Armenia and the South Caucasus Security System

Dr. Gayane Novikova
September 15, 2017


The South Caucasus region is among the most vulnerable parts of Eurasia. Several external and internal factors greatly contribute to its instability. None can be analyzed separately owing to their interconnection, interaction, and mutual influence.

The most important factors have been defined by unresolved conflicts and the existence of three types of statehood in the region: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are internationally recognized states; Abkhazia and South Ossetia are semi-recognized state entities; and the Republic of Artsakh (until  February, 2017, the Nagorno Karabakh Republic) still is not recognized by any state. The vulnerability of the South Caucasus is rooted also in a lack of a very notion of regional security system: three main stakeholders of this area — Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia — bind their own security mainly to the different external powers. Moreover, unlike Georgia and Armenia, Azerbaijan builds and maintains its security without actively cooperating  with or being engaged in, any political-military bloc. To different degrees, each of these states has been excluding its immediate neighbor(s) from its security orbit.

Furthermore, the South Caucasus, being in a close proximity to the Middle East, faces the risk of becoming a target of the different Islamist terrorist organizations, that penetrate this region mainly from Syria, Turkey, and Afghanistan, as well as from the North Caucasus. Armenia’s security is quite sensitive to developments in the Middle East, especially in regard to a) the situation in Syria and the flow of Syrian refugees mainly of Armenian descent into Armenia, b) the Turkish-Iranian relations, and c) the regional implications of the Kurdish referendum on independence from  Iraq.

And, finally, the degree of instability in the South Caucasus has been defined also by the increasing or decreasing involvement in the regional processes of external powers, such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, the EU, and the U.S., and their interaction with each other. Any complications between the main external — to the South Caucasus — powers can lead to drastic changes in the security situation in this area.

Although the internal instability in all state entities of the South Caucasus has different roots,  the external factors influence the internal developments of these states significantly. In particular, a lack of strategic vision by Armenia’s political elites, combined with internal political, economic, and social problems, increases the vulnerability of Armenia to external threats.

From the security view point the case of Armenia is the most complicated. In many ways it has been characterized by its direct involvement in the Nagorniy Karabakh (NK) conflict and full-scale political, economic, diplomatic, and military support to the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh. This factor lies at the foundation of Armenia’s relationships with all its neighbors and limits its maneuverability. It does not have diplomatic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan — two of its immediate neighbors; it tries to achieve as highest as possible level of partnership with Georgia, and it seeks to preserve balanced relations with Iran. In the meantime, the Armenia-Russia relationship in many ways influences Armenia’s relationships with its immediate neighbors.