Challenges to Security and Development

Elkhan Mehtiyev
Peace and Conflict Resolution Center

AzerbaijanCaucasus is influenced by its geographical location between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, bordering with NATO and the European Union, as well as by its direct access to Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries.  In relation to Turkey and Western Europe, it is the doorway to Central Asia and now to Afghanistan.  It has always served as a gateway to the Middle East for Russia.

The region is divided by territorial and separatist conflicts, which foster the continued mistrust and animosity in the region. Armenian military aggression of vast Azerbaijani territories, Russia’s de- facto annexation of Georgian territories and as well as opposition of local authoritarian ruling systems for democratic transformation are of major impediments for much needed changes in the landscape and a rethinking of values throughout the region.

Azerbaijani regime is distinct where the power was transferred from father to son Aliyev where the authoritarian system is flourishing repressing political freedom and enjoying the highest corruption in the region. All TVs and radios are controlled by the regime and the opposition has no one seat in the parliament like in Egypt before Mubarak’s fall. Billions of dollars coming from the energy resources have been embezzled by the ruling elite and millions have emigrated to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan for earning their daily life as the business is highly monopolized in Azerbaijan. The country’s struggle for removal of Armenian occupation has not yielded any results yet.

Georgia has accomplished quite significant achievements leaving behind the practice of the former soviet space countries. After Saakasvili’s rise to power, Georgia has been changed fundamentally eliminating the roots of corruptions and putting the country on the path of democracy. The reform policy has led to change of the ruling government led by President Saakashvili himself.  It has been the demonstration of change in Georgia towards democracy..

As to Armenia, the country is still led by the same individuals who waged war against Azerbaijan and have been responsible for systematic violence, characterized as gross violations of human rights by the international law, and for destroying all occupied regions of Azerbaijan. Ultranationalist ideology based on ethnic hatred towards Azerbaijan and Turkey is dominating at the state level in Armenia via state run TVs and newspapers. There is no debate on ending occupation of Azerbaijani territories but militarization and settlement of occupied areas are under way. Corruption, monopoly over resources, unemployment and emigration of its population is characteristic features of today’s Armenia.

Analyzing major powers influence in the Caucasus it must be noted that Russia still remains a dominant player in the Caucasus based upon the problems inherited from the former Soviet Union and not yet settled.  Even after these many years, Russia retains significant influence over those problems and sometimes is part of the problem.  Russia believes that it has legitimate interests in the Caucasus and the entire Caspian Basin and has expressed at different levels its opposition to any US military installation or NATO led objects in Azerbaijan or in the Caspian Basin.

The United States regional approach in the Caucasus was based on a policy of isolation of Iran and diminishing of the role of Russia. Turkey has played a key role with strong US support for Azerbaijani energy transportation routes via Georgia to Turkey. Close US- Azerbaijani-Georgian –Turkish cooperation has triggered traditional enemies and rivals to concentrate on more active and determined Iran-Armenia –Russia axis.  Iranian warm relations with Armenia are being argued as part of joint Iranian-Russian strategy aimed at weakening Turkish-American influence in the region.

Azerbaijan and Georgia are now free of any former soviet military bases or objects and the last Russian military installation called as the Gabala Radar Station ended its service in Azerbaijan late December last year which is a great historical moment for Azerbaijani history. In response to such development we now observe new development in the region where Russia is intensifying military cooperation and armament policy of Armenia turning the country into the warehouse of weapons. The country is heavily militarized and its president speaking at NATO headquarters in May 2010 argued that the country has ”types of ammunition that countries ten times the size of Armenia would dream of having”.

Russia and Armenia signed bilateral agreement on prolongation of Russian military base in Armenia for another 50 years and with the special agreement signed between the two countries, Russia took responsibility as a “guarantor of security of Armenia”. This is a major challenge for Azerbaijan and the entire region as the continued support and armament of Armenia will encourage Armenian side not to leave the occupied lands and consequently lead to resumption of war. The irony is that by arming Armenian side Russia is also serving as a mediator within the Minsk Group of OSCE at Armenian -Azerbaijani negotiations.

The second challenge is the separation of Georgia’s the two autonomous regions and recognition of them by Russia as an independent states. These actions made Georgia to cut all relations with Russia. Russia is considering Georgia as an enemy state.  Russia is radically opposing Georgia’s Nato membership. These two vital elements of Georgia’s sovereignty and integrity is challenged and Georgia is under the permanent threats over these issues.

Next challenge for Caucasian security and development I would like to stress, is emanating from the development around Iranian nuclear program. We are very much worried about any military hostility around this issue.  Any military strike or military engagement on Iran would have dire consequences for the entire Caucasian security.  In the case of military strike it can shift the entire geopolitical situation in the Caucasus. It could lead to the blockade of the Caspian sea by Russia and may lead to pressure from Russian side for deployment of Russian troops into Azerbaijan and Georgia with the argument of protecting CIS borders.

Evidently, Russia will try to deploy more sophisticated weapons to Armenia as it did during Kosovo war deploying S-300 to Armenia and later on donating all of them to Armenia.  It will consequently prolong Armenian occupation and diminish the chance of peaceful resolution.

Second, any Israeli strike may cause Iranian retaliation and the likelihood of usage of nuclear weapon against Iran could also be a possibility and in that case Azerbaijani and Caucasian people will catastrophically suffer from deadly radiation as we are in the same neighborhood with Iranians.

Azerbaijan is making efforts to contribute to European energy security. Oil and gas transportation routes are being built via Georgia and Turkey to European market. There are serious challenges and threats to energy security resources and transportation lines running via Caucasus.

As to threats to energy infrastructures and transportation lines, the terrorism and military hostilities are always expected from Armenian side. It could also be in Georgia’s Armenian populated areas and inside Azerbaijan.  Armenian army chief of staff‘s last year statement that they trained the missile system for possible strike of Azerbaijani energy infrastructures was a demonstration of intention of Armenian side.

Here should be noted that. NATO has no responsibility over the protection of energy resources in our part of the world and as it was stated at Chicago summit that it is a responsibility of national governments.  No intervention, no duplication and no militarization policy of energy infrastructures is still in effect. But NATO has offered a consultation framework on intelligence analysis and sharing within 28+1 format in terms of preventing any terrorist activities and cyber attacks and providing expertise in the form of training of emergency service personnel and border troops responsible for security of energy infrastructure. Azerbaijani state border troops and security services are in coordination and cooperation with Georgian and Turkish security forces for protection of crucial energy infrastructure.

Authoritarian, non democratic systems in the region are major source for instability like we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Political instability, social explosion, unrest and consequently political violence may turn the region into greater uncertainty as we witnessed in the Arab world.  Democratic development is only chance for all countries of Caucasus for integration into NATO and steady development. Otherwise religious radicalism, corruption, organized crime will be dominating as we see the signs of all of them developing including in our region.

NATO Policy

Caucasian countries NATO policy is diverse and polarized and is determined by their level of relations with Russia.  Any move of these countries towards integrated relations with NATO is considered an unfriendly action by Russia. Azerbaijan’s NATO policy should be considered within the context of her relations with Russia and to some extent with Iran. Azerbaijan‘s government currently adheres to a position which would not counter Russia’s sensitivity.

Iran views NATO as a US dominated alliance, its expansion towards the Caucasus is perceived as a threat to the Iranian regime. Azerbaijani officials claim that they prefer to cooperate with NATO quietly by not publicizing their cooperation, thus trying to suppress any negative reactions from Russia or Iran.

NATO has always supported Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and integrity and stated its unacceptability of the acquisition of lands by force in its resolutions and statements. Azerbaijan is the only PfP country part of which is under foreign occupation despite the four resolutions of UN Security Council and article 2 of PFP Framework Document. Yet Azerbaijani society expects NATO to take a more openly expressed position towards Armenia’s occupation.  There is a belief in Azerbaijan that NATO‘s policy should be determined and clear-cut regarding the military aggressions like it acted in the Balkans.

Armenia is hosting Russian military base N102 and an alliance with the Russian military served for a policy of keeping Azerbaijani territories occupied and distancing the Western institutions to become involved for transforming the existing status quo into a peace and democracy.  Armenia purchases Russian arms from Russia by Russia’s internal prices, while Azerbaijan does it by world prices. Armenian leadership has numerously stated that Armenia had no intention of joining to NATO.

Although the appeal of NATO membership was made official in the 2002 Prague Summit,  NATO policy has been the cornerstone of Saakasvili’s  democratic government. This policy stated Georgia’s unambiguous will to become a NATO member with overwhelming support of a broad spectrum of the entire society.  At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed that Georgia will become a member of NATO. This decision was subsequently reconfirmed at successive NATO summits in 2009, 2010 and 2012. NATO and Georgia pursue an active political dialogue and practical cooperation, including through the unique framework provided by the NATO-Georgia Commission, to assist Georgia in achieving its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In December 2008, Allied foreign ministers agreed that Georgia should develop an Annual National Programme (ANP) under the auspices of the NGC.  Chicago summit of NATO called on Russia to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states and NATO once again reiterated its continued support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.

From this perspective it is worth noting that 2008 Georgia-Russia war has been the moment of settling scores of Russia with Georgia to change the ongoing development in the region in an effort to stop Georgia’s move to NATO.  At the same time, it is also intended to punish Georgia and show Russia’s determination to both Western and former Soviet countries, while intimidating the latter’s aspiring interests to integrate into Euro –Atlantic structures.

NATO’s Istanbul summit adopted a document called as  “The Euro-Atlantic Partnership –Refocusing and renewal” adapting objectives and priorities of partnership. In response to a changing environment the alliance decided to put special focus on engaging with partners in the strategically important regions of Caucasus and Central Asia. The move has opened opportunities not only in the military sphere but in terms of border security, science, environment, civil emergency and public affairs which has constituted essential part of cooperation with NATO.

NATO has prioritized to these countries implementation of the existing and new cooperation programmes in particular IPAP, PAP-DIB, PARB and PAP-T.  Paying special attention to the individual needs, NATO intensified enhanced training and education and helping them manage the consequences of defense reform including through the PfP trust fund mechanisms.

To improve communication and support work with Partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Nato enhanced role of NATO contact point embassies (CPE) and expanded their mandate. NATO has nominated Secretary General’s special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia.

NATO ‘s program on the Partnership Action Plan on Defense Institution Building ( PAP-DIB) offers Allies and all partners a common political and conceptual platform for bilateral and multilateral cooperation in developing efficient and democratically responsible defense institutions including the armed forces under democratic and civilian control.

The partnership action plan against Terrorism PAP-T remains the main platform for joint efforts by allies and partners in the fight against terrorism. NATO security forum through Science programme is focused on key security concerns of common interest in particular the defense against terrorism including Maritime and harbor security all those bordering on the Black and Caspian seas.

Within IPAP this program NATO provides focused, country-specific advice on reform objectives. Objectives covered fall into the general categories of political and security issues; defense, security and military issues; public information; science and environment; civil emergency planning; and administrative, protective security and resource issues. Activities range from military exercises to biodiversity conservation.

Address at the Youth Atlantic Forum, 58thATA General Assembly, 4th February 2013