Armenia’s dilemma of security and foreign policy
The Eurasian country in the Caucasus Mountains lies at the crossroads of different civilizations. This is reflected particularly in the fact that there were Roman, Greek, Russian, Persian, Arabic or Ottoman traces in Armenia. The battlefield of Eurasia was battled for centuries by regional great powers. Today, the landlocked state has no de facto connection with two of its four neighbouring countries, namely Turkey and Azerbaijan. Relations with the internationally isolated Iran are positive, with Georgia pragmatic. Its de facto isolation from both sides and the constant danger of a frozen conflict with Azerbaijan poses a security dilemma for Armenia. In addition to the neighbouring countries, there are a number of other organizations and countries that play an important role in the Caucasus – specifically Armenia as well.
The post-Soviet country maintains a strategic partnership with the regional hegemon Russia and is also involved in NATO partnership programs. While other post-Soviet states have a foreign policy that is far more clearly Western or pro-Russian in orientation, Armenia is attempting to balance the situation in terms of security policy. On the one hand, Armenia is trying to maintain strategic relations with Russia, but at the same time is not closing the door on alternatives to the USA and above all to European states.
Russia’s limited reliability as security guarantor
It should be noted that the relations between Russia or the United States and Armenia are not constant, but rather vary. The variation depends on a number of factors, notably the relationship with Turkey. Put simply, an improvement in relations between Russia and Turkey represents a permanent threat to Armenian security policy. For Armenia’s security guarantor, which Russia has de facto declared itself to be, has its own geopolitical interests. This ranges from improving relations with Turkey – a NATO country – to control over the South Caucasus. The frozen conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is playing into the hands of Russian foreign policy. The tense situation in the South Caucasus means that Moscow keeps both sides in a certain degree of dependence. The reliability of Russia, Armenia’s security guarantor, is limited. On the one hand, Russia maintains a military base in Armenia, while at the same time flirting with Armenia’s arch-rivals. Moscow is making efforts to exploit the dispute between Turkey and the USA to its own advantage. The Kremlin acts pragmatically and is prepared to tolerate Turkish great power ambitions – because without the green light from Moscow and Washington the Turkish invasion of northern Syria would hardly have been sustainable. A further problem is the double-track approach to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although Russia is officially an ally (CSTO), Moscow is not reluctant to sell arms to either side.
While Azerbaijan, which is financially stronger and more independent in terms of energy policy, enjoys a double advantage and can purchase more modern and expensive weapon systems in addition to Russian weapons, Armenia is becoming increasingly dependent. It is becoming doubly dependent, both in terms of weapons systems and energy policy. Russia’s monopoly position in energy policy does not allow Armenia to obtain cheaper resources from Iran.
Half of the countries in the alliance organizations where Armenia is active openly or indirectly support Armenia’s arch-rivals.
The strategic partnership between Russia and Armenia is rounded off by two organizations: The security organization CSTO and the Economic Community of the Eurasian Union. Organizations can, but of course do not have to, be used as instruments of hegemonic powers to protect their own sphere of influence. What one needs to know about both organizations are the member states: There are six countries in the CSTO, in addition to Armenia there are Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Eurasian Union is made up of the same countries with the exception of Tajikistan. Armenia faces two main security policy challenges in this respect: The first is that they are all countries that do not share a common identity – and Armenia is geographically distant from all other countries. The question of whether it would be beneficial for Kyrgyzstan, for example, to assist Armenia in a hypothetical case of war with Azerbaijan is open to question. Secondly, and this is the more decisive reason, there are in both organizations avowed supporters of the Azerbaijani Government – namely Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent, Belarus. In other words: Half of the countries in the alliance organizations where Armenia is active openly or indirectly support Armenia’s arch-rivals.
Challenges of an clear pro-American alignment: Balancing instead of aligning
The strategic partnership with pro-Russian ex-Soviet states is a permanent risk scenario for Armenia. A kind of Democles sword hovering over Armenia.
Concluding from this that Armenia would be better off in a pro-American alliance is also problematic. Indeed, the relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan is much colder than that between Russia and Azerbaijan. Moreover, Washington and Ankara are not experiencing the peaks in their relationship. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind, first, that Turkish foreign policy has been constantly maneuvering between Moscow and Washington for years and, second, that Turkey is ultimately a NATO ally. Turkey is strategically far too important for both the United States and Russia. This forces Armenia to maintain a constant balance between the United States and Russia. A hypothetical NATO partnership for Armenia would have two problems: On the one hand, accession processes take too long – a period of time that Armenia cannot remain non-aligned. On the other hand, the Turkish-Greek confrontation suggests that a similar confrontation would exist in the Armenian case.
Turkey is strategically far too important for both the United States and Russia.
The security dilemma consists in the fact that the pro-Russian allies offer no real security guarantee, but at the same time a possible affiliation with a Western Alliance would not offer any security guarantee either. Nevertheless, there are alternative options in comparison to a clear pro-American or pro-Russian stance.
Political pragmatism: creating additional guarantees with alternative actors
While both Russia and the USA want to bind Turkey to them in the long term, there are no such ambitions in the European Union. The EU in general, as well as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece and Cyprus in particular, have had a tense and consistently negative attitude towards Turkey for years. Integration of Turkey into the EU is de facto rejected, while some states go even further and demand a tougher position towards Turkey. With the exception of individual advocates of Ankara – such as Hungary – most European states are at least more predictable and reliable than Russia or the United States when it comes to Turkey and Armenia. True to pragmatism and political realism, Armenian foreign policy must move closer to those countries that have conflicts of interest with Turkey. These include a number of European states, but also Iran, certain Arab states and China. The art of Armenian foreign policy will remain the same: on the one hand, to strengthen these relations in order to create additional guarantees, without noticeably damaging relations with Washington or Moscow. However, Armenia may – without falling into overestimation and excessive optimism – also raise the cost-benefit question of certain organizations of which it is a member. In the long term, Armenia will nevertheless need alternative economic and, above all, energy policy options to free itself from its dependencies.