Security in the South Caucasus

Opening Address at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's 58th Rose-Ross Seminar in Baku, Azerbaijan, November 25-27, 2004

His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev, His Excellency Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Honorable Chairman Murtuz Aleskerov and Members of Parliament, and Esteemed Colleagues,

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has convened in Baku, focusing its discussions on NATO’s future role in the South Caucasus. The fact that we sit today in Azerbaijan illustrates the changes that have taken place in the foci and goals of the alliance, both geographically and substantially. The states of the South Caucasus are keen to have NATO expand its presence and cooperation in the region.  In parallel, the South Caucasus now plays an important role as a major transportation hub to NATO operations beyond the region in Afghanistan and to missions of member states in the Middle East.

NATO‘s missions and goals have changed dramatically since the Cold War, but it is not clear that it has succeeded in communicating these to the states of the South Caucasus. As NATO increases its presence and activity in the region, it should articulate its new purposes so as to create realistic expectations among the peoples of the region of what NATO can and cannot do for and in the South Caucasus.   Exaggerated expectations of what an association with NATO can endow the states with will only create disappointment and complicate relations between the Euro-Atlantic states and those of the South Caucasus.

The major security concerns of the South Caucasus are internal to the region: the war between two states of the region (Armenia and Azerbaijan), centered on control of Nagorno-Karabagh; and domestic threats to Georgia posed by two breakaway regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). In all of these conflicts, Russia’s policies have played a central role in their development, but can also play an important role in their resolution.

As NATO increases its activity in the South Caucasus, a number of principles are suggested:

Two-Way Learning between NATO and the South Caucasus  

The current members of NATO must engage with their new associates in two-way learning.  NATO can enhance the security of the region’s states, but it also must be recognized that the South Caucasus states can enhance the security of Europe and others by providing energy security, serving as a nexus of key transport routes to a variety of spheres, and contributing to nonproliferation efforts.  NATO can bring important technology and organizational principles to the states of region. The peoples of this region can, however, teach their NATO counterparts much. We sit here in Azerbaijan where, in 1918, the antecedent of this country adopted one of the most liberal and equalitarian constitutions. The 1918 Constitution of Azerbaijan granted all citizens equal rights, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. Women were granted suffrage in the early Republic of Azerbaijan before women received the vote in the United States, Sweden, or the United Kingdom, among many others.  Thus, NATO does not have to teach the states of the region about democracy and equality, but can support the emphasis of values that have been developed in their own culture and history. The term “European” values is not very useful as a term to connote democracy or peaceful resolution of conflicts, since these values are shared by many peoples outside of Europe, and — when used by foreigners — only serves to alienate those who are supposed to be encouraged to strive for democracy and peace.

TheCaucasus— NonProliferation Crossroads

One of the spheres where NATO can enhance its own security through expanded cooperation with the states of the South Caucasus is in the field of nonproliferation of materials, scientists, and technologies relevant for weapons of mass destruction programs. The Caucasus is an important crossroads of potential proliferation; thus, it can be an important checkpoint to prevent proliferation. To the north of the region, lie underguarded reservoirs of fissile materials and other substances that are useful for weapons of mass destruction programs. To the south of the region, lie states that aspire to gain capacities in nonconventional weapons as well as networks, as was run in Pakistan, that have already engaged in wholesale proliferation activity. Azerbaijan has already played a very positive role in obstructing potential proliferation via its territory, and the entire region can make such contributions.

Hard Security First

In recent years, a number of intellectual forces have attempted to extend the definition of security to include a variety of issues as diverse as democratization, health care, education, and protection of the environment. While all of these issues are important and worthy of promotion, they are not security. In fact, security is often a pre-condition to the promotion of these goals in addition to other worthy activity. NATO should focus its activity in the region on enhancing the basic security of the peoples and states of the region and should judge if it is accomplishing its goals here by the level of enhanced security achieved for the people of the region.  

Security Can Create Regional Cooperation— Not the Opposite

In the last decade, the United States and Europe have been promoting a policy of regional cooperation in the security sphere between the countries of the South Caucasus. The outside powers have hoped that building South Caucasus regional security cooperation would serve as a means of conflict resolution and cement ties with the Euro-Atlantic states. It seems that in the South Caucasus region, however, this idea of conducting serious regional security cooperation while conflicts are still raging between states at war is perceived as ineffective and nonsensical. How can Armenia and Azerbaijan conduct serious bilateral security cooperation when the two states are at war and view each other as their primary security threat?   We must recall the sequence in Europe: regional security cooperation emerged after the cessation of two rounds of war between the European states — it did not bring the conclusion of those wars. For genuine security cooperation to develop in the South Caucasus region, the conflicts here, first and foremost, must be resolved. Borders between the states of the region must be recognized and respected, residents of the region must know in which states they will be citizens, and sovereignties of various levels of government must be designated.

Russia’s Role Is Crucial to Region’s Security

Moscow played a pivotal role in fostering the main conflicts that afflict the South Caucasus. However, now, Russia can play a critical role in resolving these conflicts, especially in the case of Georgia’s secessionist regions. Moscow’s lack of support for Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze in his fall show-down with Tbilisi shows that Russia’s stances on security issues in the region are evolving and that some flexibility can be found. For successful conflict resolution in the South Caucasus, security arrangements must be constructed in which Russia plays an active and legitimate role and feels that these arrangements, while maybe not fulfilling Moscow’s grand goals in the region, minimally satisfy Russia’s interests.   Moscow would be thus likely to support these security arrangements and contribute to their success.

Resolution of Nagorno-Karabagh Conflict: Key to Advancement of theSouth Caucasus

I wish I were eloquent enough in either speech or in writing to articulate how important it is that NATO and member states work to resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are both NATO Partnership for Peace member states.   This problem is unavoidable if one wants to promote security and prosperity in the South Caucasus and the greater region. For over a decade, the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been living with much uncertainty due to this lingering conflict. More than one in every seven people you see on the streets outside this meeting here in Azerbaijan are people who have been uprooted and have lost all of their possessions and many of their loved ones only a decade ago. The fighting was fierce on the battlefield, but we must commend the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan that, despite their painful losses, most have remained quite restrained on the human to human level. Precisely due to their restraint, we must work earnestly to resolve this conflict. We pay attention to conflicts where violence is being used widely, but when the ceasefire is in place and the conditions for resolution have improved, we turn our attention to other places. The UN quickly passed off conflict resolution efforts in 1992 to the newborn OSCE, failing to promote its own UN resolutions on Nagorno-Karabagh.   The OSCE has exhibited a lot of good will over the years, but after twelve years of effort, we see no success in conflict resolution. The OSCE in its current form possesses neither the mechanism nor the forces to implement its decisions.  If NATO wants to succeed in this region, it should help activate the international efforts and those of its member states to resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. Security in the region, and subsequently, NATO’s success and credibility in the South Caucasus, depends on achieving a viable peace and resolving the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.  


Thank you.


Click here to read the NATO Parliamentary Assembly seminar report
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For Academic Citation: Shaffer, Brenda. “Security in the South Caucasus.” Presentation, .