Regional Cooperation of South Caucasus States: Illusions, Reality, Perspectives

Zaur Shiriyev*

The South Caucasus is a region where a number of unresolved conflicts still exist in the absence  of  regional  security  arrangements.  Indeed,  three  unresolved  (Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia) conflicts of the South    Caucasus can be considered as one of the most serious obstacles for establishing a regional security system. The article gives brief information about security problems of the region and analyzes the perspectives of the realization of regional co-operation.

The South Caucasus region represents the most problematic region within the post-Soviet area in terms of regional security concerns. The regional security situation in the South Caucasus is best described as “security deficit,” a term used by authors of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University(1). The security deficit stemming from the interrelated and unregulated security threats described above have plagued the region for a considerable time. The increasing importance of the South Caucasus in the aftermath of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have now made the security deficit a threat not only to regional security but to that of Euro-Atlantic interests as well. The need for institutionalized security arrangements to manage, reduce and if possible resolve the security threats in the region has become palpable. In fact, it is increasingly apparent that failure to provide security is impeding the building of viable sovereignty in the region.

One may agree or disagree with these assumptions. However, it is hard to deny that the political situation in the Caucasus is unique, unstable and even hazardous in terms of the perspectives of the regional security. This fact has been highlighted in August 2008 during Russia -Georgia war which resulted Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Today, security threats in the South Caucasus will remain serious, complex and urgent. At the center of these concerns are three protracted unresolved conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These conflicts pose major risk to regional states, population and regional security as a whole.

“The increasing importance of the South Caucasus in the aftermath of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have now made the security deficit a threat not only to regional security but to that of Euro-Atlantic interests as well.”

Clearly, conflicts fuel those new dangers that threaten the nations in the entire Euro-Atlantic space. Namely these are ethnic and religious extremism, international organised crime, human trafficking, illegal trade in drugs, and what is particularly perilous, the existence of uncontrolled territories, or the so-called “white spots”, which provide shelter to international terrorists and allow them to develop relevant infrastructure.

Therefore, as a solution to the problems, it is extremely important to create hostility among the region states and others, which follow its interests in the region and aspire to keep the balance between their interests. How this cooperation can be achieved? If we get answers to this question, it will be possible for us to find a permanent solve to the problems in the region.

Regional Co-operation: Two Approach

However, despite the integration of the Caucasus supported by the world union, because of the objective and subjective reasons it remained as an abstract model. Despite several studies of the political and economic problems in the Caucasus, it is controversial to say Russia or the West will determine the future of the Caucasus. To be more accurate, it is an issue of correlation between the settlement of the conflicts and establishment of the co- operation based on the factor of time. The question is: should the co- operation be established before or after the settlement of the conflicts? There are two concepts for resolving the said dilemma.

“it is controversial to say Russia or the West will determine the future of the Caucasus.”

According to the first concept, the economic or any other type of cooperation should be embarked only once the problems are resolved. It will be right to start integration with Georgia and Azerbaijan, which have many common opportunities and facilities in the South Caucasus. In this point, the West farthest extending point of Turkey will directly be able to contribute to this integration. Armenia is the latest country to join integration process. Because Armenia has Nagorno-Karabakh problem with Azerbaijan, with the Armenians in Cavalheti region, it has a problem with Georgia. Therefore, without solving these problems, its entrance to the integration with other countries without obstacles is almost impossible. Although, they made rapprochement with Turkey, especially, on this issue, themselves are approaching reluctant because of the domestic political factors and pressure of the Diaspora. The position of Baku is mostly negative and fair towards trilateral regional cooperation. Azerbaijan has expressed its reluctance to collaborate with Armenia until the Karabakh conflict is resolved and all the occupied territories are returned to the Azerbaijan jurisdiction.

The core idea of the second concept adopted by Armenia is that the paramount importance of settling the existing problems is accepted. Moreover, according to the concept, the addressing of the problems is the key issue for ensuring the regional security. The supporters of the second concept (Armenia) believe that the establishment and advancement of the cooperation between the conflicting sides would change the situation and create more favourable political conditions, rein- force the mutual confidence, change the mentality of the people and, hence, open new horizons for the peaceful and civilised settlement of the conflicts.

As a being a party to blame for lack of economic and security cooperation intra-regionally, Yerevan has proposed that regional cooperation should start from the formulation and accomplishment of concrete doable tasks(2). Karapetian, formulated the position of Yerevan as follows:

‘Armenia… believes that close cooperation in the region, whether political, economic or security-based, will help to bring lasting stability and prosperity based on a sense of solid and shared emergent values’(3). Today when Russia is rethinking its role in world affairs, given the weakening of its economic and military capacities, Armenia has not got leeway in making its choices.

The Best Example of Regional Cooperation: Azerbaijan and Georgia

The contemporary example of strong regional partnership between Azerbaijan and Georgia, two nations with very different dominant ethnic and religious groups, Shows that not only a cooperative arrangement within the South Caucasus is possible, but also that it is, clearly, in the interest of its participants. Moreover, the Azerbaijani-Georgian cooperation has had a strong impact on the wider region, among other things, the largest infrastructure project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, or BTC, pipeline, and by having served as the core for the GUAM, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

Such cooperation is not based on history, but rather on the ability of both Baku and Tbilisi to overcome existing obstacles for a vision of a common future of the Caucasus. For the South Caucasus’ common future to be fully realized, however, Armenia must be a part.

“Armenia … believes that close cooperation in the region, whether political, economic or security-based, will help to bring lasting stability and prosperity based on a sense of solid and shared emergent values.”

Presently, Armenia stands largely separate from its two Caucasian neighbors and, unable to develop relations with Tur- key, generally, acts more as an observer rather than a participant in the emerging partnerships in the region. It seems that if Azerbaijan and Georgia are fixated on the regional future, the Armenian thinking is still preoccupied by its past. Thus, not much room is left for thinking about the present; perhaps, a common trend for transitional periods.

As the regional projects expand and develop further, Armenian non -participation increasingly turns into a limitation for integration in the South Caucasus as a whole and destructive isolation for Armenia itself. Should the current tendency of entrenching positions both in Baku and Yerevan continue, with time it might be even more difficult to bridge the differences and help Armenia to become a fully integrated member of the South Caucasus region.

Comprehensive integration in the South Caucasus, thus, can be achieved through the formulation and acceptance of a common political identity based on the interests of the Caucasian states and their citizens. However imperfect, Azerbaijani -Georgian relations provide evidence for the feasibility of such integration and a model of recognition through the accommodation of both the interests of the individual states and of the entire region.

Another important element of the partner- ship between Baku and Tbilisi is the ability to overcome mutual historic and more recent emotional grievances as well as an understanding that all unresolved issues could be addressed through bilateral negotiations. Arguably, only such accommodation can serve as the basis for sustain- able regional identity. One psychological factor that seems to underpin any such identity is the appreciation of the Caucasus being a common neighborhood for all of its citizens. Without an appreciation of this commonality, a regional cooperative arrangement is not likely to be effective.

As it seen, the integration process in the Caucasus will be realized gradually, with extremely difficult and Slow steps. Some differences in the process of integration of the Caucasus may occur, that is to say, the targets for the previous stages may be realized in the latest stages or the opposite.


The relatively South Caucasus has become a zone of widely spread confrontations and conflicts. Very often many countries, including the powerful states, pursue their own political, strategic and economic goals at the expense of the interests of the other countries; it became evident that the idea of establishing cooperation between the countries of the South Caucasus region is a more unrealistic but need to consider some ideas. Below some ideas on ensuring security and cooperation in the South Caucasus region are given in light of the current political situation and balance of forces:

First: The regional security and realization of cooperation should base on the two “No”s:

a. “No” to engagement of quasi states to the cooperation process between inter – states;

b. “No” to the apply the Kosovo case as a solution mechanism for the exciting conflicts in the South Caucasus region;

Second: The realisation of cooperation should base on the two “Yes”s:

a) “Yes” to more effective Western engagement to the peace negotiation process of Nagorno- Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetian conflicts;

b) “Yes” to restoration of territorial in- tegrity of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

“Comprehensive integration in the South Caucasus, thus, can be achieved through the formulation and acceptance of a common political identity based on the interests of the Caucasian states and their citizens.”

Third: While the old conflicts occupy the minds of policy-makers in South Caucasus and in the international organizations, more efforts should be made to prevent new potential interethnic conflict from erupting.

Four: This should be taken into account that the region faces potential threats as spill over of insecurity from neighboring regions, particularly the Russian North Caucasus and a prospect of future conflict in Iran over its nuclear programme would have a detrimental affect on the South Caucasus region.

Five: Support for an immediate and effective ceasefire including an active commitment by responsible local commanders to its implementation.

Six: In the long run development of regional cooperation initiative between all regional states along the lines of Turkish initiative for Regional Stability and Cooperation Platform which includes 3 South Caucasus state plus Russia and Turkey should be encouraged. In the short term it is important to support integration of regional states in wider initiatives and organizations such as Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and OSCE.

Seven: Convening of the international conference on security problems of South Caucasus under the auspices of OSCE (or EU) with the participation of the three South Caucasus republics and regional players (Turkey, Iran, Russia). The purpose of the conference would be the determination of the fundamental solutions to the aforemen- tioned problems which would be mandatory and universal for everyone.

Eight: Full support initiatives within the framework of the EU “Eastern Partnership” new program consultations on regional cooperation perspectives contribute to the pursuit of optimal regional security architecture in the South Caucasus. But, after analyzing current situation it will be easy to discuss EU’s attempt’s efficiency.

To sum up cooperation and effective regional security system, the Southern Caucasus has come to the crossroad. Either region will begin to integrate into Europe, anchor into the Euro-Atlantic security system and develop into an effective barrier to the proliferation of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and organised crime or there will be a wholesale deterioration of security and a new gateway to Europe will open for ethnic conflict, terror and insecurity. PR

* Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst based in Azerbaijan.

1) Svante E. Cornell,Roger N. McDer- mott,William D. O’Malley,Vladimir Socor, S. Frederick Starr , “Building Stability in the South Caucasus: The Role of NATO and Multilateral Security Organizations,” Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, The Johns Hopkins University; Apr.21, 2004
2) Libaridian, G. J. (1997, June 23). The Politics of Promises. Conference titled the Transcaucasus Today: Prospects for Re- gional Integration.
3) Karapetian, V. (2001). Some Aspects of Foreign Policy in Armenia: an Armenian View of Regional Economic Cooperation as a Prerequisite for the Establishment of a Stable and Secure Environment in the Cau- casus. In P. Hardouin, R. Weichhardt & P. Sutcliffe (Eds.). (2001).



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