Armenia's National Policy
Senior Analyst, International Relations
Analyst, Regional Studies
Analyst, Middle East Affairs
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Republic of Armenia, having regained its sovereignty, was for the first time given the opportunity of having an independent foreign policy. Given the fact that its vulnerable geographic location created a security problem, from the very first day of independence Armenia embarked on a policy of cooperation with all neighboring countries and world states, based on the role of those states in the new geopolitical, geostrategic and geoeconomic environment, taking into account the core Armenian strategic interests.
In order to develop and implement an appropriate foreign policy doctrine, Armenia would have to clarify its position in regional processes. It also would have to direct its efforts toward the role which the world and regional states have been and are expecting from Yerevan regarding the fulfillment of its own strategic goals.
This difficult problem became more complicated because the Armenian people came out of the former Soviet Union in political-military conflict with Azerbaijan over the unsolved issue of Mountainous Karabagh. Right from the start, this fact complicated the fulfillment of the chosen Armenian foreign policy, because the unregulated nature of the conflict had predetermined the inevitability of joint opposition of a number of states in the region. These states were trying to materialize their strategic goals in the region, using the problem of Mountainous Karabagh as a geopolitical and economic instrument.
Thus, on one hand the fact that the Karabagh conflict remained unregulated noticeably restricted the diplomatic mobility of official Yerevan. On the other hand, it strengthened the capacities of world and regional states to influence Armenia for the benefit of their own policies. This means that the factor of the unregulated issue of Mountainous Karabagh, as well as the presence of other unresolved ethnic political conflicts on the southern borders of the post-Soviet expanse, provided opportunities to influence the shaping and disposition of regional forces, leading to a new division of spheres of influence for global and regional powers. It is not surprising, therefore, that Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Iran are actively involved in efforts to regulate the Mountainous Karabagh conflict.
Duly recognizing the important role particularly of Iran and of Turkey in regional processes, it is worth noting that the main players in this field remain Russia and the United States. In short, the disposition and contours of contemporary regional forces depend mainly on Moscow-Washington relations. That is, will these relations develop into internecine conflict or will they develop in harmony, based on the regional interests of the two powers? The point is that relations among the regional states hinge to a large extent on relations between Russia and the United States.
Regional conflicts in the Caucasus, which reflected relations between Moscow and Washington after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, became a primary reason for the collision of the interests of world and regional powers along different strategic, political, and economic lines: Washington-Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku; Washington-Ankara-Tel Aviv; Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran; Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova (GUUAM); Tbilisi-Baku; Tbilisi-Yerevan. This colorful palette of vectors of interest represents nothing other than the direct consequences of attempts by the U.S. to establish its influence in the region, Russian attempts to maintain its influence, and the resulting Russo-American tension.
It is quite understandable that the process of forming axes of allegiance does not in any way fit within the principles of Armenian foreign policy. Armenia's security interests cannot allow the state to enter into any alliance or union. At the same time, again from the viewpoint of security, Armenia cannot wholly distance itself from ongoing regional processes. This factor compels Yerevan to choose the "golden mean," that is, as long as the Karabagh issue remains unsettled, and in order to ensure its national security, Armenia must maintain a foreign policy that takes into account the interests of regional as well as international powers.
The conditions that determine Yerevan's approach are:
- Armenia's posture vis-à-vis U.S. and in general Western policies which are aimed at gradually reducing Russian influence in the region;
- Armenia's posture vis-à-vis Russian policies in the region aimed at maintaining Russian influence; and
- Armenia's posture vis-à-vis international policies aimed at moderating Turkey's active participation in the affairs of the Caucasus.
Armenia's position is quite definite under these circumstances. Currently, Armenia is the key element of the regional balance, with its role of restraining the ardent zeal of Turkic countries in the region, namely Azerbaijan and Turkey. Thus, Armenia's role is to be an important factor not only in the regulation of Russian-Turkish relations, but also in the definition of relations among Turkey, the United States, and Western European countries.
This role gives Armenia a guarantee of a stable security given the international interests in tempering Turkish regional expansion. As Russia, the U.S., and a number of European countries bear similar benefits in this connection, involvement in the Eurospace becomes the general direction of Armenian national policy. This provides harmony in Yerevan's relations with Moscow and Washington.
"The basis of our foreign policy is currently the principle of complementarity," Armenian President Robert Kocharian recently declared in an interview with the correspondent of "Moskovskie Novosti." In fact, this principle has been implemented in such Armenian measures as participataion in the CIS collective security agreement; cooperation within NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program; development of economic collaboration with Russia, a country with which Armenia is connected by an agreement of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance; and involvement in the TRACECA and INOGATE programs, which aim, inter alia, at limiting Russian influence in the region.
At the same time, Armenia is attempting to establish direct economic contacts with regional countries, including Turkey and Azerbaijan. Georgian-Armenian relations play a significant part in this policy. Armenian-Iranian relations also play a special role in the region, taking into consideration that the unresolved Karabagh conflict constitutes an opportunity for Iran to conduct policies aimed at restricting U.S., Turkish, and Israeli penetration into the region.
New, if still theoretical horizons are opening for Armenia's relationship with and in the Near East. Given American attempts to constrain Russia from the region, Armenia has to look for partners but avoid alliances. While retaining and deepening its traditional friendships with Arab countries, Armenian is also interested in maintaining constructive contacts with Israel as well.
Based on its national priorities, Armenia's foreign policy opens up the following opportunities:
- Invitation of world attention from the Karabagh issue onto the matter of Armenia's relations with world and regional powers. In fact, Armenia's foreign policy could be a decisive factor in the final configuration of forces in the region.
- Neutralization of Azerbaijan's international strategy aimed at isolating Armenia by resort to oil and other factors.
- Development into a stabilizing factor in the area by preventing the entry of third-party military forces in the region under the guise of peacemaking. This approach could lead to direct, systematic contacts among the conflicting sides if a mutually acceptable solution is to be found through reciprocal compromises.
The Armenian principle of complementarity, which is lacking in Azerbaijan, seeks to target promotion of the new, comprehensive proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen (American, Russian, and French) under whose aegis the solution of the Karabagh issue currently rests. These proposals stipulate the solution of the Karabagh problem on the basis of the "common state" principle. It is well known that Armenia and Karabagh have accepted these proposals, which more or less reflect the regulation precepts suggested by Yerevan and Stepanakert. These tenets are: the equal legal status of the conflicting sides, impossibility of Karabagh's return to enclave status, and guaranteed security for its population.
Although Baku has rejected these proposals, the reaction it expected from international intermediaries and from the U.S. did not materialize. Even Baku's proposal for the placement of NATO military bases on the territory of Azerbaijan fell on deaf ears. Russia and China, to which Azerbaijan had appealed to stop shipments of military materiel to Armenia, ignored those pleas.
With experience as guidepost, Armenia in the coming years should take into consideration the comparative advantages of all regional and leading world states. In the end, this policy will result in a positive correlation of benefits. Broad horizons of cooperation, transparency, and a public character in Yerevan's foreign policy represent the basic and necessary preconditions for Armenia's security, its socioeconomic and cultural development, and the fulfillment of Armenian national interests.