Baku-Yerevan: Competition For West

By Sergey Markedonov

“Asia is not dead… Only its boarders have changed for good. Now Baku lies within Europe and this is not a coincidence. As there are no Asians in Baku anymore.” The kind of evaluation to the geopolitical situation established in the first quarter of the previous century was given by one of the main characters of a cultic novel “Ali and Nino” of Safar-han Shirvanshir. Another character of “Ali and Nino” was an officer of Russian imperial army, and later a creator of a new national army of Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (1918-1920) Ilyas-bek made a conclusion that only the “reforms of European type” will secure the country of external danger.

Analyzing the results of the Representative Conference “NATO: the Factor of Peace and Democracy for the Last Sixty Years”, recently held in Azerbaijani capital, it’s difficult to get rid of the feeling that current authorities of Azerbaijan perceive many conclusions of the famous literature composition as the guide to action. In fact, in the Republic the Azerbaijani Union of Writers thinks, that the author, hiding behind the ethnic Azerbaijani pseudonym “Kurban Said” is a diplomat Yusif Chamanzaminli. The above mentioned Representative Conference in Baku was visited by the US representative, American Political Advisor to NATO Jennifer Davis. Note, that the activity of the forum hasn’t been covered completely for the press. And nevertheless, we can clear up some significant points thanks to the open sources.

Jennifer Davis thinks that one of the main objectives of cooperation between the North Atlantic Alliance and Azerbaijan is the “establishment of stable democracy” within the region. The given thesis seems to be a contradicting one, as the “establishment of stability” doesn’t suggest dynamic development (which is on the contrary is resulted from the democratic procedure, allowing changing governments, presidents and parliaments regularly). As for stability there are no such problems in Azerbaijan. Nothing threats the power of Ilham Aliyev. Except for the usage of administrative resource within electoral procedures (which takes place within the whole post-soviet area) he has the resource of popularity, and his main political opponents “have stuck” with slogans of early 1990s. There are sufficient problems with democracy in Azerbaijan as well as within the CIS. Especially, considering the fact that in past the Head of this state withdrew constitutional limitations on two presidential legislatures for one person. And still for NATO in general and for the USA particularly, Azerbaijan remains to be an extremely important partner. Baku follows the secular line. Considering the fact that the rating of the USA within Islamic world has been stable low already for many years (even a negative one), the presence of Islamic state, the biggest within the Great Caucasus, having the way to Caspian Sea and to Central Asia through it, and by this all appealing to western values, is very important for the USA and their allies.

NATOThat is why democratic rhetoric of western diplomats allows to close the eyes on some “local peculiarities” (as the most important is the declared geopolitical vector) and to lead pragmatic cooperation within defense sphere. We remind that the necessity for Azerbaijan to join NATO was sounded on December 4th of 1991 (i.e. four days before signing of Belavezha Accords) by then a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic Guseinag Sadyhov. And in May of 1994 Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev signed an agreement on participation of his country in the program “Partnership for peace”. Then the third Head of Azerbaijani Republic gave the following evaluation of the Alliance: “Currently NATO as a real existing structure of collective security in the world assures the protection of democratic values and the spreading of these values within new independent states, occurred in Eastern Europe and the territory of former USSR”. Since then, the cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan has intensively developed and today the Republic stands at the level of (“Individual Partnership Action Plan” or IPAP).

Within the frameworks of IPAP today they built the prospects of interrelations of Baku with the Alliance. According Jennifer Davis, bilateral cooperation aims at “reforms of defense sector, establishment of civil control over armed forces, contribution into the development of military doctrine”. This is already something bigger than words about the “establishment of stable democracy”. According to the American diplomat, at the moment we are able to declare the successful cooperation of NATO and Azerbaijan in Afghanistan (the most troublesome area of the Alliance) and in Iraq. Azerbaijani contingent in Afghanistan is not that big, however, there is dynamics. It grew from 45 up to 90 people. By the existing lack of the will and desire of the US partners to participate in Afghan operation, each soldier becomes as precious as gold. Davis didn’t omit that in future Azerbaijan will be able to join the Alliance. But we hardly should overestimate the meaning of this statement. The kind of promises have been already given to Georgia and Ukraine. However, although they are not withdrawn from the agenda, they are still postponed for indefinite period. Anyway, another sign of the interest of NATO in Azerbaijan has been sent.

And here the most important problem is how will this sign be received and decoded. It’s not a secret that foreign policy activity of any independent CIS state is defined not with a soviet nostalgia and not with a pure intention to establish democracy and to become alike Europe. This is rhetoric.

Every single state has its objectives and priorities. Azerbaijani ones include the establishment of control over Nagorny Karabakh and neighboring areas occupied by Armenian forces. And we should understand that the views of NGOs on this issue can be even more radical than the official ones. The conference in Baku in March has once again underlined that. According to the Leader of the Association of Azerbaijani-Atlantic Cooperation Sulhaddin Akper, NATO should more soundly and clearly declare the goal like “further partnership with GUAM states and their protection from the aggression of Russia”. From the point of view of the former Presidential Advisor Vaf Guguladze, the North-Atlantic Alliance holds an observer position on the problems of Caucasus security, and particularly the one of Georgia with Azerbaijan.

This incites the thesis on intensification of NATO in the “protection of territorial integrity” of Caucasian (and in general post-soviet) Republics. Thus, inside Azerbaijan itself (once again remind that it is stronger within non-governmental sector than at the officials level) NATO first of all is perceived as a military-political resource, but not the instrument of modernization and moreover of democratization. And this should be kept in mind (considering the sad practice of Georgia) by this who sends optimistic signals to Eurasian capitals.

ArmenianMeanwhile the unclear moments within the relations between Azerbaijan and NATO are not limited only with bilateral format (or the kind of factors as pressure of Iran and Russia on Baku). Armenia collaborates with NATO the same intensive as Azerbaijan. These days Afghanistan spread the following information. Armenian soldiers who do their services there within the framework of German battalion have been highly estimated by its direct officership. Armenian soldiers (there are 40 of them today) do their services in the area of the airport Kunduz. The decision on sending of Armenian troops to Afghanistan was approved in December last year by the national parliament of Armenia. And this is not the first operation with Yerevan participation. Earlier, Armenian soldiers did their services within Polish contingent in Iraq. Today 70 soldiers in the Greek battalion do their services in NATO mission in Kosovo. And in this case there also is its egoistic motivation. Participation within NATO projects (which are characterized by Armenian President as important) helps Yerevan not to allow the monopolization of NATO subject by Baku. From the other hand, this forces the Alliance to calculate the costs from the possible one-way orientation within Great Caucasus. As a result, NATO doesn’t do any decisive choice not in any side, cooperating with two antagonistic states without striving for the role of intermediate within Karabakh conflict.

Summarizing, we have the following. The competition for “European-American resources” goes on. Without bias the kind of competition has its positive role, as together with a doubtful rhetoric it is accompanied by a real interaction of military-men and politicians of the two fighting states with the western system of values and more modern management. And in this case there is another place to quote from “Ali and Nino”. In the very beginning of the novel a professor Sanin of Baku men gymnasium pathetically cries out before his students “My children! Only You can join our city to the progressive Europe or undeveloped Asia”.
Translated by EuroDialogue from politcom.ru