Diplomatiya aləmi” .2008.-N18-19.-P.81-87





Tabib Huseynov*




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.

1. Current 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 governance.

By "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 structures.

The global 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 conflicts.

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.


The European periphery: fragmentation minus integration


Unfortunately, in 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 fragmentation.

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


The 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 West


The regional 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 with Turkey. 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 strategy.

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 with Azerbaijan. 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.


Causing friction 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.

The 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


The secessionist 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 other party.

On the other hand, the public and elites in Azerbaijan and Georgia 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 and Georgia.

Federalism: 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.

In such 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 allies.


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 supra-national structures.


Integration limited to South Caucasus is not viable


However, the 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 Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (1922-1936) should serve as learning examples for policy makers inside and outside the region.

Furthermore, 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 and Azerbaijan, agree and share similar views and aspirations.


Europeanization as 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 reinforcing processes.

It is 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.

Thus, Turkey, 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.

In 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 European University, Budapest). Analyst for Azerbaijan with the International Crisis Group. The views expressed in the article belong to the author.