Dr. Gayane Novikova
The qualitatively new status quo, established in the aftermath of the August 2008 war in Georgia, is defined by a series of new developments and contributed to the very fragile stability in the South Caucasus.
Although there is no prospect that the current status quo in the South Caucasus can be considered as a final resolution of the conflicts, nonetheless, this status quo will last quite a long time, indeed as long as there is a visible balance of interests and powers among the main non-regional actors, and a military balance between the regional actors.
It also defined the further possible developmental trends of each state, in particular Armenia, directly affecting its road toward the European and Euro-Atlantic integration. I would like to mention that Armenia is quite satisfied with the established status quo in the region. The level of its engagement in regional processes has qualitatively changed, although the consequences of this engagement are not yet very clear.
There are some key related questions, concerning the defining and evaluating of Armenia – NATO and Armenia – EU relationships that also should be mentioned:
– With which international or regional structure would cooperation be more effective in the sense of helping to provide a high-level security to Armenia that takes into account all the issues noted above?
– Will NATO and the EU play or, intend to play, a significant role in stabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus?
– How far can Armenia – NATO relationships improve in light of close Armenia-Russia relations in the political-military sphere?
– What kind of relationships is more favorable for Armenia along the Armenia – NATO, and Armenia – EU axes?
– Will EU membership be attractive for Armenia; if so, in what sense can it become an achievable goal?
Forcible answers to all of these questions can be realistically discussed against the background of the impending new wave of economic crises and the deadlocked situation in the Middle East. On the one hand, both directly affect the level of NATO and EU involvement into the regional affairs.
On the other hand, Armenia will be unable to remain standing amid the negative impact of the global economic crisis and it will be unable to continue its progress along the path toward European integration without strong EU support; it will also be unable to reduce its strong and growing economic dependence upon Russia.
The newly shaped status quo has not influenced of the strategic interests of the European Union and NATO in the South Caucasus. Both institutions will confine their activity within the so-called ‘soft power’ format.
It is quite obvious that currently neither NATO nor the EU are ready for a full-fledged involvement in the South Caucasus developments. In the meantime, from the strategic viewpoint they need stability in this tiny region in order to stabilize the Eastern neighbors of the EU and to be able to deal with developments in the Broader Middle East.
The limited level of their activity in the South Caucasus is aimed at preventing any further destabilization of the region, whether an escalation of regional conflicts or increase of the intrastate instability.
In addition, some aspects of the transformation on-going among the three main stakeholders – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, must be noted in the region. Among them more dangerous is the high probability of a resumption of war in the area of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Therefore, a significant segment of the activity of Armenia in the European and Euro-Atlantic directions directly depends on the developments in the area of the conflict.
The August 2008 war clearly indicated the borderlines of cooperation between Armenia and NATO, at least in the middle-term perspective. Both sides are quite comfortable with the existing level of cooperation, which might be characterized as a pragmatic relationship, yet a relationship that includes with some objective bilateral limitations that will restrict all accelerated improvement.
Thus, first, it is obvious that Armenia being accommodated the Russian-lead security alliance, i.e. the Collective Security Treaty Organization tries to avoid any step which could be considered by Russia as unfriendly and provocative.
Second, NATO as a major and strong security organization in Eurasia has no intention to become involved in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. However, it considers further participation in post-conflict management.
Third, restrained behavior of the West, and NATO in particular, during the August 2008 war was a clear indication of NATO limited options in the region where Russian strategic interests are clear.
Unlike Georgia, Armenia doesn’t consider NATO as a guarantor of its security. So, some kind of reluctance or restricted engagement of the Alliance in South Caucasus affairs, will not significantly affect NATO’s level of cooperation with Armenia.
As for the European Union, the war on Georgian territory provided it with some sort of carte blanche in the region, as far as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia consider it as an alternative to Russian and U.S. influence. The situation in general is favourable for a more active EU engagement.
The programs providing by the European Union in the soft security sector are offered to Armenia multi-dimensional opportunities to strength its democratic structures. The aim was to create a basis for the sustainable development of the country. In spite of the world financial crisis, some steps to implement this very program have been taken by both the EU and the Armenian government.
In the meantime, unlike NATO, the EU, as far as possible, is engaged in conflict management processes in the region, providing to some extend not only humanitarian assistance to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also monitoring the situation in the areas of the so-called ‘Georgian’ conflicts. In case of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, according to official information, “depending on developments regarding a peaceful settlement of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, the EU should also be ready to provide specific assistance related to all aspects of conflict settlement.”
The weakest point of the EU engagement in the region is that all its initiatives also attach significant importance to regional cooperation; so, it is not evident at all how Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will implement cooperation, given an array of disagreements, especially in their approaches to the settlement of the conflicts.
It is necessary to note that the “Eastern Partnership” was understood quite negatively by Russia, which considers this initiative as the EU attempt to shape its new sphere of influence and as a “process directed against Russia.” However, Russia has used the newly established status quo in the South Caucasus in a way most advantageous for itself and actually succeeded in keeping the South Caucasus under its direct control.
For Armenia there are some objective and subjective obstacles which limit its opportunities, first, in the cooperation with NATO and the EU, and, second, affect its further prospects for integration into the European Union.
Among the external factors, I would like to single out:
– Russia’s strong economic and military presence in Armenia;
– Russia’s growing political pressure in respect to some directions of Armenian foreign policy;
– Limitations upon a NATO and EU active involvement in South Caucasus affairs which partly result from their internal restraint opposed to more engagement in the region;
– A fragile stability in the area of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, and, finally,
– Ambiguities in the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement process.
Some internal developments in Armenia also can be considered as obstacles against – or at least as limitations upon an accelerated integration into the EU, in particular:
– Possible growing tensions along the ‘state – opposition’ axis with the consequence of further destabilization of the nation’s political situation;
– The decrease of the rating of Armenia, according to assessments of the international organizations, in different spheres. It will require strong and full-fledged efforts from the government and society in general to preserve and intensify democratic transformations, including areas such as the rule of law, good governance, human rights, anticorruption policy and poverty reduction measures;
– Possible resumption of military actions in the area of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict;
– Uncontrolled developments in the Armenian economy against the background of the present economic crisis and social instability.
It is possible to conclude that there are two – in some respects – separate tracks for Armenia:
– increasing cooperation with NATO within certain limits;
– possible integration in the long-term perspective into the European Union.
To achieve success in both directions requires from the Armenian government, from the one side, strong efforts and flexibility, based on the continuity of the politics of complementarity. In addition, the Armenian government needs to convince the Euro-Atlantic institutions, and its own society of its serious intent to adopt and implement European standards in regard to the main directions of nation-wide developments.
Furthermore, it is necessary to take into consideration the time factor and to use properly the current peak of interest in the Euro-Atlantic institutions and nations vis-à-vis our region.
March 25, 2010