Diplomatiya aləmi” .2008.-N18-19.-P.81-87
SOUTH CAUCASUS: NEW PARADIGMS FOR PEACE
AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE
The South Caucasus has entered the 21st century with a heavy
heritage of ethnic and territorial conflicts. The vicious cycle of conflict
seriously impedes the development of the region and also, having a dangerous
spillover potential, poses a threat to the international peace and security.
This article argues federalism and regional integration in the South Caucasus coupled with wider European integration
provides the best possible solution for the region's intractable conflicts and
for sustainable peace and development. In order to support this thesis, the
article makes an overview of the general trends in governance, focusing on the
potential of the federalism and integrative solutions in mitigating and
transforming the conflicts, followed by a discussion of their possible
application in the South Caucasus region.
trends in governance and their impact on the European core and periphery
The rise in the
number of ethnic and territorial conflicts from the early 1990s, combined with
growing regional and global interdependences (generally referred to as
globalization), have posed serious challenges to the centralized governance and
traditional system of international relations, centered around the notion of
sovereign nation-States. Both downward and upward pressures on the current
State-centered international system reflected in simultaneous global processes
of integration and fragmentation lead to erosion of State sovereignty,
withering of national boundaries and eventually, the creation of new forms of
"fragmentation" I mean not only secession, but also the increasing
trends towards decentralization, devolution, federalization in the State
governance. By "integration" I mean parallel trends, particularly
among the developed States, most evidently exemplified in the case of the EU
members, to transfer part of their sovereign rights to the supranational
processes of fragmentation and integration also largely explain the growing internationalization
(or rather, multilateralization) of ethnic and
territorial conflicts, i.e. the more and more active involvement of the
international community in these conflicts either through coercive (e.g.
humanitarian interventions) or non-coercive means (e.g. through various forms
of mediation and inducements).
The European core:
integration plus fragmentation
Today the European
Union is at the center of these global transformations. If we look at the trends, within the EU the governance is gradually
capitalized at the hands of the supranational structures on the one hand, and
local communities on the other. Within the EU, supranational-ism and federalism
(or in EU terminology, subsidiarity, i.e.
allowing local communities to make decisions for themselves) go hand in hand:
more powers for Brussels is complemented with more powers for local
communities, and all this takes place at the expense of nation-States, which
increasingly relinquish their sovereignty.
With such trends
in place, the traditional perceptions on State sovereignty, ethnic
self-determination, national and ethnic territories, majority-minority
relationships, i.e. all those factors which are at the core of the ethnic and
territorial conflicts, lose their previous meanings and get transformed,
allowing for more constructive, non-violent and creative ways of solving these
Thus, in the
developed European core the global processes of fragmentation and integration
have emerged and continue to evolve as parallel processes, (mostly) in
non-violent ways, with the European Union leading this transformation process.
periphery: fragmentation minus integration
the underdeveloped European peripheries, most notably the Balkans and the Caucasus, fragmentation has occurred at the detriment of
integration and has been carried out in violent forms, resulting in enormous
human suffering and economic losses. The regional conflicts largely evolved
around the old-fashioned contests over sovereignty and ethnic ownership over a
territory, which significantly undermined the prospects for regional
cooperation and integration.
In the Balkans,
the EU, in cooperation with NATO and the US, reacted to violent conflicts by
opting for active intervention, and later by setting up a Stability Pact for
the Balkans, which put a strong emphasis on co-operation among the neighboring
countries, and, as a final reward, by offering a prospect of EU membership. By
its involvement and policies the EU has largely succeeded in breaking the
vicious circle of conflict in the region (with notable exception of Kosovo, where
situation remains uncertain) and complementing fragmentation with parallel
integration mechanisms in order to mitigate the negative effects of
While the Balkans,
enjoying more proximity to the European core, received major attention from
the EU throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the South Caucasus
has largely been viewed as an insignificant periphery. It is true that the EU's
attention and involvement in the South Caucasus has significantly increased
with the recent round of enlargement, which made South
Caucasus a border area for the EU, and facilitated the region's
inclusion in the ENP in 2004. However, for many in the European core, South
Caucasus still remains a distant periphery, and South Caucasus conflicts still
largely remain in the shadow of other conflicts: in the Balkans, in the Middle
East, in Iraq.
2. South Caucasus
as one of the major sources of conflict in Europe
EU's failure to assume a more assertive role in the South
Caucasus may have significant negative effects for the future
European security. Indeed, the South Caucasus
conflicts represent not less, but arguably, more threat to the common European
security than the Balkan conflicts nowadays. The following section briefly
discusses the conflict potential of the South Caucasus
region in order to show the urgency for more proactive and assertive European
involvement in the region.
Antagonizing Russia and the
conflicts in the South Caucasus significantly complicate and upset the
relations between and among the external powers, particularly the Russia and the West, which contest nfluences in the South Caucasus.
These conflicts, and particularly the most intractable regional conflict
between Armenia and Azerbaijan over
Nagorny Karabakh, if
resumed, may have huge pillover effects, going far
beyond the borders of the region.
The South Caucasus today is a highly fragmented region. It
has three secessionist entities and two out of three regional States,
Armenia and Azerbaijan, are
at a state of undeclared war with each other. Unable to independently provide for
their own security, both conflicting nations seek to forge alliances with the
external powers and play out their interests in the region against each other,
contributing to the tensions among these external powers.
Thus, Armenia is part
of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is
essentially a military-security structure to counter NATO. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is closely allied
Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance is based not only on close ethnic kinship, but also
on actual economic, political and strategic interests of the two countries,
which, along with Georgia,
play pivotal role in the East-West energy and transport corridors, viewed by Europe as the vital part of its present energy security
In such a regional
setting, as a nightmare scenario, the resumption of hostilities in Nagorny Karabakh may provoke a
conflict between Russia
siding with Armenia, and
NATO member Turkey siding
If this scenario is instigated, the world would be one step away from V'WIII
between Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and NATO.
within the Western bloc
In addition to
antagonizing the relationships between Russia and the West, the existing conflicts
in the South Caucasus also have a potential of destabilizing the internal unity
of the Western allies, particularly causing friction between Turkey on one
hand and the EU and Turkey's N^TO allies on the other. This division may have
serious negative effects on Western interests not only in the South
Caucasus but also far beyond.
Turkey's policies coincide with its NATO
and EU allies in the region on the major issues, such as security for the
East-West energy and transport corridors, greater role for the West in the South Caucasus and the region's integration with the
European and Euro-Atlantic space. The only significant difference between Turkey and its Western allies' policies in the
region concerns Armenia.
Turkey, reacting to the Armenian
occupation of Azerbaijani territory, closed the borders and ceased political
ties with Armenia
during the height of the Karabakh conflict in 1993. Armenia, on the other hand, along with its small
but vocal Diaspora all over the world, has consistently conducted an
international campaign against Turkey
accusing it of genocide against Armenians during the last years of the Ottoman
rule. Both policies have poisoned and served to entrench the hostility in the
Armenian-Turkish relations. Furthermore, the Armenian genocide campaigns, and
Diaspora's limited success in persuading some US
and European national and local legislatures to recognize "Armenian
genocide" have served to further antagonize Turkey and spoil its relations with
EU and NATO allies.
unresolved nature of Armenian-Turkish relationships brings volatility not only
to the South Caucasus, but to the overall Western policies in the South
Caucasus and the Middle East, two strategic regions, in which the West relies
on its ally Turkey.
The analysis above
demonstrates that the South Caucasus has a destabilizing potential going far
beyond its borders and should be treated with more attention and urgency by the
external powers, and particularly the EU, as the major center of gravity for
the South Caucasus.
3. Federalism in
the South Caucasus: How it Can Promote Peace
in the Region?
As has been
mentioned, the South Caucasus today is a
highly fragmented region. The peace process is stalled as the conflicting sides
exchange claims over sovereignty and ethnic ownership of a territory. There is
a need for re-thinking the traditional perceptions underlying the conflicts in
the South Caucasus, such as sovereignty, ethnic self-determination,
majority-minority relationships, national and ethnic territories, and based on
this, establish new forms of governance in the region.
A middle ground
between self-rule and shared-rule
entities in Nagorny Karabakh,
Abkhazia and South Ossetia demand a solution
which would exclude their direct subordination to the central government. At
the root of this claim lies a legitimate aspiration to be the masters of their
own fate, provide for their own security and have a final say on decisions
directly affecting them. Because of the widespread distrust and insecurity
surrounding the conflicts, the public and elites in the breakaway territories
overwhelmingly believe that their underlying needs could be met only through
secession. As a result, citizens in the secessionist entities do not
contemplate on other possible options which would essentially provide them with
the same level of security and independence in conducting their affairs,
without doing it at the expense of the underlying needs and interests of the
On the other hand,
the public and elites in Azerbaijan
demand restoration of the country's territorial integrity. This demand is based
on another legitimate concern that their nations may disintegrate if they fail
to restore their territorial integrity. Similarly, because of the widespread
distrust between and within the societies in conflict, the elites and public in
both Azerbaijan and in Georgia have so far articulated their positions mostly
from the prism of "restoring sovereignty and territorial integrity"
of the State, often failing to draw the line between these two very different
concepts and failing to realize that sovereignty does not always has to be
"indivisible" but can also be shared.
If to put aside
the maximalist positions and instead focus on the underlying needs of the
parties, it is possible to reconcile the secessionist entities' aspiration to
independently govern themselves and nation's demand for preservation of their
unity. This is possible through various forms of power-sharing, especially in
its territorially based federal form, which would exclude the possibility of
subordination, while still preserving the international borders.
In Azerbaijan and Georgia, which traditionally
perceived themselves as unitary States, there is a
huge lack of knowledge on federalism, which encompasses constitutional,
institutional and procedural arrangements. Federalism does not necessarily
imply federation, and in fact, can exist even under a unitary system of
government. In general, under federalism the public authority is
constitutionally divided between national and the constituent regional units,
which have their exclusive and shared competences. In the South
Caucasus context, application of federalism in State governance
would imply creation of a system in which sovereignty would be constitutionally
divided and shared between national and constituent political units, each of
which would have exclusive competence on issues directly affecting them, and
shared competence on issues of common concern. This governance would allow for
maximum level of self-rule for the secessionist entities, while still
preserving the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan
indispensable but not sufficient
However, there are
several shortcomings to federalism, especially in the South
Caucasus context, which if not dealt with properly can actually
lead to further instability rather than peace. Since the resolution of the
conflicts in the region would also imply the restoration of the conflict areas'
multiethnic composition, under ethnic federalism will inevitably lead to disputes
over "ethnic territories". Especially in the Armenian-Azerbaijani
conflict, considering that Nagorny Karabakh is situated inside of Azerbaijan and
was completely surrounded by ethnic Azerbaijani-populated areas, and in
Abkhazia, where ethnic Georgians outnumbered ethnic Abkhaz, the restoration of
pre-war ethnic demographics, while important for peace, also constitutes one
of the major security dilemmas to deal with.
circumstances, federalism, especially ethnic federalism, if not complemented
with integrative strategies, would serve to further entrench
ethnic divisions. The federal entities, and their constituent parts, having
received wide-ranging self-governance verging on a de facto independence,
would have no incentives to cooperate with the central governments. This would
in turn render governance ineffective and may lead to renewed conflict.
In order to
neutralize negative effects of ethnic federalism, particularly ethnic entrenchment,
it should be complemented with parallel integrative mechanisms, which would
provide channels of communication and incentives to communicate by binding the
interests of the former foes and transforming them into
4. The EU as
the major center of gravity for the South Caucasus
The EU can serve
as an excellent example for South Caucasus
nations to complement fragmentation with integration in order to neutralize
the negative effects of the former. In general terms, this is possible through
applying similar formula and practices adopted previously by tie EU in terms of
economic and political integration and creating mutually beneficial economic
and political partnerships, which would gradually transform themselves into
Integration limited to South Caucasus is not viable
fundamental truth about integration in the South Caucasus is that regional integration
within the South Caucasus is not possible if
not supported and complemented by the parallel process of wider European
integration. The region is ridden with too many and too deep conflicts and
rivalries, which disallow any meaningful locally driven integration processes
limited to the region itself. In this regard, the failure of the short-lived
independent Transcaucasus Confederation (1918) and Transcaucasian
(1922-1936) should serve as learning examples for policy makers inside and
outside the region.
the South Caucasus is a mini-region with tough neighborhood surrounded by
greater regional players, including Russia, which still views the
region its sphere of influence. Therefore, despite its significant economic
potential, the South Caucasus cannot provide
independently for its security, political and economic development. It is
vitally important for sustainable peace and development that all three South Caucasus nations belong to the same security,
political and economic alliances in order to jointly provide for their
interests, and reduce the possibility for external manipulations.
The EU represents
the only such regional setting which may serve as the uniting factor for all
three South Caucasus nations. The European
integration is perhaps the sole biggest issue on which all three South Caucasus
nations, including Armenia
agree and share similar views and aspirations.
a mechanism for conflict resolution in the South Caucasus
The EU possesses
several important features, which make it an efficient mechanism for preventing
and resolving ethnic conflicts in the European periphery in general and in the South Caucasus in particular.
With the evolution
of the EU as a stability and prosperity zone in Europe,
the number of countries aspiring to the EU membership has significantly
increased. This gave the EU a significant political power to impose the rules
of accession, the acquis communautaire. Before accession, all candidate
countries should fulfil the acquis,
which among other principles include compliance with democratic principles,
rule of law, stable market economy, as well as minority protection and
devolution of governance. Combined together these large-scale reforms serve as
important tools for conflict prevention and resolution.
Certainly the EU
is not free of problems of secession either, as the lingering but largely
non-violent conflicts in Northern Ireland,
Basque Country or Cyprus
demonstrate. However, problems notwithstanding, the EU is able to transform the
attitudes and behaviours of the conflicting parties
due to its 'soft powers' and institutional framework which allow for
convergence of the interests among the sub-State, State and inter-State actors.
In addition to
above-mentioned features, in the South Caucasus
context, the EU is also more appealing than any other alternative regional
setting, such as the CIS, because the EU is not dominated by a single actor,
which tries to impose its will on others. Nor does it rely on policy of
pressures and intimidation as a major instrument of its foreign policy,
providing incentives for certain behaviors instead.
This is why the EU
is the most appealing center of gravity in the European continent and overall
all three South Caucasus nations aspire to
greater integration with the EU. This integration is largely viewed as a means
and process towards democratization, better governance, economic prosperity,
and also more opportunities for conflict resolution and transformation.
The EU integration
will also serve to reinforce the integration on the South
Caucasus scale. If we look at the history of integration of the
Central and Eastern European States to the EU in early and mid-1990s, we can
see that the EU conditioned membership offer with their prior solution of
bilateral problems threatening European stability (by supporting Stability Pact
for the Central and Eastern European Countries; by encouraging the countries to
sign bilateral agreements on friendship and good neighborliness etc). A similar
process is under way in the Balkans now.
In the South Caucasus, application of similar policies would
also imply that the EU would condition integration with the regional actors'
progress on achieving agreements, with active EU support, on issues threatening
the European stability. Thus, the South Caucasus
and wider European integration should be viewed as parallel and mutually
also important to note that while giving all South Caucasus nations equal
opportunities to integrate, the EU should employ a policy of 'multiple-speed
integration', which would allow more successful applicants from the South Caucasus to accelerate the speed of their EU integration.
This policy would allow for a positive rivalry, whereby the South
Caucasus nations would 'compete' with each other on adoption of
the EU norms and practices, so as not to lag behind one another.
Last but not
least, the inclusion of the South Caucasus
into the EU "sphere of influence" could
solve many geopolitical problems in the region. The EU is the only powerful
actor, which may accommodate the interests of
all other external parties involved in the South Caucasus
region, who have so far rivaled with one another for
influences in the region, thus facilitating to
growing regional tensions.
which itself aspires to EU, is interested in strengthening of the EU's role in
the egion, not least because this would increase
Turkey's strategic importance for both the EU and the South Caucasus.
Strengthening of the EU position in the Caucasus is not against the US interests
either. In fact the EU and the US
have walked hand-in-hand in articulating their policies in the South Caucasus in terms of response to the aspirations of
the South Caucasus States to integration towards European and Euro-Atlantic
economic and security space. This scenario may also satisfy Iran, which
otherwise is very cautious of strengthening US positions in its northern
frontiers. It would also be beneficial for Iran in terms of its economic
relations with the EU. And finally, the strengthening of the EU in the South Caucasus could be beneficial for the Russian-EU
relations. In case of further improvement in EU-Russia relations, Russia would not oppose the EU's more active
involvement in the South Caucasus, at least
not in the same manner as it would oppose to NATO's enlargement in the region.
To the contrary, considering that unlike NATO the EU is perceived as much less
confrontational and non-threatening economic-political actor, the EU's
enlargement to the South Caucasus may be beneficial for Russia and its relations with the
EU, allowing for a closer economic and political cooperation between the two.
What the South Caucasus elites and public need today is to
articulate a common vision, which would lead to a common discourse. This vision
and discourse should serve to break win-lose attitudes dominant in the region
by emphasizing on common values, needs and aspirations.
As this article
argued, in the South Caucasus context this vision and discourse could be based
on an understanding that federalism at a national level combined with regional
and European integration in supra-national level can pave the way for peace and
development in the South Caucasus.
order for this process to start, there is an urgent need to engage elites and
general public in the South Caucasus in a
genuine and open debate on various most sensitive issues, including discussion
on carrying out substantial reforms in their State governance. The road to
peace and development lies only in conscious and informed decision of the
people. Therefore, civil society, including scholars, and political elites
should assume a leadership role to inform and educate people on these issues,
so that better informed people would make better decisions for themselves.
* MA in
International Relations and European Studies (Central
Budapest). Analyst for Azerbaijan
with the International Crisis Group. The views expressed in the article
belong to the author.