The US-Armenian-Russian defense alliance: its meaning and necessity
While the proposed settlement plan would consist of many other details, the aforementioned accords are the basic ones, and the pivotal element is the US-Armenian-Russian defense alliance. A legitimate question can be raised as to whether this tripartite agreement is necessary at all for Armenia's security in light of the existing Armenian-Russian defense alliance. The answer is positive because Russian guarantees of Armenia's security are insufficient. There are four reasons.
First, Russia remains an unstable and unpredictable state and is itself subject to possible partition, especially in its Caucasus region.
Second, after the withdrawal from the "occupied territories", the geostrategic position of Armenia would deteriorate, possibly to the extent that Moscow would lose its interest in the continuation of its defense accord with Armenia.
Third, the change in Russia's security commitment could be facilitated by certain economic and political concessions made by Turkey and Azerbaijan in other spheres, for example, their pledge not to support Chechnya in its bid for independence or some concessions and privileges in oil and pipeline politics.
Fourth, for the foreseeable future, Russia's financial and economic situation will continue to be substantially dependent on western loans and logistical support, especially from such US dominated transnational structures as the IMF, World bank and WTO. As long as the great powers, primarily Russia and the US continue their struggle for the redistribution of zones of influence in former Soviet Transcaucasia and Central Asia, Russia will be exposed to possible' American pressures on behalf of Turkey and Azerbaijan (this has already occurred at the Lisbon Summit of 1996, when Armenia was simply abandoned by Russia). This possibility, that is pro-Turkish US pressure on Russia in Transcaucasia, is an the more likely if we consider that the Russian-Armenian and US- Turkish military alliances objectively preserve and promote the same type of zero-sum thinking of the cold war. If we add rapidly growing but low profile Turkish-Azerbaijani military ties to the mix, it becomes quite obvious that conflict prone elements and a tense atmosphere will continue to characterize Transcaucasia after the implementation of any settlement plan that envisages the withdrawal of Armenian forces from strategically important territories.
Thus, after the withdrawal of Armenian troops from their current positions, the defense alliance between Armenia and Russia not only will be incapable of neutralizing tensions leading to conflict in the region, but the alliance itself would be exposed to pressures possibly leading to its rapid deterioration.
The US as a non-regional power with conflicts with Iran and Russia - two powerful regional states -would neither be willing to make a unilateral commitment to the long-term security of Armenia nor be capable of providing that security. However, the strategic security of Armenia and the long-term stability of Transcaucasia could be effectively addressed by Russia and the USA, provided they could act in concert.
The pivotal point of these accords would be an explicit commitment by the USA to assist Armenia by all available means, including militarily, in case Armenia is attacked by a foreign power. In theory, the USA can make that commitment in two ways -by concluding a bilateral US-Armenian Military Accord or by joining the existing Armenian-Russian defense alliance. Considering the first option, the USA could have concluded a bilateral Mutual Defense (or Security) Treaty with Armenia. In recent decades, the USA has concluded similar treaties (some of them are no longer in force) with a number of countries, such as the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, China (Taiwan), South Vietnam, Spain, Iran, Liberia and others. However, the existing Russian-Armenian defense alliance makes such US-Armenian treaty impossible since it could cause serious political problems between Armenia and Russia as well as between Russia and the USA. Specifically, such a treaty could be interpreted as a means to protect Armenia from Russia rather than from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Hence, Moscow would rightly see this sort of US-Armenian alignment as an attempt to further shrink its sphere of influence by promoting the departure of Armenia from its traditional pro-Russian orientation.
The other way of ensuring Armenia's security would be for the USA to join the existing Armenian-Russian defense alliance. This would be an acceptable and even welcome option for Russia, if two conditions are met; (1) US troops should not be stationed in Armenia (this is something that Washington itself would be unlikely to do). Thus Russia will be assured that its interests in Armenia are not in jeopardy; (2) The US-Armenian-Russian joint agreements should be signed first. After that, and only after that, Armenia and the United States can additionally sign a bilateral Treaty on Military Assistance, which would provide for American logistical support, technical training, and possibly also weapons sales to the Armenian military.
In this respect one point needs to be stressed. The USA may not need to engage directly in combat for the survival of Armenia. Russia alone could have both the incective and capability to protect Armenia, calling only for US political-diplomatic backing. However, without this kind of US logistical support (leaving aside a possible US pro-Azerbaijani and pro-Turkish stance) the Russian security umbrella over Armenia could prove deficient. It must be understood that this proposal's request for a maximum US military commitment in written form aims at receiving minimally sufficient US support in the diplomatic, logistical, and moral spheres.
A positive response by Russia toward this kind of US-Armenia milltary co-operation can be inferred by Russia's acceptance of the defense accord between Tajikistan and Iran signed in December 1997. Tajikistan is home to a considerable Russian military presence, but Moscow did not object to and, indeed, endorsed Iranian logical and technical training offered to military personnel in Tajikistan.
There is yet one extra precondition to US-Armenian military co-operation. It should in no way affect Armenian;-Iranian relations which are vital for Armenia's economy and security. On the contrary, Yerevan's currently positive relations with both the USA and Iran could serve as a suitable communication channel between these former partners, especially in light of the recent cautious moves toward a possible US-Iranian rapprochement.
Although the proposed US-Armenian-Russian military alliance would play a rather narrow and purely defensive role in Armenia only, its geostrategic significance would be much greater. In addition to the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, this alliance could contribute to the stability and development of the entire interrelated region of Transcaucasia and Central Asia. What is of perhaps greater geostrategic value: the conclusion of this alliance could be a turning point in the military-political relations of Russia with the West. In fact, this would be the first US-Russian military pact since World War II. It is no secret that the ongoing expansion of NATO to the East brought increased feelings of isolation and alienation in Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has repeatedly expressed its desire to forge a strategic partnership with the West. The US-Armenian-Russian alliance would provide a limited framework for such a relationship.
The success of this new partnership could pave the way for wider military co-operation between Russia, the USA, and NATO, especially when one considers those many areas where Russian and US strategic interests overlap. These areas include the peaceful settlement of open
and potential conflicts in the Eurasian and Middle Eastern regions, the containment of a possible aggressive drive by the increasingly powerful and assertive China in the Pacific and Siberian regions, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the containment of radical Islam and the struggle against international terrorism and drug trafficking. Many western analysts agree that "cooperation between Russia and the transatlantic community would make successful western policies much more likely" in the Middle East.
The implementation of this settlement plan would give all parties the necessary prerequisites to ensure their security and economic development. Armenia would cease to be blockaded and would be Enabled to rebuild its badly damaged economic and social spheres without sacrificing its present, relatively high level of military security. The strategic alliance with the USA would give Armenia reliable guarantees for its long-term strategic security and create most favorable conditions for the involvement of the large Armenian diaspora in the economic revival of the homeland. Under such circumstances, Armenia would keep pace with the possible rapid development of the Azerbaijani economy prompted by the revenues received from ail sales. Thus, Transcaucasia would be reasonably ensured against the danger of uneven development.
Nagorno-Karabagh would receive firm long-term security guarantees, a permanent land corridor to Armenia, and de facto (though not de jure) independence.
Azerbaijan would preserve its territorial integrity and regain its six Armenian occupied provinces.. Nakhichevan's future security as part of Azerbaijan would also be guaranteed. USA involvement in the proposed security pact would reassure Azerbaijan against what it perceives as Russian-Armenian "conspiracies".
Turkey would acquire Armenia as a potentially friendly neighbor on its border and a new market for its goods. The construction of the shortest oil pipeline not Azerbaijan to the Turkish terminal of Ceyhan would provide, at long last, the least expensive and secure solution by running through the territory of Armenia. The conclusion of the Russian-American military alliance would reduce the probability of Turkish-Russian clashes to a minimum.
Russia would receive the American "blessing" and even a kind of Logistical-moral support for the preservation of its current role as the most influential power in Armnenia. Consequently, Russian presence and influence in Transcaucasia would acquire stability and, what is very important, predictability. The US-Russian military alliance over Armenian security would be a break in the current geostrategic isolation of Russia.
The USA would see the realization of two of its as yet unaccomplished key foreign policy goals. First, a safe and practical export route for Caspian oil would be untangled once and for all, thus providing the Persian Gulf oil dependent Western countries with an alternative energy base. Second, Armenia and Azerbaijan, two of the former Soviet union's weaker states, would be freed to pursue a rapid consolidation of their independence and political development.
Finally, this US-Russian alliance would end the intense and destabilizing, though covert, struggle between the USA and Russia in Transcaucasia. The present balance of forces between the local and outside powers in the region would be legitimized. On the other hand, the USA, Russia and Turkey would have to accommodate themselves to major changes. Russia would need to reconcile itself to the current reality of a strongly pro- Turkish and pro-NATO Azerbaijan. The USA would have to reject its post-Soviet policy of pushing Russia out of Transcaucasia and accept Russia as the most influential power in Armenia. Turkey would have to give up its long-term strategic design of replacing Russia in Transcaucasia and crushing Armenia as a viable state.
Iran is another powerful regional player whose attitude toward any settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict should be taken into account. Until now Iran's behavior in regard to this conflict has been driven by two primary concerns; first, to prevent further expansion of Turkish influence in the region, and second, to prevent any agitation or disturbances among its own population of Iranian Azerbaijanis that could stem from either major Azerbaijani military victories or defeats. These concerns, in combination, have produced very cautions Iranian policies in Transcaucasia, in essence, limited economic and political support for Armenia and cooler relations with Azerbaijan. One can assert that Iran is more or less content with the present balance of forces in Transcaucasia. Inasmuch as the proposed settlement would actually sanction the current status quo in the region, it is unlikely to elicit sharp criticisms and counteractions from Iran. US-Russian regional co-operation may significantly accelerate an eventually inevitable rapprochement between the USA and Iran.
What are the guarantees that, if implemented, the US-Armenian-Russian alliance would survive the test of time? As for Russian, it is very unlikely that Moscow would step back from its commitments to this alliance, since it loses nothing and profits considerably. In the USA some influential circles connected with Turkey and transnational oil corporations could at different times voice their opposition to this alliance. Nevertheless, recognizing the fact that the USA is a state extraordinarily based on the rule of law as well as the increasing political awareness of the Armenian-American community, as soon as this alliance is ratified by Congress and becomes law, there would be substantial ground to believe that Washington would stick to the spirit and letter of its commitments.
All this, in turn, means that the proposed complex settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict could be implemented (including the with-drawal of Armenian forces from some of their present positions) only after the highest legislative bodies of the USA and Russian Federation ratify the US-Armenian Russian defense treaty. At the same time, the proposed peace plan is a compromise plan and the aforementioned conditions are a bottom line of concessions that, in my opinion, Armenia might be able to make now. Any transformations in regional politics, particularly the prolongation of current Turkish-Azerbaijani policies toward Armenia or new Armenian-Azerbaijani wars would further damage the chances for a compromise settlement. Finally, one thing should be clear to the international mediators as well as to Baku and Ankara; any settlement plan for this conflict must allow for permanent, full and unchallenged Armenian military control over Nagorno-Karabagh and the Lachin corridor. Without agreement on this point, serious negotiations are impossible.
Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish relations can enter into a stage of normal development only when the parties cease to fear each other. Let us recall that after the last two world wars, German-French reconciliation has been possible only after NATO provided those two former adversaries with security guarantees. Simple statements of good will and noble intentions are far from being adequate. Hence, reliable security guarantees are the most important prerequisite for stability and economic progress of the region. Turkey does not need and does not ask for any additional security guarantees. It is a veteran member of NATO and, moreover, it has a large, well-trained, and well-equipped military. Notably, from 1995 to 1997 the Turkish armed forces in active service underwent a dramatic increase from 507800 to 639000 personnel. The army expanded from 400000 to 525000 soldiers, and the Air Force also grew. Armenia is deeply concerned that this build up occurred largely in the territories adjacent to the Armenian border, where now, according to reliable estimates, over 200000 Turkish troops are deployed. Armenian armed forces number only 58600. The Nagorno-Karabagh defense Army has in its ranks some
20-25000 soldiers. Russian military presence in Armenia is currently insignificant, a single brigade with only 4300 personnel and one squadron of MIG-23s.
After the withdrawal of Karabagh Armenian forces from the six occupied districts, Azerbaijan would have great geostrategic superiority over Armenia and Karabagh. Azerbaijan's security would be additionally guaranteed by its increasingly close military relationship with Turkey. The involvement of the USA in the Russian-Armenian defense pact, the most feasible avenue for any significant American military presence in Transcaucasia in the foreseeable future, would actually advance Azerbaijan's security as well.
On the other hand, after Armenian forces withdrew from the aforementioned territories, the Armenian side would find itself in an extremely vulnerable strategic position and would be in dire need of external protection. Without ironclad security guarantees, the Armenian side would be naive to abandon those limited strategic advantages it has gained in war. If war is to come, it is always preferable to occupy stronger strategic positions, irrespective of the final outcome, We reiterate that because the Minsk Group peace plan of September 1997 called for the surrender of territory without providing for Armenia's security guarantees. A new war would have been much more likely had that peace plan been implemented.
The post-Soviet years have clearly demonstrated that there is no great power or regional security organization that can replace the former Soviet Union as a security guarantor for the Transcaucasus. Russia is not capable of restoring its former hegemony in Azerbaijan and, to a degree, in Georgia. The USA and NATO are also incapable of replacing Russia as a new hegemon in Transcaucasia because of the great influence that other states, especially Russia and Iran, exercise in this region. However, the necessary field of confidence between Armenia, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan and Turkey on the other, could be provided by a US-Russian political-military pledge to the security of Armenia, geostrategically one of the most vulnerable states in the world.