Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Redefining Armenian National Security

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Redefining Armenian National Security

Article excerpt

As a region, the South Caucasus has traditionally been viewed as a prisoner to its geography, with its position as an East-West crossroads tending to also serve as an arena for competition among more powerful neighbors. For much of the past two centuries, this vulnerability was exacerbated by the competing interests of the dominant regional powers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Since the onset of independence in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the South Caucasus has also been seen as a hostage to history, with a particularly savage record of ethnic violence and outright conflict. It is this historical legacy that is most significant, however, as the region's infant states struggle with the challenges of independence and statehood.

For the three states of the South Caucasus-Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia-there is an underlying set of shared challenges, ranging from the imperatives of economic and political reform to the impediments from a legacy of seven decades of Soviet rule. As each of these three infant states have adapted their own unique strategies for strengthening their sovereignty and statehood, the region has become increasingly marked by a deepening and diverging divide. Within this context, each state has followed a different trajectory that offers as much peril as promise for regional security. But of the three states in the region, it is Armenia that is in the weakest position, and perhaps most importantly, is the most unprepared to adapt to the dynamic shifts in regional security.

For landlocked and energy-dependent Armenia, the disruption of traditional trade and energy links was the most serious and devastating development. By imposing a trade and transport blockade on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Turkey compounded Armenia's economic vulnerability and isolation. It further excluded Armenia from participating in nearly all projects to promote regional integration and development, most notably the Baku-Tbilisi-Çeyhan oil pipeline.

Unlike its neighbors, the past fifteen years of Armenian independence have largely been marked by a comparative degree of internal unity and stability. Although there has been an absence of civil war or internal strife, external conflict and militant nationalism have, nevertheless, come to define Armenian national security. The core issue of Armenian national security since independence has been the unresolved conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Karabakh issue has impacted a wide range of Armenian policies, from the economic to the political. It has also influenced broader geopolitics by triggering a profound disruption of regional trade and energy links and altering Russian, Turkish, United States, and even Iranian strategies in the region. But what is needed now is a redefinition of Armenia's concept of national security. That redefinition necessitates an ability to go beyond the rigid confines of the Karabakh conflict, which continues to determine and dominate the parameters of Armenian national security.

Trends in Armenian Insecurity

In terms of national security, Armenia's case represents an interesting paradox. Despite a comparatively longer and more peaceful record of democracy, an outwardly stronger state, and a dominant but stable military, there is a surprising degree of insecurity in Armenia today. Most surprising, there is an inverse relationship between the strengthening Armenian state and the country's mounting insecurity. In this sense, Armenia is not alone, as recent events in other post-Soviet states, such as Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, have demonstrated the destabilizing effects of measures focused on state security at the expense of societal stability.

The roots of this Armenian insecurity can be traced to three specific trends, manifested in the military, political, and economic spheres. These trends are also interrelated, with a linkage that has only exacerbated the structural deficiencies in the process of Armenian statebuilding. …

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