Avoiding the Next War in the South Caucasus


From Borut Grgic, the Wall Street Journal:  While most European governments are cutting defense spending to balance their budgets and curtail debt, there are at least two countries on the Continent that are doing the exact opposite: Azerbaijan and Armenia are both ramping up their defense spending , and have been doing so for the last several years. The two countries are locked in a frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and if the rest of Europe’s leaders don’t start taking it seriously, they could find themselves with another very hot war in the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a province in Azerbaijan, but Baku lost control over it in the 1993 war with Armenia. In addition to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian military occupies seven adjacent territories. Azerbaijan, rich in hydrocarbon reserves and the current darling of western energy companies, is finding the present situation untenable. One million internally displaced Azerbaijanis and a stale peace initiative spearheaded by the OSCE Minsk Group are partly to blame for Baku’s growing impatience.

More self-confident, richer, and with a military budget exceeding $3 billion, Azerbaijan is now in the process of convincing itself that fighting a war for the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh may not be a bad next move.

Aside from calling Azerbaijani officials warmongers, the European Union is not responding adequately either to Azerbaijan’s newfound self-confidence, or to the mounting tensions in the region. The root of this is the EU’s refusal to accept greater responsibility for security in the southern Caucasus. A corollary to this is that many European capitals prefer a cozy relationship with Moscow to building up security cooperation with the south Caucasus states. …

Direct and proactive European engagement could lessen the tensions in the region, and get Armenia and Azerbaijan back on talking terms. If Brussels fails and a new war breaks out in the Caucasus, EU security will be gravely compromised. Not only would a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan undermine Europe’s southern energy corridor, it would also impact the southeastern rim of the EU, making its members more vulnerable to asymmetric threats like smuggling and terrorism. Another war in the region can also further complicate Europe’s relations with Russia.

Mr. Grgic is the founder and chair of the transCaspian initiative at the European Policy Centre and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.  (photo: Reuters)

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