Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:50

A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus

Caucasus-StrategyBy Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr, and Mamuka Tsereteli

February 2015

Click to Download 

The South Caucasus is key to Western efforts to shape intersection between Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East, and to Western commercial and strategic access to and from the heart of the Eurasian continent. Yet far from developing, Western influence in the region is at an all-time low. As Western influence has declined, and partly as a consequence of it, the region’s development has stagnated. This situation is the result of a lack of strategic vision in the West and to a series of tactical errors. This paper analyzes the shortcomigns of western policies, and offers proposals for a new Western approach to the region.

 

1502strategy-coverExecutive Summary

From a Western perspective, the Caucasus is far more important than its size alone would suggest. Its significance to the United States and Europe lies in its crucial geographical location. Its strategic importance derives from its location at the point of intersection between the key Eurasian powers of Russia, Iran and Turkey, and its central role in the burgeoning east-west transport corridor connecting Europe to Central Asia and beyond. The Caucasus is therefore key to any Western efforts to shape future interactions between Europe and the Middle East, and to Western commercial and strategic access to and from the heart of the Eurasian continent. At a time when the two most salient challenges to the transatlantic alliance are Russia’s aggressive expansionism and the Islamic radicalism emanating from the Middle East, the Caucasus is a strategically important pressure point in both directions: a bulwark against both Moscow and the Islamic radicalism of the Middle East. The Iranian theocracy’s continued efforts to expand its influence from Syria to Yemen, and the growing anti-Western authoritarianism with Islamist underpinnings in Turkey, further enhance the importance of this role.

These considerations alone should dictate a growing American and European engagement with the states of the Caucasus, but this has not occurred. Quite the contrary, Western influence in the region is at an all-time low. As Western influence has declined, and partly as a consequence of it, the region’s development has stagnated.  This stagnation is evident in areas as diverse as security, energy, governance, and human rights. Meanwhile, new challenges to the region’s security and development have multiplied and strengthened, threatening its long-term viability and eroding important Western interests.

This situation is the result of a lack of strategic vision in the West and to a series of tactical errors. At the core of Western shortcomings in the Caucasus are serious flaws in the analytical lenses through which leaders and analysts perceive events in the region:

  • A failure to grasp the changing nature and importance of the region’s unresolved conflicts, particularly their transformation into key components of Russian geopolitical maneuvers.
  • A failure to grasp the nature of regional politics, succumbing too often to a simplistic schema of “government versus opposition,” when the real and relevant political divides have been equally within each of these groups.
  • A failure to understand the inter-connection between security and democratic development, in particular the powerful negative effects of a worsened security situation on the prospects for internal political reform.

Compounding these analytical errors, several factors of a strategic nature have contributed to the West’s failures in the Caucasus.

  • The failure to embrace a regional approach to the Caucasus, focusing instead on bilateral relationships; and subordinating these to the West’s ties with various regional powers.
  • The failure to coordinate effectively legitimate interests in diverse areas, particularly between security and governance.
  • The failure to grasp dynamic changes in the broader geopolitical environment, particularly internal changes in Russia and Turkey, which should enhance the potential role of the Caucasus in Western policy.

Western policymakers have also made serious mistakes that are operational in nature:

  • Insufficient coordination between relevant governmental agencies in Western capitals and across the Atlantic.
  • The assignment of the Caucasus and Central Asia to different organizational entities within Western governments has led to the neglect of Trans-Caspian connections.
  • The resort to finger-pointing and hectoring in the promotion of democracy and human rights has been deeply ineffective, alienating governments rather than influencing them.

To remedy this situation, this paper calls for a new strategy toward the Caucasus. This strategy should rest on the following analytical components:

  • All policies toward the Caucasus must be rooted in a regional rather than purely bilateral approach.
  • Policies must be engineered in recognition of the diverse forms of Western interests in the region and must take into account the ways in which these interests interact with one another on the ground.
  • Western powers should re-engage the region in the area of sovereignty and security, which will do more than anything else to pave the way for progress in other areas.
  • The West cannot expect progress on governance and human rights without a clear commitment to security issues; conversely, the states of the Caucasus cannot expect Western support for their security without a commitment to governance and human rights.

On this basis, the paper offers the following proposals for a new Western approach to the region:

  • Increase rhetorical and concrete support for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all three of the regional states.
  • Develop a substantial and sustained Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, including strong U.S. Government leadership from the top level and a willingness to bypass, if necessary, the Minsk process.
  • Increase cooperation in defense and security.
  • Provide Armenia a strategic alternative to the Eurasian Union.
  • Seek ways to anchor Azerbaijan in the EU’s Eastern Partnership.
  • Adapt policies to improve governance and human rights to changing realities, including greater emphasis on improving effectiveness and accountability on the part of governments.
  • Support the trans-Caucasus transport corridor as a “Land Suez” connecting Europe with both India and China, focusing especially on the role of businesses and of soft infrastructure.

Improve and clarify intra-agency, inter-agency, as well as transatlantic coordination on issues relating to the Caucasus.

Read 24764 times Last modified on Thursday, 12 February 2015 21:04

isdp

AFPC-Full-Logo

 

News

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...

  • CACI director Svante Cornell's interviewed on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election
    Friday, 19 May 2023 00:00

    Listen to CACI director Svante Cornell's recent interview on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election. Click here!

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

    Eurasia