By Grigor Hakobyan
The spring and summer of 2018 was very heated, full of somewhat unexpected results. In the meantime, existential threats against Armenia’s national security are mounting while Armenia’s foreign policy remains unclear and very confusing for foreign observers leading to misunderstanding and undue stress in interstate relations both with Russia and the countries of the West. Subsequently, a number of steps outlined below must be taken to clearly formulate Armenia’s foreign policy, identify geopolitical priorities and to strengthen Armenia’s national security for the foreseeable future.
In the spring of 2018, the previous government led by a long-time ruler of Armenia- Serj Sarkisyan, resigned under pressure of Armenian citizenry and the new government under the leadership of popular leader, Nikol Pashinyan, was elected; in the meantime, the legislative body of Armenia, its Parliament, remained the same. As a result, Armenia ended up with two state institutions, executive and legislative, that resent each other and represent diabolically opposite views on various issues of national significance. Internally, one of them is actively fighting organized crime and political corruption in its attempts to restore state sovereignty and social justice in the country while the other one is attempting to hinder the previous one’s attempts to clean up the country and stand up on its own feet, resolve its own problems by itself within the confines of law and order.
Externally, Armenia’s sworn enemies, Turkey and Azerbaijan are winning over Armenia’s supposed “allies”, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and through various regional and extra regional projects are attempting to negate the “Armenian factor” in the region both politically and economically. Furthermore, Aliyev never misses a chance to threaten Armenian people with physical extermination and the loss of its statehood every time Azerbaijan receives another fresh batch of Russian tanks and armored vehicles or Israeli and Byelorussian MLRS, attack drones and Turkish cruise missiles. Every time another meeting is planned for Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Russia or Europe peaceful towns and villages of the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh are shelled by Azerbaijani sniper fire while its inhabitants are attending school, working in their fields, resting at home or driving from one place to another.
Armenia is a place where geopolitical interests of various regional powers and superpowers come into direct conflict with each other. For example, Russia’s regional interests include maintaining of its influence in the region by manipulating the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Armenian-Turkish historical animosities. Furthermore, its goal is to integrate Azerbaijan, Iran and if possible Turkey (after its breakup with NATO) into a couple of Russian dominated regional institutions such as Eurasian Economic Union and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) as envisioned by its political ideology of Eurasianism. Establishing military bases in Iran and possibly Turkey (after it leaves NATO) thus extending its geopolitical influence to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. Its economic interests include expansion of oil and gas pipelines to Europe via Turkey and dominating weapons market of the greater Middle East.
In the meantime, US/NATO regional interests include the containment of Russian and Iranian influences in the region, pulling Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan away from Russia by securing their memberships in NATO sometime in the future. Such geopolitical changes in the region will allow for NATO to expand itself into Central Asia and beyond as it attempts to contain geopolitical ambitions of Russia, Iran and China in their corresponding regions. In case of successful implementation of such a policy, Russian influence will not be able to extend beyond the Caucasus Mountains, Black Sea and expansive deserts of Central Asia. In the meantime, it will also open new markets for Western exports of agricultural products, weapons, pharmaceuticals, etc. and enable the establishments of new military bases throughout the Near East, Caucasus and Central Asia.
In parallel to others Turkey pursues its own geopolitical interests which entail the recreation of the Ottoman Empire and the spread of Turkish influence into Caucasus and Central Asia regions. The only obstacle on its way to geopolitical supremacy is Armenia. As a result, the solution for the Armenian factor envisioned in the minds of Turkish strategists is the destruction of the Armenian state and the annihilation of Armenian people. Concurrently, Azerbaijan pursues the same goals as Turkey, therefore there is not much difference between them. Since 1990s they have been working together under the concept of “one nation-two states” in their attempts to annihilate the Armenian people and to destroy the Armenian state. Since the massacres of Armenians in Azerbaijan in 1920s and 1990s (Baku, Shushi, Sumgait, Kirovabad, etc.) Azerbaijan’s foreign policy and military doctrine has been vehemently anti-Armenian and hasn’t changed since its inception.
Probably the only country in the region that doesn’t have a clear foreign policy goals and geopolitical objectives is Armenia. For the past twenty-seven years Armenia has been attempting to utilize a multi-vector foreign policy that will allow it to balance between Russian and Western interests, however as the time goes on the escalating tensions between Russia and the West are depriving Armenia of much needed space for diplomatic maneuver. Consequently, Armenia must clarify its foreign policy goals and geopolitical objectives to avoid contradictions that lead to misunderstanding and confusion on the part of foreign states and regional blocks. At a time when Russia and the West are at loggerheads with each other on almost all issues of regional significance ranging from Syria, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, etc., Armenia cannot rely solely on Russian support for its security while at the same time pursue greater economic benefits from the West or vice versa. Furthermore, it cannot play one power against another to derive any benefit. It must decide between one of them that will offer the most benefit in terms of security and economic growth or choose neither one of them and rely solely on itself and to some extent on its worldwide diaspora.
First and foremost, Armenia’s foreign policy should be pro-Armenian and have several principles as its basis among them annulments of the Treaty of Moscow and of the Treaty of Kars that effectively partitioned Armenia at the beginning of the twentieth century and became the catalyst for the future Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict at the end of the same century. Second, the pursuit of genocide restitutions from the government of Turkey must be one of its other principles of foreign policy. Third, the ultimate goal of Armenia’s foreign policy should be the revival of the Treaty of Sevres which will unify Armenian territories and consolidate the Armenian nation thus securing the continuity of the Armenian state for many decades yet to come. In fact, recent comments made by the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan of seeing Artsakh as part of the Republic of Armenia in a near future is the step in the right direction.
Armenia’s geopolitical priorities should include the strengthening of the Armenian factor in the region by encouraging resettlement of liberated territories in Artsakh and later in Nakhijevan, and much later in Western Armenia; rapidly developing and diversifying its economy by attracting foreign direct investments and encouraging innovations at home; attaining military self-sufficiency and accumulating near-nuclear military capabilities that will effectively deter any Azerbaijani or Turkish aggression against Armenia. Lastly, declaring political neutrality in the contest between the East and the West should be among Armenia’s geopolitical priorities as well. Only then peaceful existence and economic prosperity for Armenia may become possible.
Internally Armenia’s constitution must undergo multiple amendments to establish real checks and balances between different branches of the government and not between two figure heads of the executive branch as it is presently. Furthermore, for the sake of justice, the fight against corruption must not be limited in scope and confined to the crimes that were committed under the last two presidents only, but extend itself to include the crimes that were committed under the rule of the first president of Armenia also. Armenia’s Constitution should be amended further to allow for the dissolution of the present Parliament of Armenia considering that majority of parliamentarians presiding there are the remnants of the old regime that doesn’t enjoy public legitimacy in Armenia.
Externally Armenia’s defense posture cannot be always static like it was since 1994. Proactive defense entails not only carrying out preemptive strikes against the enemy to negate any advantage that it may possess or attempt to acquire, but should also include the destruction of all Azerbaijani military positions overlooking any Armenian border village or town not only in Artsakh but also in other provinces of Armenia. If necessary and where possible Azerbaijani military positions overlooking Armenian towns and villages from nearby hilltops should be taken over by Armenian armed forces to create a security belt around them. This type of military actions will eliminate not only the sniper fire that takes lives of Armenian soldiers and civilians almost every week but also will deter any infiltration attempts by groups of enemy saboteurs that continues to occur despite Armenia’s best efforts.
It is a fine balance that Armenia must maintain to avoid calamities of the past. If history is any guide, reliance on Russia and the West during WW-1 resulted in the Armenian Genocide, loss of Armenian statehood and military occupation of most of its homeland. What present and future governments of Armenia must keep in mind is that for all regional and extra-regional players Armenia is needed without Armenians, thus any compromise that may occur between them will be at the expense of Armenia and the Armenian people. Subsequently its foreign policy and defense posture must be pragmatic driven by its natural determination for survival and continuity of Armenian nation and statehood. For Armenia to survive and prosper, it must rely solely on itself and its own people; only then others will take notice of Armenia and seek Armenia’s support themselves.