Future of U.S.-Azerbaijani Relations

By Galib Mammadov

The strong relations between Azerbaijan and the United States are very important for both countries’ national and energy security. Both countries need to understand the importance of cooperation and need to take action to reinforce relations with each other.

Azerbaijan is the country that is home to hundreds of ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have been living in Azerbaijani lands in harmony for hundreds of years. It is one of the countries in which a mosque, a church and a synagogue are in peaceful co-existence. After 1996, the Azerbaijani government restored two synagogues which were devastated during Soviet rule. The U.S. considers itself as one of the most tolerant countries in the world to different religions and ethnic groups. Azerbaijani and U.S. religious and ethnic tolerance can be an example for many countries. The United States and Azerbaijan share the same values in terms of tolerance which makes collaboration at the government and citizen levels easier.

The close relations between the U.S. and Azerbaijan were established with the signing of the Contract of the Century, which requires the member companies to develop the Azerbaijani oil fields. The American oil companies received some of the biggest shares from the contract. The shares of American companies are as follows: AMOCO 17 percent, Pennzoil 9.8 percent, and Mc Dermott 2.4 percent. (Nasibli, Nasib. “Azerbaijan: Oil and Politics in the Country’s Future.” In Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region, by Michael P. Croissant and Bulent Aras, London : Praeger Publishers, 1998. pp 104-106)


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Azerbaijan experienced rapid GDP growth after receiving a tremendous amount of investment from the U.S. and other Western countries. Between the years of 2002-2008, the annual per capita GDP growth rate increased from 7.3% to 15.7 %. (2] Kalyuzhnova, Yelena. Economics of the Caspian Oil and Gas Wealth. New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.p 11) The imports in euro terms for the year of 2006 were higher in Azerbaijan than in countries like Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. (Vasily Astrov and Peter Havlik. Economic Developments in the Wider Black Sea Region: The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, September, 2008.p133) The rate of the poverty declined from 49% to 40 percent between the years of 2001 and 2004. (Kalyuzhnova, Yelena. Economics of the Caspian Oil and Gas Wealth. New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.p 11) We see considerable changes in the year of 2009 as poverty decreased to 11%. (CIA Factbook 2010) We see also progress in the inflation rate, which decreased from 20.8% to 1.5 % between the years of 2008 and 2009. (Ibid.)

It is important to mention that investments by U.S. corporations in the Azerbaijani oil sector played a pivotal role in the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries. During the Clinton administration, an American interest in the region began to grow especially in Azerbaijan because of its energy. Azerbaijan became a key point of interest for the Clinton administration as the United States officially signed a 10 billion dollar investment contract with Azerbaijan to develop its oil fields. (Nasibli, Nasib. “Azerbaijan: Oil and Politics in the Country’s Future.” In Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region, by Michael P. Croissant and Bulent [7]Aras, London : Praeger Publishers, 1998. pp 104-106)

The September 11 attacks brought the collaboration between the two countries to a higher level. Azerbaijan was amongst the first countries to offer the United States unconditional support in the war against terrorism, providing its airspace for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan was also the first Muslim nation to send its troops to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. forces in Iraq. Azerbaijan also joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program in 1994, which helped to deepen U.S.-Azerbaijani military cooperation. The Bush Administration primarily focused on military cooperation as the United States and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on this subject in 2002.

During the Obama administration, the U.S. interest in Azerbaijan began to decrease. For example, the United States did not invite the Azerbaijani president to the April 2010 Nuclear Summit held in Washington while Armenian and the Georgian officials were among the participants. Another indicator of the regression in bilateral relations is the fact that the U.S. did not appoint an ambassador to Azerbaijan for one year, and still the U.S. has no ambassador in the country.

Azerbaijan’s geopolitical location (located between countries like Russia and Iran) makes it important for U.S. national security interests. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s fast growing economy and energy projects like the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline which is important for Europe’s energy security makes the country an important player in the region. The U.S. support for Azerbaijan is very important for the country’s future political and economic successes. Azerbaijani officials need to promote and reinforce democracy in the country, which will help improve the U.S.-Azerbaijan partnership. The country’s strategists need to find ways to make the country more foreign direct investment friendly, which will help attract more investments from U.S. corporations. Similarly, Azerbaijani governmental and non-governmental parties need to inform U.S. officials and the people about the importance of Azerbaijan for the U.S. national and energy security. Such efforts on Azerbaijan’s part will aid the development of bilateral relations between the two countries.

On the other hand, U.S. government needs to appoint and confirm an ambassador to Azerbaijan. This will be a starting point for the reinforced relations between the two countries. The U.S. government also needs to increase its support for the projects like Nabbucco and the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline which are important for the Europe’s energy security. U.S. officials should encourage American corporations to invest in Azerbaijan’s energy and non-energy sectors. Such efforts will aim to further develop economic relations between the two countries. The next U.S. administration needs also to increase military cooperation with Azerbaijan which is very important for the both countries’ national security and for the peace in the Caucasus and the Central Asian region.
Galib Mammadov is an independent researcher/writer. He also does a research for Karabakh Foundation. Qalib got his Law degree from Baku State University. He also holds Master of Arts from Washington University in St Louis. Specific issues of interest are Unresolved Conflicts and Political Economy of the Multinational Corporations.
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