From Vol. 2 (4) - Autumn 2008
The EU’s Neighborhood Policy and the South Caucasus: Unfolding New
Patterns of Cooperation
Dr. Maria Raquel
Freire is Assistant Professor in International Relations at the
School of Economics, University of Coimbra, Portugal, and
researcher at the Centre for Social Studies of the said
University. Her research has been focusing on international
security, foreign policies and Russia and the former Soviet
Licínia Simão is a PhD candidate at the University of
Coimbra, where the focus of her thesis has been on the ENP
towards the South Caucasus.
paper looks at the European Union (EU) process of engagement in the South
Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) in the context of its Neighborhood
Policy. It looks at how divergent perceptions of the region, both inwards and
outwards-driven, impact on regional policy choices, with an emphasis on regional
cooperation. Though these states remark on the outlived usefulness of artificial
framings, and regional cooperation among the three is virtually non-existent,
when engaged in larger and wide-ranging formats, cooperation might not only be
possible, but fruitful. It is therefore argued that regional cooperation should
overcome the artificially constructed “South Caucasus” regional label and unfold
along different patterns and variable compositions. The paper advances the
proposal for a Eurasian/Black Sea security complex, framing in a wider format
regional bounds, while maximizing them in new cooperation frames, inverting the
tendency for imposed labels and uncooperative stances in the area.
European Neighborhood Policy, South Caucasus, security complexes, regional
cooperation, Wider Black Sea
three South Caucasian states – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – have been
widely regarded as a single regional group by external actors, including the
European Union (EU). However, the argument has been put forward that such a
regional perception has outlived its usefulness and can become
counterproductive, by not recognizing neither long-standing nor recently renewed
differences among these states. In addition, this regional labeling, clearly
based on a geographical approach to the area, does not reflect the considerably
distinct realities of each country in political, economic and security terms.
Therefore, it is argued here that these variations should be taken into
consideration by external partners in their interplay and policy formulations
towards the area. Nevertheless, and simultaneously, the Caucasian context
reveals high levels of interdependence in matters related to regional conflicts,
migration fluxes, ethnicity, and economic aspects, particularly energy assets
and transport routes, as well as a shared past of territorial tearing and
occupation. This helps explain why the region is commonly described as a
within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) under the regional
preeminence of the Russian Federation. It reveals overlapping issues, shared
concerns and inter-related dimensions of actuation, both in equations of
cooperation and rivalry, demanding a common regional approach, though one that
overcomes currently tight and formatted dealings.
article argues, therefore, that the artificial labeling of the South Caucasus
does not reflect a cohesive regional group with easily identifiable linking ties
among the regional players, but that despite this fact, the reasoning for
regional cooperation exists. This cannot however involve exclusively Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia, but should instead define itself in a multi-dimensional
and multi-level format. Here, the Wider Black Sea regional cooperation format
emerges as an alternative to rigidity, by introducing flexibility and allowing
cross-level inter-relations involving the three Caucasian states in cooperative
taking a varying regional approach, external actors activate ties that range
across a wider region encompassing not only these three states, but also Russia,
Turkey and Iran, which range across several dimensions, interplaying in
instances in opposite directions, be it regarding religious, linguistic and
ethnic affinities, energetic and environmental matters, military security or
political linkages. The complexities underlying this multitude of factors have
demanded a differentiated approach to the promotion of regional cooperation from
the EU, which in the face of the current options has made the regional
cooperation format rigidified and implying a conditional approach – pending the
achievement of simultaneous goals. This implies a rationale for simultaneous
action with all three states – hardly possible. Its strict sectioning has led
the EU to overlook both the possible destabilizing effects of outside actors,
and the destabilizing impact of developments within this security subcomplex in
neighboring countries. This might imply not only a slow response and the
frustration of expectations, but also the blocking of synergies emerging from
developing cross-relation processes in the region. Thus, this analytical framing
should encompass in its readings and formulation issues such as Turkey’s EU
accession, the eventual membership of other Black Sea countries, the difficult
partnership with Russia, and above all, the Neighborhood Policy engaging the
Middle East and other Black Sea and Caspian basin states.
addition, this enlarged format for cooperation implies, as an underlining
assumption, that the South Caucasus security subcomplex might in fact detangle
from the wider security complex where it is included, the CIS, giving place to
an independent, though still inter-related, mini security complex in the area or
eventually allowing for the establishment of a wider Eurasian/Black Sea security
complex, not matching the increasingly disaggregated CIS. This argument
reinforces the idea put forward for a wider regional cooperation format, beyond
the traditionally devised formats, particularly within the EU framework, to
address and respond to the challenges in the area. To this end, the paper
analyses the varying patterns of regional affinities and cooperation, along with
those of rivalry, in the post-Soviet period, and tracks the most significant
changes manifesting in the current securitization context. It takes into
consideration the possible impact of other actors besides the EU in regional
processes and maps the possible obstacles and breakthroughs in regional
cooperation engaging the three South Caucasian countries.
Dynamic Caucasian Security Complex
security framework where relations among the three South Caucasus states –
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – take place is a complex one. The regional
conflicts, along with the intersection of competing outside interests in the
area, make it a relevant case for the analysis of the potential for endogenous
inter-regional cooperation among the three, which has been almost inexistent,
and certainly for enlarged formats of regional cooperation, allowing innovative
dealings engaging all states in the wider Black Sea area.
According to Buzan, Weaver and de Wilde, a “security complex
is defined as a set of states whose major security perceptions and concerns
are so interlinked that their national security problems cannot reasonably be
analyzed or resolved apart from one another. The formative dynamics and
structure of a security complex are generated by the states within that complex
– by their security perceptions of, and interactions with, each other”.
Within the CIS, the multifaceted institutional framework allowing competing
dynamics renders the relationships among these states difficult. The leading
role of the Russian Federation in the complex renders it harsher, when
asymmetrical bargaining/concessions relations take place, with close
collaboration with Armenia, a wait-and-see-act relationship with Azerbaijan, and
very strained relations with Georgia. In addition, the long-standing conflict
between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh adds to difficult relations
between these two countries, through constituting the main problem in their
mutual security concerns. And the overall instability in the area, demonstrated
by the August 2008 war in Georgia, illustrates that the South Caucasus is an
unstable playing field. Considering the area, it becomes clear that there are
differentiated interplays taking place, not only between the three countries of
this subcomplex, but also regarding external players that have effect on its
dynamics, and that clearly go well beyond the strong presence of Russia.
However, and despite this scenario of conflicting dynamics, not only is there an
urgent need to recognize that interdependence exists among Armenia, Azerbaijan
and Georgia (with all difficulties entailed), but also that this is extended in
fluid and dynamic patterns to include other state and non-state actors varying
according to the issues at stake. Mapping this mutating interdependence is a
first step for regional actors to better assess their interests and design
strategies accordingly. Furthermore, and since external actors also impact on
local and regional dynamics, emerging institutional and ideational elements are
important to understand how far local security rationales are changing and
adjusting to, for instance, Western views, or if these are incompatible with
alternative sources of regional legitimacy. This is why the South Caucasus has
been often perceived as a security subcomplex,
whose security concerns impact on relational patterns within the region and
outside it. According to Buzan’s formulation, these “empirical phenomena” derive
as much from interactions among individual states as they do from the anarchical
system: on the one hand, geography links events in one state to the next, whilst
security interdependence is shaped by international anarchy.
The current challenges arising within Georgia, with the newly-recognized (by
Russia) territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with the instability
between Armenia and Azerbaijan, both influence and depend not only on the
countries themselves, but also on neighbors, and regional and global powers with
identified interests in that particular region. The differentiated approaches to
these powers’ security, including conflict management, have pressed local actors
and decision makers in their security calculations and political choices. Thus,
there has been a clear interlinkage between domestic policies and
externally-driven inputs in decision-making processes in the area.
the EU, dialogue and cooperation within a process of increasing regional
integration is the most relevant form to address conflicting scenarios. Within
the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), the EU has sought to
stabilize the South Caucasus through economic integration, institutional
cooperation and by playing a growing role as a security actor in the region. But
the EU has remained an outsider to the region’s frozen conflicts, on the basis
that other actors are conducting the negotiation processes (the EU has been
involved, at most, as an observer and eventual future guarantor of a final
settlement agreement), contrary to that of Turkey and Russia who have acted as
both supporters and financers. This is a central aspect the EU must take into
consideration when designing its strategies and partnerships, both on conflict
resolution and on a broader security level, as regards energy, transport and
Moreover, decisions in Ankara and Moscow regarding foreign relations towards the
Caucasus do not always match the principles and means advocated by the EU.
Turkey is on the path to deeper integration within Euro-Atlantic structures, but
Russia has reversed its approximation course towards the West and has moved
towards greater autonomy and affirmation in the “near abroad”. According to
relations within the post-Soviet security complex are constrained by “the
political metric of survival in office and power” of most regional leaders, and
the “disproportionate power of Russia” vis-à-vis its “near abroad”,
granting it a hegemonic feature. Both Turkey and Russia take part in the
Caucasian subsecurity complex in different modes, but in both cases maintaining
a security relationship with the Caucasian states, with different levels of
engagement and demand, particularly connected to conflict resolution and
regional integration processes. Due to Iran’s international standing as a
“pariah state”, the EU has been unable and unwilling to include it in its
security analysis regarding this security complex. As Coppieters argues “the
patterns of interaction among the political actors of the South Caucasian states
are too closely linked with Russia, Turkey and Iran for them to be considered as
constituting a separate region in security terms”.
further example of these fluid and dynamic interactions can be taken from the
impact that US support for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline has had on
relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The strategic interests of both the
United States and the EU in Caspian energy have changed the balance within this
security subcomplex and this will certainly have spillover effects into the
Black Sea region. This interdependence, and the identification of specific
interests in the Wider Black Sea, has pushed regional leaders to deepen
cooperation and open up to outside influence. In fact, a multilateral security
system complemented by the engagement of transnational institutions such as the
Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, or the Black Sea Economic Cooperation
Organization (BSECO), could enhance common perceptions of security and assure
the existence of common frameworks of peace enforcement.
This is not, however, without problems. The expansion of the Euro-Atlantic
structures into the former Soviet space has sparked a great deal of frustration
and animosity in Moscow, where this process is viewed as designed to offset
Russian influence instead of engaging it in a postmodern cooperative frameworks.
The outcome has been a significant security impact in the South Caucasus region.
Elements of Distinction and Lines of Approximation
Placed in a border region, the identities and cultures of the peoples living in
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have been continually redefined, along with
their territory and political options. Even during their long inclusion in the
Soviet empire, identity differences were kept in line with the nationalities
policies of the ruling regime, which latter would become the basis for the
nationalists’ political movements. The Armenian identity remains shaped by some
level of “siege” mentality, since it perceives itself as surrounded by
aggressive Turkish and Persian Islamic cultures. This is an illustration of the
impact that such a context had in forging a strong sense of ethnic and religious
identity in the country.
On the other hand, Azerbaijanis, living in their so-called khanates (statelet)
established in the South Caucasus and the present-day Iran before the Russian
expansion in the 19th century into Caucasia, became divided between
those included in the Russian and Soviet Empires and those populating the
north-western provinces of Iran. Close relations between Moscow and Teheran
deepened after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, at which point many
Soviet Azerbaijanis crossed the border to meet their ethnic and religious
countrymen inside Iran, shortly reviving the idea of Grand-Azerbaijan.
Georgia displays a multi-ethnic character close to the North Caucasus and its
position on the eastern coast of the Black Sea provides it with an important sea
link to the West.
years of Soviet experience bestowed a common background throughout the South
Caucasus and the remaining former-Soviet space. This common inheritance of
economic central planning and heavy subsidization left the new independent
states poorly prepared to provide for economic assurances to their citizens or
for economic integration into a globalized world economy. Moreover, a “dual
transition” was imposed on these states, demanding a (re)creation of the
functions of the state.
From central economic planning and one party politics, the expectation was for
the new independent countries to become multiparty democracies with viable and
integrated market economies. In the Caucasus, this scenario gave place to
economic decline heightened by the escalation of violent armed conflicts,
while in the political spectrum, early democratization trends were subverted by
the radicalization of national movements in the face of armed conflicts, and the
lack of positive economic redistribution.
Historically interdependent, the region later known as Transcaucasia would
arrive at independence in the 1990s with significant differences in the level of
economic and human development, which together with relevant differences in
their natural geographical characteristics (territorial relief, natural
resources, access to sea) would shape the modern development of these societies.
Faced with the challenge of assuring economic and social welfare to their
populations and the challenge of consolidating the political transitions to
democratic forms of government, the states of the South Caucasus face distinct
paths and stand at different points in their transition processes. Although all
three had reached economic stability and steady economic growth by the end of
their prospects vary considerably. Azerbaijan, sticking to a strong-hand-style
of ruling, has grasped the benefits of high energy prices, making it a leading
regional investor. However, its economy is highly dependent on energy exports.
Armenia, also in an authoritarian mood, has managed some level of specialization
to overcome the geographical isolation it suffers from closed borders with
Azerbaijan and Turkey. Nevertheless, its economy still relies heavily on
diaspora remittances, conveying to these groups substantial political leverage,
especially as far as regional relations and conflict resolution issues are
concerned. As for Georgia, the early reforms brought by the 2003 “Rose
Revolution” pro-democratization government curbed corruption and improved
stability facilitating foreign investment, while tariffs from energy transit
ensure higher revenues for the government. Nonetheless, relations with Russia
have escalated into armed conflict, jeopardizing both economic and political
reforms. These are fragile achievements that rely on the need for a stable
regional environment and could be reinforced by deepening political reforms and
engaging in wider regional cooperation frameworks, a challenge in need of
A major point
to remember while dealing with the South Caucasian states is their strategic
location and geo-strategic potential. The region stands at a crossroads between
Europe and Asia and between Russia and the Middle East, squeezed between the
Black and the Caspian Seas. After the events of 9/11 the South Caucasus was
brought back to mainstream politics in the West, with the region playing a
crucial role in logistical support to allied operations in Afghanistan. This
increased geopolitical competition among foreign powers for gaining influence in
the region, providing new opportunities for the governments in Tbilisi, Baku and
Yerevan. Their choices were constrained by the security environment inherited
from the collapse of the Soviet Union, namely the ethno-political conflicts and
the action of external powers by proxy, particularly Russia, Iran and Turkey.
security alignments shifted after the end of the Cold War and after 9/11, each
South Caucasian state perceived its security differently. As Svante Cornell
argues “international interest in the region tended to increase polarisation of
The rivalry between the United States and Russia is here a good example, clearly
endowing the foreign policy decisions of regional leaders with strategic
calculations about their security. “This US-Russian pattern of
cooperative/competitive relationship creates a very precarious stability in the
South Caucasus, because neither the strategic alliances are durable, nor do they
create dividing lines along which a balance of power situation could be
consolidated. While all three countries, and to some extent the autonomous
units, do have some space for strategic maneuverings, it is the global
US-Russian interplay that strongly conditions the decision-making process for
each actor in the complex”.
Turkey – a long time Western ally and member of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) – has also been showing signs of growing awareness regarding
its security needs, particularly after the 2003 war in Iraq.
Pragmatism and a growing role in regional affairs have driven its external
relations, at a time of dramatic changes and dilemmas at home. Either through
cultural, linguistic and ethnic affinities shared with countries in the Caucasus
and Central Asia, or the geographical importance of its territory, Ankara has
assumed a leading regional role. BSECO, a Turkish initiative, has become the
most important forum of regional cooperation in the Black Sea. This is
recognized by the EU (the European Commission is in the process of becoming an
observer to BSECO) and the United States, which is already an observer. The most
recent Turkish-led initiative for the South Caucasus followed the Russian
military intervention in Georgia, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
putting forward a revived idea of a Stability Pact for the Caucasus.
This pro-active Turkish stance in its vicinity has been particularly welcomed
and supported by both the EU and the United States, while Moscow has retained a
is fundamentally perceived as a security threat for the Wider Black Sea region.
Despite early unilateral attempts to play a mediating role in the Nagorno
Iran was left out of the main negotiation format – the Minsk Group –, since it
is not a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE). Furthermore, although Iran has considerable energy reserves, its
strained international position and the development of its nuclear program have
made it a non-reliable partner for the South Caucasus states. Despite the
religious differences, friendly relations between Yerevan and Teheran have
provided both countries with alternatives to isolation, and Moscow’s blessing of
Iranian engagement in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, in the early 1990s,
was meant to act as a balance to increasing Turkish influence.
Today, relations between the two countries have improved. On July 14, 2007, Iran
and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding on oil and gas transit and joint
investments, which was widely praised as a fundamental move to diversify
supplies to Europe.
this complex scenario of wide external involvement, competing interests and
cooperation opportunities, the EU role and contribution for stability building
and enhanced collaboration at the regional level is here the focus of analysis.
The following section looks at the European Union approach to the South
Caucasus, with a focus on the regional dimensions of the European Neighborhood
Policy, identifying limits and possibilities in a turbulent context.
Integrating the South Caucasus through the Neighborhood Policy?
EU has regarded the South Caucasus as a compact and interdependent area
demanding a regional approach. Since their independence in 1991, and following
this rationale, the EU engaged with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in a highly
coordinated way, looking at involvement with these countries in simultaneous
terms. All three states signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA),
which entered into force in July 1999, and the EU established a regional
delegation of the European Commission in Tbilisi, dealing with all relevant
The post of a Special Representative for the South Caucasus was created in 2003,
envisaging a coordinated implementation of EU policy objectives in the region.
Moreover, the European Parliament established, in the framework of the PCA, a
Parliamentary Cooperation Committee dealing with the three countries
The ENP, despite its differentiated approach, once again reinforced a regional
perspective of the South Caucasus. This approach was maintained throughout
negotiations for the bilateral ENP Action Plans and, to the detriment of the
countries’ expectations, the three were adopted simultaneously in November 2006.
The reasoning underlying this similitude approach shows the concern in Brussels
to avoid accusations of discrimination as much as it tried to underline the
advantages of the regional cooperation format, where confidence-building
measures could develop and thus facilitate conflict resolution processes.
the European member-states, however, consensus as to what sort of approach
should be designed towards the region has been difficult. As Damien Helly
argues, different understandings of the South Caucasus have informed the EU’s
attempts to devise a strategy of engagement.
Further constraints on the EU’s action include its foreign policy system and
disagreement over decision-making competencies and priorities; the integration
of EU policies in the context of Western institutions, namely NATO and the OSCE,
where great discrepancies reside; as well as the difficulty of creating a common
space of understanding between the EU, Russia, the United States and the
countries in the region. Despite the fact that the ENP represents an attempt to
render greater autonomy to EU actions in the regions surrounding its enlarged
borders, it remains prey to these constraints.
ENP is based on the principle of shared values, differentiation and ownership,
making the EU’s partner states the major actor responsible for the pace of
integration with the Union.
The classical dilemma of maintaining a viable regional approach, while
differentiating enough to allow partners to introduce their own rhythms of
reform, has made the EU subject to criticism. Underlying the obvious differences
and the obstacles to regional cooperation (most of all the Nagorno Karabakh
conflict), leaders in the South Caucasus have pointed to the inefficiencies of
linking developments in one country, to the pace of reforms in the other, since
it does not respond to their short-term needs.
On the eve of the conclusion of the negotiations on the ENP Action Plans for the
three South Caucasian states, an Azerbaijani commercial airline flew to the
Turkish Cypriot republic, in violation of the EU’s non-recognition policy. As a
reprisal, negotiations on the Action Plans for Armenia and Georgia were
suspended along with the one for Azerbaijan. This was denounced by authorities
in Yerevan and Tbilisi as an unjustified and counterproductive conditioning of
the EU’s relations with the two partners.
Similarly, the European Commission decided that the opening of a full-fledged
delegation in Baku would also be coordinated with the opening of a delegation in
These instances demonstrate the EU’s awareness of the constraints imposed on
cooperation efforts by the current regional situation, and its wish to be
perceived as a balanced and neutral partner.
a Euro-Atlantic integration perspective, forcing some level of regional
cooperation among Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis was a priority for the
in an attempt to avoid a new “Cyprus scenario”.
This was seen as a necessary step to stimulate confidence among actors,
searching for common values and objectives that the entrance into a new “ENP
family” could help forge. The EU had established by then that good neighborly
relations would be at the heart of any attempt to integrate the South Caucasus
countries, and that regional cooperation would certainly precede any future
attempts at regional integration.
Furthermore, the EU reasoned that by presenting an attractive offer to the
Caucasian partners, and having Georgia as a frontrunner, some level of peer
competition could develop that would help sustain efforts towards regional
dialogue and mutual commitments.
However, the national conditions, and the fact that Georgia’s revolutionary
model was not welcomed by the current Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships, soon
toned down any level of open competition, and allowed instead some level of free
During negotiations for the Action Plans, issues of regional cooperation arose
from the three Caucasian partners, but naturally pointing in divergent
directions, reflecting the fragmented nature of regional relations. For
Azerbaijan, the insistence of the European Commission in having them cooperate
with Armenia was seen as unwanted interference in domestic issues. Baku’s reply
was to indicate a different format of this “region” to include neighbors such as
Iran, with whom the EU has very limited and difficult relations. The EU’s
alternative was therefore to maintain a “constructive ambiguity” in the
definition of the scope for regional cooperation.
For Georgia, a similar position developed, pointing out that because Armenia and
Azerbaijan did not cooperate, any attempt to link integration into Euro-Atlantic
structures to regional South Caucasian cooperation would be unfair to Georgian
efforts. A Georgian official noted that “the [European] Commission is very
comfortable with regional formal structures, but the political issues end up
being sacrificed over technical ones”.
As far as Armenia was concerned, the engagement of the EU was the perfect
opportunity to lobby for inclusion in regional projects and limit, to some
extent, its isolation.
Alternatively, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia put forward different regional
cooperation frameworks that represented their interests better. These formats
reflect the strategic calculations informing domestic and foreign policy in the
South Caucasus. Georgia was extremely active in pushing for a format where its
European identity would be underlined. With the 2004 enlargement the EU became a
Black Sea power and after the “revolutionary” events in Georgia, in 2003, and in
Ukraine, in 2004, the EU was compelled to define a strategy for its eastern
neighborhood to be developed in a multilateral framework. Turkish and Russian
participation within BSECO turned this forum into a wider regional initiative
for cooperation, and one where the United States has an observer status and the
European Commission is also engaged. Georgia pressed the EU during ENP Action
Plan negotiations to include a reference to the Black Sea cooperation, making
the argument that the EU has strategic interests in the region and that Georgia
and the South Caucasus are part and parcel of those interests. With time,
Azerbaijan and Armenia both regarded the Black Sea regional cooperation, hosted
within BSECO, as the most viable alternative for constructive regional dialogue.
This was also a necessary step to appease the European partners who were eager
to promote regional dialogue. Azerbaijan, despite not being a Black Sea country,
understood the gains it could derive from such an enlarged regional format,
stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, and therefore with large
strategic potential. BSECO, being a Turkish-led initiative, also provided
authorities in Baku with an added layer of comfort for regional cooperation, and
it would prove Azerbaijani dedication to supporting its strategic ally in
Finally, for Armenia, BSECO represents the most important regional format in
which it participates, despite Turkish influence.
Nevertheless, due to Russian participation and US and EU engagement, Armenia
feels more reassured of a balanced format. For the European Commission, the
Wider Black Sea encapsulates the potential for diluting regional pressures and
provides the necessary venues for dialogue. This meant streamlining its own
instruments designed for the region, ranging from membership, accession, ENP,
stability pacts, environmental and trafficking control – what its communication
of 11 April 2007 calls a Black Sea Synergy.
Wider Black Sea Regional Cooperation: Current Dynamics and Future Prospects
Euro-Atlantic integration processes represent today the most important challenge
to the status quo in the Black Sea region, providing the impetus for
regional cooperation and the formation of a regional identity.
Regional cooperation initiatives which derived from exogenous factors can now be
sustained by local actors, building on their overlapping membership within the
EU, NATO and BSECO. Established under Turkish initiative in 1992, BSECO was
modeled after EU institutional cooperation templates, looking at economic
cooperation as a stepping stone for institutionalized dialogue and common
perceptions to develop. The process was strongly influenced by Turkish accession
negotiations with the EU, and reinforced by the presence of Greece, an EU
member-state, as well as several potential candidates. This momentum for Western
influence in the Wider Black Sea region, initiated after the fall of the USSR,
focused on several axes of action, ranging from the development of democratic
institutions, good governance and rule of law practices – extending the
political and economic systems established in Western Europe to the former
Warsaw Pact states - to the energy and transportation interests that this hub
region represents. A notable exception, both in BSECO and in bilateral
cooperation between the EU and regional states, has been hard security concerns
linked to the “frozen” conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Nevertheless, after 9/11, the rigid positions of some BSECO members in having
the organization deal with hard security issues changed, as the Istanbul Summit
of 2002 testifies.
reconfiguration of power relations in the Black Sea region has favored an
entrenchment of European and North-American interests to the detriment of
Russian influence. The process of collapse of the USSR and the endemic
insecurity that followed this collapse was matched by the expansion of
Euro-Atlantic structures, as an answer to growing interdependence.
Simultaneously, domestic changes in the countries of the region, notably in
Georgia and Ukraine following the electoral processes in 2003 and 2004, as well
as in Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, accentuated a rupture with previous methods
of government and established a firm Euro-Atlantic foreign policy orientation.
With the launching of the ENP, the EU took wider responsibilities in the Black
Sea region, pledging to support reforms and integration into its market and
institutional structures. For the South Caucasus countries, uncomfortable with a
strict regional approach, consolidating the process of Euro-Atlantic integration
in the context of the Black Sea cooperation was a sensible choice for different
reasons. The European Commission’s April 2007 communication on “Black Sea
Synergy: A new regional cooperation initiative” underlines the potential for
increased cooperation with the EU in a series of matters, underlining the need
for regional efforts to deal with the challenges posed by weak institutional
structures and governance procedures in the region, organized crime and illegal
migration, the “frozen” conflicts, energy security, transportation networks, and
environmental distress, among other priorities.
This structural foreign policy, embedded in the EU’s domestic processes, creates
the promise of replication of its own prosperity and stability beyond its
borders, and alters the current security configurations in the region. This is
strategically reinforced by the twin enlargement of NATO to Eastern Europe and
potential membership negotiations with Ukraine and Georgia, among others,
extending security guarantees to the region that the EU is unable and/or
unwilling to provide.
far as Russia is concerned, this is a hazardous process, both due to its lack of
transparency and because Moscow does not participate in the decision making
structures. Under President Putin, Russia sought to improve its relations with
NATO and the US in an attempt to redesign the balance of power around the Black
Sea and within the CIS. The military cooperation that followed the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, nevertheless, represented a pragmatic assessment
of the current interests and possibilities more than a long-term prospect of
solid partnership between the West and Russia. Even the EU was unable to fully
associate Russia to its process of enlargement in 2004, following a failed and
embarrassing attempt to give substance to the “four common spaces”.
A growing ideological gap developed as Russia centralized its political and
economic structures in the Kremlin, following a “petro-state” model,
and as the EU insisted in extending its “fuzzy” politics to what Moscow
perceives as its sphere of influence
– all together, a common language was missing from which a strategic partnership
could emerge. The latest development in this strategic gap came in August 2008
with the Russian incursion into South Ossetia and Georgia. The official views of
this short conflict diverge. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin described the war with Georgia and the recognition of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a need, a last resort option, and a response to a
provocation from the Georgian side.
The Bush administration and some of the EU member states like the United
Kingdom, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states have seen Russian intervention
outside its borders as a return to imperialist policies; actions with
fundamental consequences for Moscow.
For the EU, however, the attempt has been to maintain open venues for dialogue
throughout the turmoil, as the mediation efforts by French President Nicholas
Whatever the intended results of this conflict, it seems neither to have slowed
or dampened the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of both Ukraine and Georgia nor to
sprout the alignment of the CIS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization
member-states with Russia.
security concerns of the South Caucasian states have become more acute in this
process, but they have not necessarily become more reliant on Russia.
Maintaining the CIS security complex through military intervention might yield
results in the short-term, as Azerbaijan’s revised policy of support for the
Nabucco pipeline suggests.
Nevertheless, the ongoing processes of integration and alignment with the EU and
its institutions will be very hard to revert or avoid, as long as the EU is seen
as a coherent and reliable partner. Even Armenia, a long time Russian ally, has
taken the opportunity presented by the ENP to come closer to the EU, opening new
possibilities for strategic cooperation. Improving relations with Turkey is
another Armenian priority, with important security implications, and it is in
the framework of Turkish EU-accession that a diversification of relations – away
from Moscow – will naturally come about for Yerevan. Despite the heavy
consequences for the Azerbaijani economy of the stoppage of the oil export
because of the explosion in the Turkish part of the BTC oil pipeline shortly
before the Georgian war and bombing by Russian armed forces of the railroad
linking Baku to Tbilisi during the conflict, authorities in Baku still regard
this western route as a strategic asset in their independence from Moscow, and
cooperation with the EU, the United States and Turkey will certainly follow.
Baku has become an important asset in EU attempts to reach oil and gas in
Central Asia, making Azerbaijan’s territory a central element in the development
of a new Trans-Caspian Trans-Black Sea energy corridor.
these elements reinforce the argument for the detachment of the South Caucasus
states from the CIS security complex towards a broader Eurasian/Black Sea
security complex. Energy security seems, at this point, to be the main rationale
for cooperation both at the regional level (between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), and including the EU, the United States, Russia
and China. Because energy development is a long-term endeavor, it can be
expected that the security links among these actors will be reinforced, further
shaping the Eurasian security complex. Conflict resolution and separatist trends
are also a crucial element bringing the Eurasian states such as Georgia,
Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (GUAM) together. To the extent that these
concerns overlap with energy issues, we might expect the security complex to be
reinforced. A further aspect of this security complex is the democratization
process associated with the expansion of Euro-Atlantic structures. A problem
might arise to the extent that states throughout the Eurasian security complex
can see their efforts and ambitions frustrated by the weak flexibility of these
structures, and this will certainly have its own internal consequences for the
EU and NATO. Insofar as these issues overlap, the configuration of this security
complex will change accordingly. However, the South Caucasus stands at the heart
of all these issues and will be crucial for cohesion of the security complex as
well as regarding attempts to diffuse tensions within it.
The future of
regional stability in the South Caucasus depends on the delicate balance of
interests and perceptions among different levels of interaction. Stable and
strong central state institutions must accommodate the wishes and historical
memories of the autonomous regions (South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh,
to name the most unstable). These same institutions must lay the ground for
regional dialogue and cooperation, based on mutual understandings. This would reinforce the
region’s global position vis-à-vis external players.
In the absence of these conditions, frail and often undemocratic institutions
and political processes have jeopardized the construction of a common framework
for development and stability where citizens, sub-regional and national leaders
could build a common future that could overcome competing interests, both at
home and abroad. The reliance on strategic alliances that has so far kept a
balance of power in the South Caucasus is a dangerous game, delivering only
Potemkin-like stability. It is therefore essential for the region’s
stability to frame it in a wider security complex that corresponds and responds
to the area’s interlinked problems and opportunities, by allowing wider formats
of cooperation, that despite asymmetries better address the regional challenges.
The proposal advanced here for an Eurasian/Black Sea security complex could fit
well the region’s multifaceted dealings, while overcoming the mounting
difficulties associated with the CIS as an aggregator of security perceptions,
concerns and needs of the very different states involved, and which to a great
extent surpass the Commonwealth boundaries.
Buzan, Barry and Waever, Ole, “Regions and Powers: The Structure of
International Security”, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005),
p. 419. This understanding has been further questioned by Georgia’s
request to withdraw from the CIS in August 2008.
Buzan, Barry, “People, States and Fear. An Agenda for International
Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era”, 2nd Ed., (London:
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), p. 191.
Roeder, Philip G., “From Hierarchy to Hegemony: The Post-Soviet Security
Complex”, in: David A. Lake and Patrick M. Morgan, (eds) “Regional
Orders: Building Security in a New World” (Pennsylvania: The
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), pp. 220 and 230.
Coppieters, Bruno, “An EU Special Representative to a new periphery”,
in: Dov Lynch (ed) “The South Caucasus: A Challenge for the EU”,
Chaillot Papers, 65, December 2003, p. 160.
Morgan, Patrick M., “Regional Security Complexes and Regional Orders”,
in: David A. Lake and Patrick M. Morgan, (eds) “Regional Orders:
Building Security in a New World” (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1997), pp. 35-38.
Derluguian, Giorgi M., “Bordieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus. A
World-System Biography”, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
2005), pp. 173-87.
Maleki, Abbas, “What Iran is looking for in Central Asia and the
Caucasus”, in: Heartland – Eurasian Review of Geopolitics, 4,
2005, p. 70.
Graham, Norman A., “Introduction and Overview”, in Norman A. Graham and
Folke Lindahl (eds), “The Political Economy of Transition in Eurasia.
Democratization and Economic Liberalization in a Global Economy”,
(Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2006), pp. 1-41.
Cornell, Svante E. and Starr, S. Frederick, “The Caucasus: A challenge
for Europe”, in: Silk Road Paper, June 2006, p. 35.
Parrott, Bruce, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization”, in
Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott (eds), “Conflict, cleavage, and change
in Central Asia and the Caucasus”, (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1997), pp. 1-39.
Ismailov, Eldar and Esenov, Murad, “Central Asia in the New Geopolitical
and Geo-economic Dimensions”, in “Central Eurasia 2005 Analytical
Annual” (Sweden: CA&CC Press, 2006), pp. 11-12.
European Commission, “Armenia Country Report” SEC(2005) 285/3, Brussels,
2005; European Commission “Azerbaijan Country Report” SEC(2005) 286/3,
Brussels, 2005; European Commission, “Georgia Country Report”, SEC(2005)
288/3, Brussels, 2005.
Cornell, Svante, “NATO’s Role in South Caucasus Regional Security”, in:
Turkish Foreign Policy Quarterly, vol. 3:2, 2004, p. 126.
Derghoukassian, Khatchik, “Balance of Power, Democracy and Development:
Armenia in the South Caucasian Regional Security Complex”, in: AIPRG
Working Paper, vol. 10, January 2006, p. 10.
Katik, Mevlut, “Geopolitical competition heats up in Black Sea”, in:
Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 10 2006,
www.eurasianet.org, accessed on March 14 2006; Torbakov,
Igor, “Turkey's strategic outlook making significant shift”, in:
Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 7 2006,
www.eurasianet.org, accessed on March 14 2006.
Kanbolat, Hasan, “What is Caucasian stability and cooperation? What can
Turkey do in the Caucasus?”, in: Today's Zaman, August 20
http://www.todayszaman.com/, accessed on August 22 2008.
Ter-Gabrielian, Gevrok and Nedolian, Ara, “Armenia: crossroads or fault
line of civilizations?”, in: The International Spectator,
XXXII:2, April-June 1997, pp. 109-10.
Rashid, Ahmed, “The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?”,
(London: Zed Books, 1994), pp. 212-213.
agreement could place Turkey as a central energy transit and trading
country, while it also allows Iran to escape isolation imposed by the
United States sanctions. It provides an important alternative energy
supply for Europe, away from Russian dominated routes, and makes Caspian
export routes more viable allowing Turkmenistan’s energy to flow
directly to Europe without using Russian controlled pipelines. Finally,
it represents an important reinforcement of the EU-sponsored Nabucco
project. See among others, Socor, Vladimir, “Turkey Offers Route to
Europe for Iranian and Turkmen Gas”, in: Eurasia Daily Monitor,
vol. 4:140, July 19 2007 and Daily, John C. K., “Turkey Moves to
Position Itself as a Strategic Transit Corridor for Caspian
Hydrocarbons”, in: Eurasia Daily Monitor, vol. 4:161, August 17
Helly, Damien “EU policies in the South Caucasus”, paper presented at
the conference “L’Europe et le Caucase du Sud/Europe and the South
Caucasus”, Baku, July 11 2001, pp. 3-4.
Freire, Maria Raquel and Simão, Licínia “The EU's Neighbourhood Policy
towards the Southern Caucasus: Searching for Commonalty in a Patchy
Scenario”, in: Comparative Constitutional Review Journal, vol.
4:57, 2006, pp. 36-44 (in Russian).
European Commission, “Communication from the Commission to the Council
and to the European Parliament: Black Sea Synergy – a new regional
cooperation initiative”, COM(2007) 160 final, Brussels, April 11, 2007.
David Milband, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, stated that “The sight
of Russian tanks rolling into part of a sovereign country on its
neighbouring borders will have brought a chill to the spine of many
people, rightly, because that is a reversion to – it’s not just Cold War
politics, it’s a 19th Century way of doing politics.” See
“Russia warned over ‘Soviet past’”, in: BBC News, August
accessed on August 20, 2008. A joint statement by Poland and the three
Baltic states reads “The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand
up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the east
of Europe... The Russian Federation has overstepped a red line.” See “EU
preparing snap summit on Russia-Georgia war”, in: EUObserver,
August 10 2008. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the
following statements at a meeting with EU foreign ministers at the
United Nations: “We needed to work together so that Russia’s attack on
Georgia does not succeed in destroying Georgia’s sovereignty and that
Russia comes to realize sooner or later – hopefully sooner – that
attempts to change international borders through force is a grave
mistake.” See “Russian Neighbors Urge U.N. to Stand against Kremlin
Aggression”, in: The New York Times, September 24 2008,
accessed on September 25 2008.
“Europe taking a diplomatic approach to Caucasus conflict”, in:
International Herald Tribune, August 11 2008,
accessed on August 20 2008.
“Former Soviet Sphere Shocked into Silence by Conflict in Georgia”, in:
RFE/RL, August 11 2008,
accessed on August 20, 2008; “China fails to support Kremlin”, in:
The Financial Times, August 29 2008.
Suleymanov, Elin, “Emergence of new Political Identity in the South
Caucasus. Energy, Security, Strategic Location and Pragmatism”, Master
of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Thesis, The Fletcher School, May 21 2004.