After recent principal changes in the geopolitical situation, the Black Sea region as a part of the Wider Europe has started to play a specific role in the European security system. In the meantime, the Black Sea region creates new opportunities for its member states, some of which unambiguously belong to the Europe, the others – Turkey, and three states of the South Caucasus have dual regional belonging. This circumstance determines the role of the mentioned states in the security of two mega-systems – the Wider Europe and the Greater (or Broader) Middle East.
It is absolutely clear that unstable security environment in the South Caucasus as a whole is the object of the European concerns. Although the European Union mentions the South Caucasus as the “new neighborhood” in the adopted documents, generally speaking, it is not ready to consider the states from this area as partners. However, along with the enlargement of its borders, the EU always stresses its interest in stability in the periphery.
There are a few positive aspects of inclusion of the South Caucasus into the area of the European strategic interests as an important periphery by security reasons, economical importance of the Caspian and Russian energetic sources for Europe and the geographical location of the South Caucasus.
Engaging three states – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan into the “New Neighborhood” program, stimulating their relations with NATO, and actually making a decision to start of a larger cooperation with the South Caucasian countries, European states and pan-European organizations will try to save them from possible threats, coming from that region. The search for so called non-conventional threats may be successful, first, in case of development of bilateral relations of each of the three states with European partners, and secondly, in case of forcing them to cooperate on the regional level.
Unfortunately, today any conversation about cooperation on sub-regional level by trilateral format is unrealistic. However, their involvement into the European security system and into the same macro-regional projects
– is urging them to play the same game with same rules;
– making the political behavior of three states more predictable and
– is creating the frames, maybe not for sub-regional cooperation, but, which is very important – for containment and prevention of a new wave of escalation any type of war in the mentioned area.
Singling out the Wider Europe and the Greater Middle East as macro-regional projects, it is necessary to take into account the fact that participation of the South Caucasian states in them is absolutely disproportional.
In the first project the South Caucasian states, formally now not neighbors for Europe, have got a role of some unstable periphery, which should be stabilize by all means. However, understanding of that goal does not mean that it will be priority for Old Europe in the visible future. As a matter of fact, engagement into the “new neighborhood” program is some carte blanche for Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. At the same time in the European processes the South Caucasian states will be objects of policy quite a long time, however disappointing it may sound. The elements of “subjectness” appear when European states decide some principle issues with their immediate neighbors; for example, the Armenia-Turkish relations in the context of Turkey-EU relations.
In the meantime, the engagement of Armenia and Georgia into the Wider Europe is in line with their civilizational choice. As for Azerbaijan, which is also a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Greater Middle East is closer by religious and cultural aspects. But, objectively, the Southern Caucasian states (including Azerbaijan) are badly blended with the Greater Middle East project:
– Georgia completely rejects its involvement in the macro-regional processes,
– Azerbaijan is seeking the role of one of the major oil and gas suppliers to the Western markets and therefore it will be considered by the oil exporting states as potential rival and will hardly become “one of them,”
– Armenia, vice versa, cannot be seen as such economic challenge in the Greater Middle East and, having very limited space for maneuvering, is trying to use the opportunities, which its participation in this project could provide.
The South Caucasus is doomed to passivity in both mega-projects. However, within the limits with some other configuration of the states of that region they can anticipate a role of an active player. One of such configurations is the project of the Wider Black Sea provides all three states with the opportunity of being subjects of policy.
Within the frames of the Black Sea region, the South Caucasian states on one hand have some possibilities for maneuvering; the comparative freedom of actions may be the first steps toward their transformation into the subjects not only for political space of the Black Sea region, but remote perspective also for the Wider Europe.
It is important that South Caucasus is becoming a part of the region, where the results of integration projects are, perhaps, most tangible, as far as in general the economic and political level of development of all Black Sea states is still far behind of the all-European standards, but it is almost the same just on the wider regional level. Moreover, all states of the region, that is still getting its shape, feel their secondary role on the all-European level and are trying to intensify their own efforts.
Thus there is an objective aspiration of the Black Sea states, having united, to use all advantages of their first of all geographic location also to get political dividends in the future.
Their intensified activity in almost all possible projects is explained by what I pointed out above. However, among the Black Sea states the struggle for leadership is gathering momentum. If not so long ago only Turkey and Rumania claimed for leadership, now after a number of “colored revolutions,” Georgia and Ukraine also have intentions to join the leaders. No wonder that some attempts are made to intensify the GUAM’s activity as an internal axis of the Wider Black Sea, taking into account the anti-Russian component of this political bloc as well.
It is very important for Armenia, which has a peripheral status in the Wider Black Sea project, to use the opening political opportunities, as well as some communication possibilities, allowing to be alternative for the connection of the states of the western coast of the Black Sea with Iran and Central Asia.
After the next wave of the EU enlargement, the South Caucasus will be border zone with the European Union just by sea. The Wider Black Sea can be intermediate level for a full-fledged participation of the South Caucasus states in the European processes. The actual deadlocked situation will force the South Caucasian states to search the ways to mutual understanding and shaping the regional security system on their own. In case if this approach succeeds, the importance and attractiveness of the South Caucasus will grow for both – the West and East.
May 5, 2005