Dr. Gayane Novikova
There are some positive examples in the history when the regional cooperation was the only base for overcoming the conflicts and establishment a stability in different vulnerable areas. The recent one is the situation in the Balkans (in some context its conflicting potential has preserved, but there is an exact trend toward stabilization for a long-term perspective.)
Unfortunately, in case of the South Caucasus there is a lack of optimism as far as the situation in and around the South Caucasus in the terms of hard security has not improved; moreover the conflict potential of the region is growing.
There are some specific internal and external factors both objective and subjective, which promote the growing security deficit in the South Caucasus; as far as all three South Caucasian states are not self-sufficient either politically, or economically, any change in the external environment has its reflection on their behavior models in both external and internal levels, which, in return, increases insecurity and instability of the region and can negatively impact on the situation along the EU eastern borders.
As a result of the mutual impact of the complicated range of factors there is and there will be:
-increasing tensions in areas of all three unresolved conflicts and their balancing on the verge of the war resumption;
-growing militarization of the region with growing government spending for armament in both recognized states and non-recognized entities;
-crises after the parliamentary and presidential elections in Georgia and Armenia, and anticipated crisis after the forthcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan;
-growing lack of trust between the authorities and population;
-uncontrolled migration from all three states.
On this background, the lack of cooperation on the regional level is quite evident, and there are neither internal, i.e. regional force nor political will to be able to push Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to increase cooperation on bilateral level and establish it on the trilateral one.
That is why I would like to concentrate on the possible external positive influence in regards to the regional cooperation. Possible, because there is a lot of contradictions / confrontation between the main off-regional actors in their vision of the role and place of the South Caucasus within the European and Eurasian security systems.
Due to their own reasons, nowadays the off-regional actors are aimed at creation of some predictable and/or controllable situation in the South Caucasus.
The main if not an only off-regional actor, which pays attention on the regional cooperation is the European Union. It concentrated its efforts on the Neighborhood Policy, preferring to consider the South Caucasus as one already shaped up region and implementing a regional approach.
Vice versa, its subjects, i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, prefer to develop bilateral relations with the EU, and the regional cooperation is on the last place in their own scales of priorities.
Of course, today it is difficult enough to imagine how it would be possible to synchronize the point on regional cooperation, included into the Action Plans of all three states, when three unresolved conflicts and a number of latent conflicts still exist in the area of the South Caucasus.
In regards to the regional cooperation in the South Caucasus it is impossible to avoid the Turkey – South Caucasus relations, posing also a special aspect in the South Caucasus – European Union context.
Turkey consolidates its positions as a strong regional actor; while Russia’s policy in the South Caucasus, improving Russian-Turkish relations, the complex of the EU-Turkish relations as well as situation around Iran contribute to the increasing Turkish involvement into the South Caucasian developments. Russia and Iran actually open the field of action for Turkey, especially in Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Against that external background, relations between the states of the South Caucasus are first of all defined by the existing unresolved and latent conflicts. Because of all three states are the parties of one or another conflict, their models of political behavior in the international area determine by the different approaches to the conflicts resolution, which unfortunately is a direct obstacle for the trilateral cooperation on the regional level. So, cooperation of Azerbaijan and Georgia in the sphere of the conflict resolution and their direct (in case of Azerbaijan) and indirect (in case of Georgia) activity aimed on pushing or isolation of Armenia from any regional project, is very understandable.
In that way, the second block, defining relations among three states of the South Caucasus is development of communications and the level of economic cooperation. Unfortunately, there is no tripartite cooperation at all, taking into account the available division-lines, existing in the region. As for the communications, some of them are blocked, and some are extremely low-power.
Then, – the whole historic past as an original leitmotif, is fading away much faster than it could be imagined, so the claims of the title peoples to each other are gradually coming out to the forefront, especially in the sphere of culture.
Interdependence or even “complementarity” of all above-mentioned factors directly or indirectly impacts on the level of security of the three states – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, first of all, on the elaboration of approaches to the most cardinal and vital issues of the national security, taking into account the scale of priorities, where as it already mentioned, the regional cooperation is on about the last place.
Faced the similar problems like combat against corruption, poverty reduction, creation of favorable conditions for functioning of the market economy, establishment of the rule of law, increasing level of education and public healthcare, etc., each of the South Caucasian state is trying to tackle them with participation of external non-regional actors.
Unfortunately, even the necessity of cooperation in combating of non-conventional threats does not unite our states. Even more, taking into consideration the external political impact, assessment the neighbors by the three states by the “friend-enemy” scale with exclusion of any pragmatic approach, there is catching out of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan by different poles of confrontation.
However, the idea of Euro-integration is becoming a kind of “umbrella” for the South Caucasian states.
It allows to work out some mechanisms aimed at gradually decreasing the levels of tension, and consequently, those potential threats and risks for Europe, coming from the Middle East and Central Asia via the South Caucasus (terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal arms trade), or immediately from the zone of the South Caucasus (corruption, high rates of poverty, uncontrolled migration, trafficking in human beings).
Moreover, analyzing the situation in the South Caucasus it should be emphasized that success in implementation of programs is conditioned just by the level of stability in the region, which per se depends on the level of security, directly dependent on bilateral and trilateral relations of the key states. However, quite a paradox situation is now getting momentum here: their own security is not only considered autonomously from the security of their immediate neighbors, but rather is quite often based on exclusion of the neighbor/neighbors from the security system, or at least, on limitation of its/their scope of activity.
For the South Caucasian states, where security of each is based not on interaction with immediate neighbours in the region, but is rather tied up exclusively with outside forces, the regional approach is considered as inevitable decrease of the level of their own security. And although such approach has a multidimensional explanation and to some extent it is even justified, it is what makes the existing division lines more viable and produces new ones.
In the short-term perspective, not only there are no objective preconditions, but there is no intention on the part of the key players to overcome their contradictions and start creating security environment that would lead to common development of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan and help resolve their disagreements.
In the long-term perspective, some targeted and persistent encouragement from outside, in particular, implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy, aimed at creating appropriate conditions to, let say, force countries to cooperate on the regional level and to push Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan towards cooperation and participation in the European integration projects, may stimulate their positive interest in each other.
Today the existing realities hardly give any substantial hopes for optimism, however, the lack of any other basis for resolution of the whole complex of the regional problems, where the approaches and aspirations of the three states could coincide, requires most serious attitude to the idea of the European integration by political elites in the South Caucasus.
As a positive trend it might be mentioned that the authorities and peoples in the South Caucasus have already got understanding that the European integration is the only choice for their sustainable development: on this direction might be created a qualitatively new system of relations between the parties to the conflicts in the South Caucasus and in a new security environment there could be found some frameworks for the peaceful resolution of the conflicts.
July 25, 2008