NATO Partners from the Caucasus: a new strategic focus. Closer cooperation in a changing security environment. Where Armenia stands

Your Excellences,

Ladies and Gentlemen

First of all I want to thank all organizers of this Conference for the invitation to speak here today. Your experience of Balkans Countries and especially of Bulgaria can serve for the Caucasus countries as good guidance and can bring educational and other non-governmental institutions around the region which might benefit from your largesse whose task it is to keep our societies intellectually honest. With a new country making its place on the world stage, and a growing Diaspora, still exploring and studying its roots, Armenia will need the reasoning and analysis of both academicians and practitioners even more in the years to come.

What is Caucasus today in general?

A system emerged in the Caucasus, comprised not just of the three de jure recognized Caucasus countries: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also its neighbors: Russia, Turkey and Iran. To make matters a bit more complicated, the major global powers also have an interest in this region, and although they are not, strictly speaking, a part of the Caucasus, the activities of the US, the EU and China affect the Caucasus system.

Residents of the Caucasus neighborhood are tied to each other sometimes historically, sometimes ethnically, sometimes linguistically. There are shared memories, traditions, and cultures. There is a common infrastructure, including communication and transportation. In the Caucasus, which is an inherently unstable system, there are new and old destabilizing elements. The destabilizing elements prevail and cause conflict and friction. There are many such elements including historical rivalries, ethnic conflicts, the uneven distribution of wealth, particularly oil, superpower rivalry played out in the region, underdeveloped economies, an absence of deep-rooted democratic practices and institutions. In the Caucasus, Armenia and her neighbors live with unresolved conflicts. It is obvious then that Armenia believes in and participates in efforts at regional cooperation and the utilization of confidence building measures in order to create an environment in which European conclusions can be found to entrenched conflicts.

The fact that the South Caucasus is NATO's new priority was obvious still before NATO's Istanbul Summit in June. Georgia is very actively knocking the NATO doors, while Azerbaijan is acting more cautiously. With regard to Armenia, it might be noted that it is now entirely accepted as a South-Eastern border of Europe and for an immediate neighbor in the concept of processes of universal structure formation of European security. Moreover, according to the NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson "Armenia is a country which holds in its hands the key of long-term peace and stability in an important area which links Europe and Asia. It is more than enough reason to count Armenia for an important and valuable partner in our search of unified and free Europe" end of quotation. Yet Armenia had not put the question to enter NATO on its foreign politics agenda, and the question does not stand in the NATO agenda as well. After the Summit, however, it became evident that NATO decided not only to seriously take up the region but also to do it without delay. It is natural that the Alliance wants to develop relations with all the three South Caucasian countries at common paces, thus making the process more effective. Despite the fact that the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia did not get an official invitation to join NATO in Istanbul, this step will, most probably, be made at the Alliance's next summit, or may be earlier.

All this arouses many questions for Armenia, which, to all appearances, Yerevan cannot answer now. "At heart" the Armenian leadership, most likely, does not doubt the effectiveness and safety of full integration into NATO. But the Armenian leaders continue to publicly repeat the traditional phrase - "The issue of joining NATO is not on our foreign policy agenda at present". Though, to tell the truth, a certain change is already being observed - some years ago this phrase did not contain the word at present. But expressed desire of Armenia also to join to IPAP is real step to have equal pace in general relations of all 3 Caucasus countries with NATO.

What can NATO offer to the Caucasus?

Processes of European integration and cooperation are diverse and interrelated and cannot find their solutions by sole cooperation implemented in one organization only. However, a fundamental role in the implication of European security architecture is given to cooperation in the NATO framework.

NATO can become the real working model of cooperative security. NATO, which initially had been created solely for defense of the Western Europe, is now modifying to stability consolidation factor throughout Europe. If we wish to make Euro-Atlantic security architecture a reality, NATO should continue developing. It should expand its relations with non- NATO-members and develop its range of joint actions as a sign of readiness to create a more extensive security system in Europe. To be sure that extension establishes stability and security in Europe non- NATO-members viewpoints should be regarded and considered by a long-term perspective. In the context of Collective security, a final escape from Cold-War intention and extermination of dividing borders among forces actively involved in the area take on special significance. New Europe requires new approaches to security issues. Today the threat of terrorism is universal and hence the fight against it also should be one for all. It requires a universal approach, which will allow to simultaneously using all political, economic and military means to prevent and manage crisis as well as defend and stimulate implementation of entrusted basic values.

NATO plays its distinctive role in the process of such approach stimulation. There are considerable acquisitions in this direction both from NATO members and from partner-countries sides. Collective defense can be executed in NATO member countries community only. Tragic events of September 11 showed that terrorism is aimed not only at a particular country but is a universal threat and Collective defense can stand as one of the ways of struggle against it. We can aim at it by means of particular purposeful, including military, programs only.

Where Armenia stands?

In this view Armenia acting as a NATO partner intends to activate in frameworks of future cooperation its practical and not just declarative participation. The Armenian community, due to large explanatory works, where Armenian Atlantic Association contributes its reasonable mite, which I now present, began to better understand the policy of NATO and its tasks in post-Cold War era. We denied to put a sign of equality between the policy of Turkey towards Armenia and Armenians and NATO and demonstrated our willingness to enlarge cooperation with NATO in different fields, including military.

After all these Armenia had officially adopted a new foreign policy, under the name of Complementarily. Today the USA-EU-NATO track is coming to complement the Russian-CST track to insure that the national security of Armenia had been raised to a new, more high and reliable level. Finally, Promoting stability and better understanding stand to be preconditions of achieving our wishes and goals in implementation of Euro-Atlantic cooperation. In context of South-Eastern-European area, which includes South Caucasus, promoting stability is an integration and perception of security as an essential part of European overall security. Our joint activity in this direction can noticeably increase the level of cooperation including in the field of security.

What is Partnership for Peace and what next?

Ten years ago NATO launched the Partnership for Peace, opening a new chapter in its relations with partner countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. On 10 January 1994, at a meeting in Brussels, NATO Heads of State and Government invited the Alliance's partner countries at that time "to forge a real partnership - a Partnership for Peace." The basic aim is to stimulate and support domestic defense reform in partner countries and the creation of modern, effective and democratically responsible armed forces and other defense institutions. Furthermore, to help countries manage the social and material consequences of such reform.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, opening his first meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, on 14 January, 2004 and referring to the occasion of the anniversary said: "Therefore, as we greet this ten-year mark, we can look back at a record of success. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership has been a catalyst of domestic transformation and of international security co-operation on a historically unprecedented scale."

Unfortunately 2004 also marked with 2 failures within the framework of PFP. Both failures where due to bilateral animosity and weakness to overcome local interest in sake of common good. First is tragic event in Budapest where Armenian officer had been killed by Azeri and second when Azeri leadership was unable to show enough strength to organize international military exercises in accordance to NATO PFP program goals. Actually here is best to understand what experience of NATO has to be presented to the Caucasus states to learn and think about the future. There is a major thing also to be learning. NATO is family of cooperation and it is not going to compromises its values.

The next bridge of deepening relations between NATO and the Caucasus is IPAP. Georgia and Azerbaijan already presented their programs and NATO has endorsed Georgia program. Regarding Armenia the situation is following. Armenian Leadership has made few times statement that it is going to present its program this year. But it forms an opinion that making a statement on the intention to sign the IPAP early this year, the Armenian leaders either did not have the full idea of the consequences of this step or, most likely, decided to postpone the making of serious conceptual decisions. Today, to all appearances, NATO makes it clear for Yerevan that the IPAP supposes serious if not radical changes not only in the structure of the Armenian armed forces but also touches upon all the aspects of the state's activity. Is Yerevan ready for such changes today? It's not yet obvious and time will show. Moreover, it seems that the process of IPAP preparation by Armenia drags on. On the other hand, Armenia, of course, cannot turn back now. But the matter is that Armenia's Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO should not become a formal document the only aim of which is to demonstrate that Yerevan does not lag behind Georgia and Azerbaijan also involved in the IPAP process.

Hope for Cooperation

I think that discussion of benefits of cooperation versus anything else is always loosing in any context and that is why besides to express the hope that eventually elites in Caucasus would understand that if they wish to provide security for their countries they need to start cooperation in same way as any long way is started from first humble step. Here it is worth to mention words of NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: "NATO's policy of enlargement is driven by the desire to extend the benefits of stability and security, which Alliance members enjoy, to new member states. It is not aimed against any other countries, but simply at ensuring the security stability of its members. While it is a fundamental right of every country to choose its own security arrangements, NATO enlargement is designed to break down dividing lines, rather than create them. This is a fundamental principle of enlargement which will not change in the future."

Hence there is a great hope that NATO will contribute its strong role for eliminating all blockades that exist in Caucasus, especially imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey on Armenia and to open all security lines and roads to and from Caucasus towards Euro-Atlantic Dimension.

Here I also would like to cite the Armenian President speaking at the 10th Berlin economic forum organized by BMW company, Herbert Quandt Foundation and Financial Times newspaper on November 19 that "the European Union (EU) could press more actively for the settlement of the conflicts in the South Caucasus by means of promoting the idea of regional cooperation". According to Robert Kocharian, one of the reasons of the unsettled Karabakh conflict is Azerbaijan's refusal of any kinds of economic cooperation in the region with Armenia's participation. "If we manage to overcome this barrier the path to settle the conflict will become much shorter," Robert Kocharian said.

To conclude my speech I'd like to add that the countries of the Caucasus have their own specifics, and their own dynamics. NATO does not have the solution to all the problems here, or elsewhere. But policies of cooperation will strengthen security for all of us. We have a unique chance to turn South Caucasus into a region of cooperation and stability, in which every country has its say, and none considers itself threatened.

Partnership and cooperation have already accomplished a great deal, bringing direct benefits to citizens of NATO Member and Partner states. In fact, from a system of security for the member of the alliance, NATO is turning into a system of protection of a zone of common values. Building on its achievements and tackling future challenges will be the key to the further success of Partnership. And I hope that we will be part of that success too.

Thank you and I am ready to answer to any your question.
© Armenian Atlantic Association