Ukraine.

The Japanese government has recently discussed its initiative with the EU in Brussels and it delegated Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mitoji Yabunaka to the GUAM summit in Baku. A new format of meetings, GUAM-Japan, was inaugurated at this summit. This format is due to continue with a focus on Japanese investment in energy production and transport and mutual political support in international organizations (GUAM Communiqués, June 18-19).