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A Conflict of Interests

Experts agree that talk of a "stability pact" in the South Caucasus is premature while regional conflicts remain unresolved.
By Ara Tadevosian

Armenian president Robert Kocharian is spearheading an ambitious plan to boost security in the South Caucasus by forging a "stability pact" between the former Soviet republics and their political allies.


But choosing suitable partners could prove problematic in a region where America, Europe, Iran, Turkey and Russia all have conflicting interests. And some critics argue that the idea is impractical while the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks remain in deadlock.


The idea of establishing a regional security system was first mooted by Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, at the OSCE summit in Istanbul. Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze also voiced his general support for the initiative.


Kocharian later presented his ideas at a speech to the Georgian parliament. "It is evident," he said, "that nine years after our nations won their independence, we need to look closely at the political realities of a region which enjoys the undivided attention of the international community."


The Armenian president went on to say, "Resolving our historical antagonisms is one of the most serious challenges which faces us. This kind of system should not exclude the possibility of allying with a power which has direct influence on the region."


Kocharian is proposing a pact which brings together Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, the European Union and the United States. However, his formula has been greeted with scepticism by most political analysts, both at home and abroad.


Ashot Manucharian, national security advisor to Armenia's former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, told the Golos Armenii newspaper that Russia was the most obvious partner for such a pact. He described any "revolutionary formula" involving the EU and America as "unacceptable - particularly in view of the interests of our allies, Russia and Iran."


Wayne Murray, director of the European Communities Programme, commented that any security pact in the Caucasus region which does not include Russia "would inevitably fail".


Murray, who served on US defence minister William Perry's staff in 1994, also pointed out, "The regional system suggests shared interests over questions of security. As long as Armenia and Azerbaijan are technically still at war, they cannot have these kind of shared interests."


Meanwhile, Iran has shown little enthusiasm for any pact which includes the United States. Morteza Sarmadi, deputy minister of international affairs in Tehran, said, "The three states in the region should first form a security alliance with one another and only then should other nations be invited to join."


The Kremlin, too, is suspicious of divided loyalties and opposes any formula which gives Russia a back-seat role. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the international military co-operation department within the Russian defence ministry, said, "Of course, we are against any separate deals being struck with other parties. The interests of Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Georgia and Turkey are all at stake. America is perhaps the least interested party."


However, Ara Papaian, spokesman for the Armenian foreign ministry, predicted that Russia would eventually accept a secondary role and "all countries interested in the region should somehow be introduced into this process".


Talk of Azerbaijan and Georgia making overtures to NATO has also complicated the issue. Papaian described these ambitions as "only a wish" and commented, "It will be a long time before either country can meet NATO standards. During that time, neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan can exist in a security vacuum."


Edvard Dzheredzhian, director of the James Baker Institute, said military and political competition between the South Caucasian states could lead to "a serious destabilisation of the region". Wayne Murray supported this view: "The idea of Georgia and Azerbaijan joining NATO is absurd. Both Shevardnadze and Aliev know perfectly well that NATO membership is an impossibility. They talk about NATO for purely political reasons - to goad Moscow and Tehran."


Ted Carpenter, vice-president of the Kato Institute of Defence and Foreign Policy, pointed out that any attempts to create a security pact in the South Caucasus would be frustrated if any of the three nations joined NATO. "Fortunately, a powerful opposition against NATO expansion has formed in the Caucasus," he added.


Meanwhile, the Centre for European Policy Studies has devised a formula of its own. The Brussels think-tank is proposing a "Caucasus G8" comprising the EU, Russia, America, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. However, the details of the pact bear little relationship to the structure envisaged by Robert Kocharian.


The experts agree that any talk of a stability pact is premature while regional conflicts - especially the Nagorno-Karabakh impasse -- remain unresolved. Benita Ferrero-Valdner, acting chairman of the OSCE, said she found Kocharian's proposal interesting but added, "The time for realising these ideas has not yet come. I discussed this question with President Shevardnadze during my recent visit to Georgia. We agreed the political resolution of the Karabakh conflict is one of the most important prerequisites for strengthening regional co-operation."


Ferrero-Valdner concluded that, when the right time came, the OSCE might well be able to play a pivotal role in forging a stability pact "using all the experience at its disposal".


By Ara Tadevosian is director of Mediamax, an independent Armenian news agency


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