Multi-Vectorism in the Foreign Policy of Post-Soviet Eurasian States

By Minasyan, Sergey | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Multi-Vectorism in the Foreign Policy of Post-Soviet Eurasian States


Minasyan, Sergey, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: Armenia's foreign policy is unique among the foreign policies of the post-Soviet states because it tries to balance the interests of all the great powers through a process of complementarism. Although similar to multi-vectorism, Armenia's complementarism draws on several unique resources in pursuing its foreign policy, including its diaspora around the world.

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This article analyzes the dynamics of the foreign policies implemented by post-Soviet states during their two decades of independence. An essential feature of these foreign policies is how they address the main, pivotal, geopolitical centers of gravity within the post-Soviet space: Russia, the United States, the EU, and--especially in the case of Central Asia countries--China.

All post-Soviet states implement two main types of foreign policy: univectorism and multi-vectorism. A univectoral, Western-oriented, foreign policy predominates in the Baltic states, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine (during Yushchenko's tenure), and Moldova. Several Central Asian countries and Belarus have pursued a pro-Russian univectoral policy, at least until the early 2000s. In its pure form, the pro-Russian policy now prevails in three of four existing de-facto states (Abkhazia, North Ossetia, and Transnistria, but not Karabakh) as well as in Belarus, though with some reservations.

The alternative foreign policy approach is multi-vectorism. This approach prevailed in the case of Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states (beginning from the late 1990s to the early 2000s). A version of multivectorism, usually described as complementarism, dominated Armenia's entire post-Soviet foreign policy. Complementarism is a non-official foreign policy doctrine that Armenia uses in order to balance the often conflicting interests of various players including Russia, the United States, Europe, and Iran.

This article will analyze the multi-vector foreign policies in comparison with complementarism. Additionally, the article will briefly compare and contrast Armenia's foreign policy doctrine with the one implemented by Finland during the Cold War in order to maneuver between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Armenia's Complementarism--Twenty Years of Sitting on the Fence?

Complementarism was the basis of Armenia's foreign policy from 1991 through the present. The essence of this policy, which was atypical for most of the newly independent post-Soviet countries in the early 1990s, was an attempt to combine and maintain a balance between the interests of all international and regional powers that are actively involved in the South Caucasus region. The idea was to avoid a pro-Western, pro-Russian, or pro-Iranian bias. According to the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia (adopted in 2007 (1)), Armenia's strategic partnership with Russia, its adoption of a European model of development, mutually beneficial cooperation with Iran and the United States, membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and intensification of cooperation with the NATO alliance, all contribute to Armenia's policy of complementarity.

Despite increasing anti-Russian stereotypes in the West, Armenia--Russia's ally and a CSTO member--has never been regarded by the West as an exclusively pro-Russian actor. Over its first two years of independence, 1991 and 1992, Armenia's policies were the most effective manifestation of complementarism. During this period, Armenia was locked in a war over Karabakh and was able to take advantage of a unique foreign policy conjuncture. Yerevan received arms from Russia for military operations, funds from the United States for state building and to purchase arms, food from Europe, and fuel from Iran. Thus, the equidistance in Armenia's foreign policy reached its greatest effectiveness during the first term of Levon Ter-Petrosyan's presidency and is the most illustrative phase of complemetarism (although this term was only applied later). …

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