Interview of Dr. Gayane Novikova, Director of the Center for Strategic Analysis Spectrum, President of the Marshall Center Armenian Alumni Association, Visiting Researcher, Harvard University (2008-2012), to the ArmInfo News Agency.
1. In your opinion, is there a collective security system in the South Caucasus? Could you please indicate the main security threats for Armenia within the context of the existing regional and global threats and challenges?
Unfortunately, the collective security system in the South Caucasus does not exist and cannot exist in the foreseeable future because of the completely different scale of the threats to all three regional states, i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The level of interest of each nation toward each other is also dissimilar. Their perception of each other is very diverse – from “strategic partner” to “main enemy.” Thus, their relationships are shaped on the basis of their political interests and on the exclusion of “reluctant” neighbors. If Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are unable to create a unified economic system, they cannot establish a collective security system.
As concerns the main threats of Armenia’s security, they can be indentified mainly by reference to the established military and political balance in the region. The first involves the potential threat of a resumption of the overt stage of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The second concerns the existence of two closed borders that diminish the economic potential of Armenia and promote its artificial isolation. However, a distinction in this respect must be made clear: whereas the closure of the border with Azerbaijan can be viewed as the logical aftermath of the Karabakh war, the closure of the border with Turkey must be seen as resulting from a political decision taken in 1993 by the Turkish leadership. The latter contains a significant emotional component, and hence must be considered irrational.
There are serious problems with Georgia. Unfortunately, they still have not been resolved at the level of bilateral relationships. They are more visible in Samtskhe-Javakheti/ Javakh. If we add to this list the intensive development of trilateral cooperation between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, then we can conclude that a combination of strategic interests of Georgia with the strategic interests of Armenia will be difficult to establish. Owing of the absence of a neighborly relationships with Turkey and the continuing “neither war, nor peace” stage in all relations with Azerbaijan, any instability in Georgia may well become ramified in a manner that threatens Armenia’s security.
The increasing presence of Russia in the region is also controversial. For Armenia the preservation and strengthening of the current level of the relationship with Russia is vital. In the meantime, it is necessary to intensify broader cooperation with the European Union and the U.S. – not least because any escalation of the conflict between Russia and Georgia will bring an indirect security threat for our nation.
In the South, any escalation of the situation around Iran and inside Iran will impact Armenia only negatively.
On the global level I would mention, as a main security threat to Armenia, any new wave of the global economic crisis. As occurred with the first crisis, any such new development will inevitably influence the Armenian economy. Out-migration constitutes one of indicators of economic developments. In case of countries like Armenia, that is, nations with limited resources and limited opportunities to be integrated into the world economic space, migration has already become a serious factor that influences national security.
2. You have mentioned the situation around Iran. In your opinion, how can its transformation into the military phase influence Armenia? What could Yerevan do to secure our country, even if only partly, against the aftermaths of military intervention in Islamic Republic?
I am not a specialist on Iranian affairs, or a specialist in military planning, therefore I cannot allow to myself to speculate on this theme. However, it is obvious, that for Armenia a war will lead at a minimum to a temporary closure of another border, and the termination of all existing economic projects with Iran and the transportation of Iranian goods through the Armenian territory. Furthermore, it will provoke a flow of Iranian refugees to Armenia (as well as to Azerbaijan). We can hardly expect that the immigrants will be the representatives of the well provided strata of the Iranian population. Thus, Armenia be placed under a heavy burden to provide shelter, food, medication, etc. for these people. Yerevan is highly interested in prevention an escalation of conflict. However, I don’t see any mechanisms in place that will protect Armenia against the negative impact of all this – incomplete – list of potential problems.
3. Is the situation in Syria a part of the common global process? In your opinion, could they have an impact upon developments in the South Caucasus in any way?
Of course, it is a part of the “global process,” if you have in mind those changes that began in February of 2011, in the Arab world. Exactly one year ago the developed countries enthusiastically welcomed the first “swallows” of the Arab spring. This awakening then became transformed into civil wars in Libya and Syria; it brought to power moderate Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt. The vigorous discussions on the rapid democratization of the Arab world have almost disappeared from the Western media. Many politicians seem to be attempting to avoid a public discussions around this theme. However, the West as a whole understands quite well that, if an avalanche is to be avoided, which will include radical Islamization of the Arab states and uncontrolled migration, significant economic assistance will be necessary. It appears quite possible, against this background, that economic assistance to those countries that are more stable and secure will be reduced: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia..
The processes in Syria, as well as a situation around Iran increase instability in the region directly adjacent to the South Caucasus. In its status as a regional power, Turkey is more and more becoming involved into the conflicts with its immediate neighbors. It does so against the background of its own growing domestic tensions. And this is another dangerous trend for Armenia.
4. Is it possible to predict further developments in Armenian-Turkish relationships, taking into consideration the existed historical, political, and military realities in our region?
In addition to the objectively existed processes in the region, I would pay attention to the different level of interest of Armenia and Turkey in establishing and improving bilateral relations. The absolute foreign policy priority for Turkey has already become developments in the Middle East. All the problems related to Armenia have been relegated to a second-level of importance. It is not be excluded that further developments in this bilateral relationships will depend upon the results of the parliamentary elections in Armenia and the presidential elections in Turkey. However I would not expect the serious shifts in the Armenian dimension of the Turkish policy even if strong pressure were to be placed upon Turkey by, first of all, the U.S. and France.
5. Does the Armenian leadership adequately consider the long- term geopolitical perspectives in reference to the new realities that characterize the security environment of the XXI century? How confidently does Armenia fit into this environment?
I believe it does. There are three main goals. First, to preserve the existing military-political balance in the region and to prevent political drift toward one of the non-regional actors, whether Russia, the U.S., or the EU. Second, to prevent the resumption of the military stage of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Third, to secure the country against a deep economic crisis. These goals can be considered as belonging to the mid-term perspective; however, one cannot speak about the long-term perspectives without considering these issues. Armenia is trying to fit into the changing security environment in the broader region. To some extend our country has attained the goal of becoming a significant actor in the political processes in the South Caucasus region. It is our major achievement up to the present.
6. What could be the results of the on-going arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan if we take into consideration that both parties, to varying degrees, sacrifice in this process social and economic developments and strengthening of each society?
The arms race cannot lead to anything good, especially if viewed from the perspective of the social and economic development each state is engaged in. Today Azerbaijan possesses more economic possibilities owing to its capacity to produce and transport energy sources. In the meantime, the huge expenditures for armaments, in parallel with insignificant improvement of life conditions for the majority of the population and against the background of the expanding Islamist moods in the society, create fertile ground for increasing public dissatisfaction. In Armenia an awareness that the arms race is imposes by Azerbaijan is widespread. Thus, it is understood as necessary to strengthen the army and the nation’s defense capabilities.
7. Armenia’s security environment includes not only external, but also internal processes. The latter, unlike external processes, can be controlled domestically. In your opinion, do the Armenian authorities control internal security?
The forthcoming parliamentary elections will answer your question. I would mention as a main component of the internal security the ability of both the government and the opposition to be engaged in a civilized political dialogue, one aimed at the achievement of real results, rather than to be “a dialogue for the sake of a dialogue.” In the end, the level of the internal security and stability defines in many respects the level of the external security.