Armenia’s Search for Alternative Security Mechanisms
The Myth of the Collective West
For the first time in the young republic’s thirty-year history, the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh war has initiated a serious rethinking of the issue of security policy. However, the search for a functional security mechanism is taking place on a doctrinaire level and polarizes parts of society. The doctrination concerns both the pro-Russian segments of Armenian politics and those groups that rely on the West as a collective actor. Fundamentally, the perception of a collective West in Armenia is very idealized and the notion of a collective West is used both by pro-Western groups to emphasize the Western orientation and by pro-Russian groups to discredit the West as a whole. The basic problem of the debate is that the collective, political West does not exist in the form it is often presented in the public discourse in Armenia.
Narrative of the “collective West” as a dogmatic means
The polarization on the Russia-West issue has primarily to do with the security dilemma and the search for a solution. For the first time, the war of 2020 has shaken not only politics, but above all the public discourse. Parties and politicians who had relied on Russian security guarantees for decades are now faced with an enormous difficulty in providing explanations. Due to necessity, Armenian politics is called upon to look for alternative security structures that are realistically feasible.
The initiation of a paradigm shift in security policy is necessary if Armenia is to survive politically as a sovereign country. The government, or at least parts of the government undestand the dilemma and the need of a paradigm shift. Moreover, the Armenian foreign policy is more pragmatic and more realistic since 2020 than it was between 2018 and 2020. However, the paradigm shift requires first and foremost a proper understanding by the civil society, public discourse and political parties of what the West is and what it is not.
The political West in Armenian public discourse – for narrative reasons – is often generalized and portrayed as a homogeneous entity. If a European country makes a pro-Turkish or pro-Azerbaijani political decision, pro-Russian parties and media speak of a “pro-Turkish policy of the West”. If a European country, such as France, makes a pro-Armenian political decision, pro-Western parties and media speak of a “pro-Armenian policy of the West”. In both cases, an image of a collective West is conveyed that is hinged on a false dichotomy. This distorted representation limits any reasonable debate on security policy in Armenia. The fact is, the term collective West is a very elastic concept and does not take into account particular and diverse interests within Western states. In a very broad sense, the collective West includes not only the EU and the United States, but also countries such as Canada, Japan or Australia. The political reality is that on the one hand there are differences between the United States and the EU on many foreign policy issues and on the other hand there are also different positions within the EU itself. The idea of competition between the EU and the United States can be seen in many examples – especially in the context of economic policy: The WTO accessions of China and Russia are two striking examples of how strongly the EU and the USA worked against each other for reasons of interest in order to benefit from China’s and Russia’s WTO accession or non-accession.
The foreign policy decisions of the last 20 years also show that the particular interests of Western states are greater and more diverse than one might imagine: In the Iraq and Libya question, but also in the NATO accession question of Georgia and Ukraine, conflicting interests are clashing. The different interests also affect the states within the EU: the Eastern European states around Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland pursue completely different security policy interests than Greece or Cyprus. And it is precisely these particular interests that must be the basis for a proactive Armenian foreign policy: detached from the idea of a collective West, it is important for Armenia to cooperate with countries in the West with which there are similar, overlapping interests.
Particular state interests as the basis of a proactive foreign policy
In this context, there are mainly two countries within the West of strategic interest for Armenia: France on the one hand and the United States on the other. While a serious military partnership between the EU or NATO is rather unrealistic, bilateral arrangements with France, but especially the United States, are very likely. However, this does not mean, that the relations between the EU and Armenia should not be deepened. The EU-monitoring mission in Armenia is one of the most effective key decisions of the last 30 years in the region. The monitoring mission will internationalize the conflict on the one side and break the weakening Turkish-Russian “hegemony” in the Caucasus.
Within this framework, the tragic war in Ukraine creates a turning point and a unique opportunity for post-Soviet states to escape Russia’s orbit and to look for alternative security mechanisms. The world order before and after the Ukrainian war is quite different: while both parts of the West, especially the United States and Russia tolerated each other before the Ukrainian war, even cooperated with each other in some cases, and many post-Soviet states were able to use the possibility of a balanced policy between East and West, this is no longer the case today. Today, the signs point to unconditional confrontation between Russia and most of Western states, and this also has far-reaching effects on the post-Soviet region. While spheres of influence and areas of interest of individual great powers tended to be respected before the Ukraine war, the logic of respect for spheres of influence has disappeared since the Ukraine war. On the contrary, various great powers and regional powers, not only Western ones, now see a unique opportunity to strengthen their own influence in the post-Soviet space in the long term. A look at Central Asia shows that several supra-regional players such as China, Turkey and Pakistan are trying to gain a foothold in this region. The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the military and political weakening of Russia are contributing to this.
American political interests in the Caucasus: An opportunity for Armenia
The Caucasus, especially Armenia, is also facing a turning point today. A turning point similar to the one Albania faced in the 1990s. The disintegration of Yugoslavia on the one hand and the collapse of the communist regime in Albania on the other made Albania the most important partner for the United States at that time. Both sides have benefited from this relationship for almost 25 years now. Russia’s weakening influence in the Caucasus makes the region attractive for Western states, but above all for the United States. The reasons why Armenia could become important for the United States are complex:
For strategic reasons, the United States wants to seize the momentum and restore its influence in the region (Mediterranean, Middle East) and consolidate it in the Caucasus and is looking for new reliable partners. For although Turkey is an ally of the United States, relations are anything but trustworthy. While Turkey was indispensable and irreplaceable during the Cold War, today Turkey has become a security risk,. For years, Turkey has been unreliable and l uncontrollable for the United States. The ban on using Turkish territory for the Iraq war, S-400 purchases from Russia, military-economic cooperation with Russia, provocations against Greece and Cyprus, are some major factors in the cooling of relations between the United States and Turkey.
It would be illusory to say that these relations will come to an end, but what is clear is that the United States needs more reliable partners in the region, as well as partners to make Turkey more predictable in the region again. The rearmament of Greece, the transfer of military equipment from Turkey to Greece and the lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus are some essential measures.
Last but not least, Armenia and Georgia will play a central role in the future – should relations between Iran and the West improve: A possible trade route from India via Iran, Armenia and Georgia to the EU is a key factor of interest. In this context, a route via Armenia instead of Azerbaijan makes much more sense for India.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Armenia and putting Armenia on an equal footing with Ukraine and Taiwan are a clear signal towards Armenia: The United States is highly interested! The cooperation can be multi-layered. Considering the conflicting interests between Armenia and Russia in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict (Russia benefits from the establishment of the Meghri corridor, Russia’s dependence on Azerbaijan and Turkey increases), Armenia clearly needs a rethink of its foreign policy: namely, that there is no collective, political West with regard to Armenia. And that is precisely what creates a possible way out of the situation for Armenia.