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Defense

Who Needs A Proxy War In The Caucasus?

Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

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All proxy wars are, by definition, delusional. Usually, two client-states wage a war, one against another, while, actually, their war advances interests of some other states, commonly their sponsor-states.  The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is not a simple proxy war: its proxiness and delusional character exponentially grow as the conflict unfolds on the ground.

For, it is conceived as a war that was supposed to draw two major regional powers, Russia and Turkey, into a mutual conflict, on the assumptions that Russia is going to act as Armenia’s sponsor-state, ready to enter the war on the side of its presumed proxy, and that Turkey is going to act as Azerbaijan’s sponsor-state, ready to enter the war on the side of its presumed proxy. Yet, as the conflict unfolds, it becomes transparent that these assumptions were deeply wrong and that the proxiness and delusional character of this very war are skyrocketing beyond the absurd.

Turkish rapprochement with Russia, which is a logical consequence of Turkey’s geopolitical reversal caused by its failure to become a candidate for membership in the European Union after so many years of begging, has not remained unnoticed by relevant circles in the West. While the United States has tried to persuade the Turks to remain its most reliable ally and refrain from turning towards Turkey’s natural geopolitical environment, that is, towards other Eurasian powers, France’s foreign policy, with a British support, has chosen a different strategy.

Assuming that the close encounters between Russia’s and Turkey’s troops on the soil of Syria and Libya were an expression of a true potential for their mutual conflict, rather than a careful choreography conceived by these two powers to deceive their potential adversaries in the Euro-Atlantic bloc, France and Britain have created a strategy to draw Russia and Turkey into a mutual conflict through their presumed proxies, Armenia and Azerbaijan. For this purpose, they used the traditional bonds between France and Armenia, based on the presence of the numerous Armenian diaspora in France. Due to these historical bonds, it was not difficult for France to persuade the Armenian leadership to fall into a trap of a new war with Azerbaijan, as France’s (and Britain’s)de facto proxy. However, the basic assumption was that in the further development Russia will automatically take Armenia’s side, as it once did, in the times of Boris Yeltsin. In other words, Armenia was pushed into the war by France (and Britain), so as to make it seem as if Russia did it, in order to eventually draw Russia into a conflict with Turkey, which was assumed to be on the side of Azerbaijan in case of Armenian attack. A cunning plan, isn’t it? Yet, these assumptions, as well as the strategy derived from them, have proved to be a farcical failure.

For, Putin’s Russia is not Yeltsin’s Russia. Yeltsin allowed himself to be drawn into a geopolitical game constructed for Russia’s ultimate destruction, the game of creation of ethnically exclusive territories, like Nagorno-Karabakh, or South Ossetia, to be followed by their secession from the states to which they originally belonged and annexation by the states with which they shared common ethnic identity. In other words, this game was a game of endless ethnic cleansing and creation of ethnically exclusive territories, which would eventually destroy not only Russia with its numerous ethnic minorities, but also the entire zone of Eurasia with its numberless ethnic groups. This was a recipe for the ultimate destruction of the entire Eurasian space, carefully planned in the inner circles of the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment, and recklessly adopted by Yeltsin and many other post-Soviet politicians. However, Putin is not Yeltsin, and he did understand the destructive potential of the concept of ethnically exclusive territories when applied to the post-Soviet space: if every ethnic group were to claim its own exclusive territory, and then unification with its ethnic kin in other states, there would be no more territorially compact states in Eurasia, including Russia itself.

A similar pattern was previously applied to the Soviet Union, when its republics were stimulated to claim independence on the basis of ethnic identity and presumed right to self-determination. This process ended up with the total dissolution of the Soviet Union. Of course, full application of this pattern generates a process of endless dissolutions: for, all ethnic minorities within these newly-proclaimed states may well claim secession from these states, since the underlying assumption, adopted by many local ethnonationalist leaders, is that these ethnic groups’ survival is possible only within their own ethnically exclusive statelets. To put it briefly, it is a pattern of geopolitical fission, with the consequences similar to those of nuclear fission. Among other destructive processes triggered in the post-Soviet space, this pattern also led to the Armenian invasion of Azerbaijan’s territory and creation of the ethnically exclusive territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenian ethnic minority in Azerbaijan, with the ultimate goal of its secession from Azerbaijan and annexation by Armenia.

The same pattern was also promoted in the Balkans, again by Britain and France, in their initiatives for ethnic partition of Bosnia in the 1990s and annexation of its territories by Serbia and Croatia, and recently, for exchange of ethnic territories between Serbia and Kosovo. The concept of ethnically exclusive territories as the only safe environment for survival of ethnic groups, therefore, is not the invention of some ‘wild tribes’ in the Balkans or the Caucasus. It is a premeditated strategy for permanent destabilization of any geopolitical zone, wherever applied. Its authorship needs to be finally attributed to those who are always present in their application – the British and French foreign policy establishments. Yet, this time, in the case of the second Armenian-Azeri war, this hook has not been swallowed by its main targets, Russia and Turkey.

Having been aware of the fact that the Armenian attack on Azerbaijan was generated by some other players, who were not even too careful to hide its role in it (such as President Macron of France), and that the very concept of ethnically exclusive territories has served as a tool for permanent destabilization of both Russia and the rest of Eurasia, Russian foreign policy reacted in a way that was precisely the opposite from the reaction of Yeltsin’s foreign policy in the case of the first Armenian-Azeri war. Instead of automatically taking Armenia’s side and further promoting the concept of ethnically exclusive territories, as designed by the Anglo-French axis, Russia took a neutral position and thereby has practically given a green light to Azerbaijan to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh and restore its full sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this way, the very concept of ethnically exclusive territories has been delegitimised, not only in the Caucasus, but also in the entire post-Soviet space. Yet, it remains to be delegitimised in the Balkans.

Russia has probably made such a radical geopolitical turnover in tacit agreement with Turkey, so as to be safe about its outcome and the foreseeable consequences. Their rapprochement has thus been elevated to a level of potential strategic alliance. At the same time, Turkey has strengthened its credibility in the post-Soviet space and the rest of Eurasia, but not in the conflictual mode against Russia. This improvement of Turkey’s international standing has been based on its principled defence of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, that is, principled respect for international law, not on an aggressive implementation of a pan-Turkic programme that would eventually include all Turkic peoples, including Azeris, into some imagined Greater Turkey. The same applies to Russia and its abandonment of presupposed pan-Orthodox sentiments in the case of Armenia, although these have yet to be abandoned in the Balkans, in the case of Russia’s flirting with the Greater Serbian programme of ethnically exclusive territories.

In any case, both Russia and Turkey have thus made an important step out of the straitjacket tailored for them when the concept of ethnically exclusive territories was inserted into Eurasian geopolitical space. In that way, they have also created a geopolitical framework for Armenia and Azerbaijan to make a step out of their proxy roles, in which they were given a task to inscribe their respective ethnically exclusive territories. In other words, what has been generated is a geopolitical potential for peace between these two countries and their reconstitution along civic-inclusive, instead of ethnic-exclusive, lines.  

Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić is the founder and director of the Center for Nationalism Studies, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (www.nationalismstudies.org).

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Defense

The imperative of a military QUAD

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After dithering for a while, India has chosen to make the Malabar naval exercise a quadrilateral one by inviting Australia to join the US and Japan.  The exercise this year was held in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of November. This is the second time the four navies have come together for a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, after 2007 when China objected to it, calling it the Asian NATO. Since then India has been careful not to antagonise China until this year when hostilities broke out along the Sino-Indian border. The exercises are not formally linked to the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue)  forum but the participation of  Australia will definitely provide a military dimension for the Quad, which was formed in 2017 aimed at establishing ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. Though the Quad is currently only a mechanism of official ‘gathering and discussions’ concerning the security issues, it has the potential to become a security forum.

This time, China had a muted response compared with 2007, but it warned against any regional groupings in which the US, a formidable countervailing power against the Chinese military, is a member.

The latest Malabar assumes greater significance as it is conducted amidst Chinese expansionism. China has already achieved its ‘consolidation’ in the South China Sea, has taken control of few strategic locations in the Himalayas, and is upping the ante against the US. Its naval strategy has also been expanded from ‘offshore defence’ to ‘open seas protection’, expanding its wings to the larger Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. With this, the Indo-Pacific is virtually the area of operations for the PLA Navy. However, the absence of a concrete security forum to ‘discuss and act’ has left the region vulnerable to security competition and hegemonistic politics.

In every region, the responsibility to maintain order and peace rests on major powers. When they act in concert with smaller countries, by protecting smaller one’s interests, a region-wide peace and stability is ensured.  Since the US’s capacity to secure security for allies in Asia, let alone preserve the regional order,  is in question, the major powers of the region such as India, Japan and Australia must work closely to prevent China’s ambition of pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific.

Up until now, these regional heavyweights have conspicuously taken a policy of ‘not antagonising’ China and have also resisted to endorse a US-led balancing against China. This has emboldened China in converting its ‘peaceful rise’ image into an assertive military power, and has derived the premium in changing the status quo both in the   South China Sea (SCS) as well as now in the Himalayas.

So far, China has not employed its military force in its expansionist actions in the maritime domain.  In the SCS, frequent Chinese intrusions into the disputed area have been done with maritime militias, to scare away the fishermen of other countries.  However, with using of a regular military force to change the status quo in the Galwan valley in the Himalayas, where Indian and Chinese military clashed and twenty Indian soldiers and a number of ‘unaccounted’ Chinese soldiers were died,  China has demonstrated that it is not hesitant to employ the PLA to settle scores with the opponents.

An assertive power needs to be checkmated militarily, otherwise, it will become more revisionist. So far none of the regional countries have had the wherewithal to take on China individually, or no regional mechanisms such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), or any other existing regional groupings, could mount pressure on China. All of them follow a ‘consensus and compromise’ approach based on ASEAN way of conflict resolution mechanism.

However, the Quad doesn’t need a formal military coalition mechanism modelled on NATO. Formal military coalition follows collective security principles that take the security of the one is security of all. Though it ensures security guarantee of smaller states, it is mostly driven by the choices and preferences of the powerful ones who set the agendas and interests. A military Quad can work without following the collective security principles but can pursue a consensus and norms based approach.

It is necessary for a consensus approach because all four member countries have varied security interests and concerns, and also different approaches and priorities in dealing with China. Compared with the US and Australia, India and Japan are neighbours of China and have territorial disputes with it, so they face direct security threat from China. Similarly, except India, the other three are mutually entangled security partners under the US, so New Delhi stands out from the alliance system, and has no intention to join in it whatsoever. In this respect, the Quad must first formulate agendas based on consensus and norms, and see how it can act upon it.

In the military Quad, the US has to be a facilitator, not a lead balancer, to promote it as an acceptable grouping across the region. For the US, the Indo-Pacific is one of many security concerns, while for other members it is their own region.  India could take up more of a leadership role in the Indian Ocean region, while Japan and Australia can do so in their own areas. Since this is not a formal military arrangement they don’t need to follow the alliance principles, but at the same time they need an institutionalised military arrangement.

Given the context of China’s frequent military provocations against potential rivals to test their resolve as to how they respond to a Chinese aggression, a military Quad is necessary. Chinese domination in the maritime domain is shaping along with its modernised navy, supported by its economic growth. Undoubtedly, China sends out a message to the regional states that if anyone seeks to challenge China then it will be prohibitively expensive for them. So only a joint mechanism would be able to counter the Chinese aggression in the ocean in future.  The Indo-Pacific region requires different layers of organisations and the Quad can be a true military organisation of powerful countries. In this respect, a military Quad is imperative and must take more responsibility individually as well as collectively.

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Defense

European security becomes a matter of the EU only

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A rift between the U.S. and the E.U. in the military sphere has become wider. On November 22 the U.S. formally withdrew from the open-sky treaty that accelerated European security.

The 1992 treaty allows the 34 member countries to conduct short notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the other countries to collect data on their military forces and activities.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters outside the White House in May. Now he has realized his threats.

America’s European allies do not support the Trump administration’s decision to exit Open Skies.

Thus, Germany regrets US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty and remains committed to it, German FM Heiko Maas has said.

Germany considers the Open Skies Treaty, allowing military observation flights over the territories of signatory states, as an important part of arms control, he said.

Maas said that he regretted the decision made by the Trump administration. He pointed out that the Open Skies Treaty contributes to confidence building and the promotion of security in the whole northern hemisphere “from Vladivostok to Vancouver.”

Eleven member countries even issued a statement in May expressing their “regret” about the Trump administration decision.

France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden declared that they “will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. ” They reaffirmed that this treaty remains functioning and useful.

The treaty gave without sophisticated satellite capabilities a way to gather and share – all the member countries could access imagery gathered on flights.

It could be concluded that the U.S. as usual does not care. It pursues exclusively its own goals and does not intend to sacrifice its national interests and ambitions for the sake of Europe.

As soon as Europe was convinced of this the European Union decided to take measures to neutralize the emerging gaps in the system of ensuring European security.

Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as other European politicians think that such significant contradictions in views of the U.S. and the EU on ensuring regional security show the urgent necessity to develop a new EU military doctrine.

Today the European Union aims to draw up a master military strategy document to define future threats, goals and ambitions in defence while focusing on six new areas of joint weapons development including tanks, officials and diplomats said.

“After four years of hostility towards NATO by U.S. President Donald Trump, the EU, led by France, wants to become a stand-alone military power in the long term, strong enough to fight on its own. We need to build a compass. This is a common way of looking at the world, of defining threats and addressing them together,” said a senior EU official.

Borrell has cited “an increased momentum to strengthen our collective capacity” since a December 2017 EU defence pact to develop more firepower independently of the United States.

Defence ministers will also review the bloc’s first annual review on joint capabilities, which is expected to set out 100 areas for governments to develop together from 2025 over six areas, including battle tanks, maritime patrol vessels, countering drones and jamming technology.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain hope that by developing national defences together, the EU will save money by putting an end to competing national industries that duplicate weapons.

It is absolutely clear that it is time for the European Union to stop flattering itself about the U.S. assistance. It’s time for Europe to learn to rely only on itself and to be independent.

The next step for Europe is to convince zealous U.S. supporters like the Baltic Sates to acknowledge this need.

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Defense

The Future of QUAD grouping

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With the ever changing dynamics of geopolitics in Eastern Hemisphere, the consolidation of QUAD countries in recent time presents a considerable window to wane the influence of China in the region. On Oct 6, the foreign ministers from four QUAD countries met in Tokyo and expressed their views to maintain the Free & Open Indo-Pacific. Amid all the chaos and disturbance in the world, where most of the meeting and submit held virtually, foreign ministers from Japan, the USA, India and Australia met in person. This was a significant step as it was the second ministerial meeting among these countries. In 2017, during the ASEAN summits, the four leaders from these countries discussed the plans to revive the Quadrilateral alliance. The continuous growing threat from Beijing is becoming a major concern for all these nations. Where one side the USA and Australia are on the receiving end of Trade war with China, On the other hand, India and Japan has their territorial disputes with Beijing.

The obvious focus of the recent meeting was China, the constant muscles flexing of the PLA Navy has been one of the major threat for the regional economic and security architecture. These four countries emphasized on the rule-based order, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo targeted China and asked for better collaboration with in the 4 countries to safeguard everyone’s right from Chinese aggressive policies. From last 2 years, there was a pattern of collaboration among these four nations in the regions. In 2019, India and Japan jointly signed a port deal with Sri Lanka for the development of East container Terminal at the Port of Colombo. This Step was a big leap to project the QUAD countries economic collaboration. Soon in July 2019, India and Myanmar signed an MOU to increase their partnership in the military ties in the fields of training, joint surveillance, maritime security etc. The current meeting will surely enhance the better partnership among these nations.

Security Architecture In the region

India announced the participation of Australia in the Malabar exercise, and a sharp reaction came from the Chinese side. India has already inked the military logistic pact with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore, Japan& Australia. But these are not only four countries having an interest in Indo-Pacific, recently Germany has announced to send a warship to patrol in the Indian ocean. This shows the growing importance of Indo-pacific in the future. In recent time, south Asia is becoming a playground for the major nations not only militarily but also economically. The QUAD plus countries which also includes New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. The cooperation among these nations continuously evolving day by day, These nations are already helping each other in the health sector for the better management to counter COVID. Covid situation raised a lot newer problems in front of India, with this regard Indian Government asked for the coordinated response for the new challenges in between of coronavirus and stressed upon better management of supply chains and access of vaccine.

Beyond the Military Ties

Economic ties between the QUAD members and Beijing will tell you how strong and deep Chinese investment has its roots in some of the prime sectors. Australia can be present as a key example, where Chinese investment can be seen from infrastructure projects to even national politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China bore no responsibility for the sharp downturn in the economic ties between two countries. Though recently Both countries signed the RCEP agreement but the normalcy in relations will not be there any soon. QUAD countries need to understand the better collaboration should also be there in the economic sense also. The recent skirmish between Indian & Chinese security forces has changed Delhi’s perspective and made Indian policymakers to look out for other alternatives even in the technological domain. As every country has its different perspectives regarding Indo-Pacific, Japan’s strategy complements the rule-based order and promotes maintaining of regional order. With the ageing population, Japan focused more on promoting economic ties and securing its islands from any kind of threats.

The Future

Strategically the importance of the recent meeting can be seen through the addition of Australia in the Malabar exercise, Which will change the security dynamics of the region. Though the importance of the regional partners to maintain the rule based order will have a long way to go. Everyone was looking towards the USA’s election result for the future of QUAD. As President-Elect of the USA and India’s Prime Minister talked over the phone and soon Biden stated that his priority is to secure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Though the future of QUAD will be blurred if these nations will not able to cooperate in economic terms. In the last few years, Washington is struggling to maintain its regional hegemon in the region because of the economic constraint. USA’s attempt to pass down its responsibility to regional stakeholders can be seen through the whole QUAD block formation, where one side USA wants to formalize this block in order to maintain its superiority in the region and to restrain Bejing. On the other hand, India’s & Japan’s perspectives are poles apart from the USA’s version. These countries refrain themselves to name China directly and described this grouping as to maintain the regional order. The understanding between each nation in the formal platform cannot be described as one and will take many years to form a proper economic bubble. Which will be serving as a genuine platform mechanism in order to keep free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese forces worked as a reactant for more cooperative behaviour between the four countries. China’s Continuous interference in the internal affairs of Australia made this nation to grow their defence forces budget, which shows their growing concerns over Chinese authoritarianism. Even after so many ups and downs in the QUAD proper functioning, these countries also have to face the change of government in their respective. The success of QUAD will depend on the collaboration between like minded nations which will not work on to contain any particular country but will propose some kind of opportunities and chances for every member state benefits.

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