Armenia's Foreign Policy Challenges
Armenia is a minor country, yet it is compelled to develop and execute a multi-dimensional and broad foreign policy because of its geographic location and because of its complex historic legacy.
No matter how skillful the diplomats and statesmen of a country may be, their achievements will only be commensurate to the political weight that their respective country carries into the international arena.
Armenia's foreign ministry released its annual report on January 14. Reviewing that report will convince the reader that Armenia has been engaged in many forays in its foreign policy, much broader than its size and weight would warrant, and many of them have proven to be successful.
Since Armenia is located in the Caucasus region, the inevitable question always rises as to how it has fared compared to its two neighbors, namely Azerbaijan and Georgia. The two latter countries have enjoyed better limelight than Armenia, because of some factors, which Armenian does not possess. Many major countries have been courting them not necessarily because of the performance of their leaders or the skills of their statesmen, but because they possess factors which go beyond the capacity of their foreign policy planners. On the contrary, both countries, since their independence, have committed many blunders, which are forgiven or have been ignored.
Azerbaijan, for example, experienced several coup attempts and a successful one, which brought to power former KGB Colonel Haidar Aliyev who ruled the country with an iron fist. His predecessor Elchibey almost went to war with Iran over the Caspian Sea and over the issue of the Azeri majority in Iran. Each succeeding administration only promoted corruption and the country gained the reputation of being one of the most dictatorial and corrupt countries in the world. That did not deter the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from shaking Ilham Aliev's bloody hand, even when the latter had inherited his father's presidential office through outright brutality. Azerbaijan's oil has reversed all priorities and even has altered the meaning of freedom and democracy for the Bush administration. Even the Article 907 of Freedom Support Act was suspended so that the Bush administration could provide direct military aid to Azerbaijan, although the root cause which had enacted that law continued to remain: the illegal blockade of Armenia.
Georgia is also in the limelight, especially these days, contrary to the blunders of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze, who reduced the country to a basket case. Georgia does not have oil, but it can lend its territory for the passage of oil pipelines. Georgia can also live by selling its neighbors' national interests.
Saakashvili's election as President, through a "rose revolution" does not promise too many roses to Georgia's neighbors. His administration's insistence on removing Russian military bases, to pave the way for more military advisors from the U.S., will certainly irritate the neighbor on the North. The removal of the particular bases in the Armenian populated Javakhk province will definitely hurt the population in that region, already under deplorable economic conditions. That move will deprive Armenians of their sustenance and protection.
As far as Iran is concerned, Georgia has already been trading off its regional interests with those of Turkey.
Upon his election Saakashvili announced that Russia needs to adopt a realistic policy vis-a-vis Georgia, meaning that Tbilisi will continue insisting on the removal of Russian bases from its territory. Upon his inauguration he also announced that Georgia would not become a conflict zone for superpower interests, whereas his policies and conduct veer exactly in that direction.
Georgia's economy is in shambles. The country i
s fragmented, yet successive administrations have pinned their hopes on distant foreign powers. Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia and Ajaria enjoy virtual independence at the present time. Forceful control of those regions can only provoke a civil war, which the Tbilisi government cannot afford. It can only count on the acquiescence of the Armenian population in Javakhk, courtesy of Yerevan government, just because Armenia cannot afford another instability on its borders. Russia has supported secessionist movements in Georgia to tame Tbilisi's policies to its needs. Thus far Moscow seems to be adamant on its position on the bases, but given its recent history, its behavior at best remains unpredictable.
The report clearly indicates that almost no progress is recorded on the Karabagh issue and modest gains have been noticed in Turkish Armenian relations.
Armenia is expected to formulate and implement its foreign policy, taking into consideration all the geopolitical complexities in the region.
Reviewing Vartan Oskanian's report, one is pleasantly surprised to find dramatic improvements in Armenia's economic relations with the European Union, CIS countries, and especially with Ukraine, which traditionally sides with Azerbaijan, and with Central Asian Republics.
Armenia's international profile has been enhanced by joining the World Trade Organization, and its election to the UN Economic and Social Council, as well as through its developing relations with the European Union.
Armenian press, both in Yerevan and in the Diaspora, is a forum for cheap shots, yet one has to steer through this report to realize what a sophisticated policy Yerevan has to develop in order to survive in that hostile region of the world. That is why the policy of "complementarity" has emerged from necessity. Armenia has to take into account the interests of all nations in the region and chart its own course through that maze.
Given the unpredictability of Russian policy, the thrust of U.S. in the region, mostly favoring Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia has set its sights on Europe. Indeed, the report clearly defines that "Armenia sees its future as a full-fledged member of the European Union".
Turkey's aspiration to join the EU presents a double-edged sword for Armenia. On one hand, at least in theory, Armenia's territorial integrity will be guaranteed in view of Turkish desire to wipe out Armenia. On the other hand, by the sheer weight of its population, Turkey's political clout will be enhanced to such a degree that European Union will never be able to adopt a policy favoring Armenia.
The Bush administration's support for Turkey's admission to the EU also has far-reaching goals. Europe has realized that the emergence of a unipolar world political system has led the world to unchecked military adventurism. Thus, European countries have been trying to counterbalance the U.S. hegemony. Turkey's admission to the Union will serve as a spoiler to European designs, as has proven to be Britain's participation.
All these are above Armenia's ability to control. It can only watch situations develop and fine-tune its policy accordingly.
The report has failed to properly evaluate Diaspora's role in complementing Armenia's foreign policy. It is true that, except for Lebanon, Armenians in the Middle East cannot become a political factor for Armenia. Yet communities in Europe and the U.S. have served as political factors and they can even enhance that role through further mobilization. Especially this election year in the U.S. may lend many opportunities, which Armenians can cash in on.
In Europe, besides France, many Armenian communities are emerging and they have been left to their destinies. If properly harnessed, they can complement the crucial role that French Armenians have been playing.
Special attention ne
eds to be paid to the growing Armenian community in Russia, where more Armenians live today than in Armenia. The Russian Armenian Union is a political force to be reckoned with. Its economic clout and political ties have been very promising. Yet Kocharian's administration has personalized its view of that organization. A more political approach may yield better rewards.
Vartan Oskanian has his job cut out for him. He is eminently qualified to conduct Armenia's foreign policy. The reliance of successive administrations in his judgment and expertise only prove that Armenia is fortunate to have a diplomat of his caliber to run its foreign policy.
January 27, 2004