Azerbaijan International

Summer 1997 (5.2)
Pages 42-45


The Caucasus and New Geo-Political Realities
How the West Can Support the Region

by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski

Other articles related to Zbigniew Brzezinski published in Azerbaijan International:

(1) Geopolitically Speaking: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski - Betty Blair
(2) Analysis - War On Terrorism: Failing to Grapple with the Political Dimension - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(3) Geopolitically Speaking: Russia's "Sphere of Influence" - Chechnya and Beyond - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(4) Russia as Empire - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(5) Freedom is Fragile - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(6) Honorary Doctorate Bestowed on Brzezinski - Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew BrzezinskiDr. Brzezinski gave this Keynote Address at a recent conference entitled, "The Caucasus: Choosing Conciliation over Confrontation." This event was sponsored by the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and was held in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 1997.

I've always believed that the Soviet Union was an artificial, anti-historic entity. Ever since my student days some 40 years ago, I've believed that the Soviet Union was defying the reality of national aspirations that were embraced by half of its people who were not true rulers in their own countries and that, eventually, the Soviet Union would collapse.

Twenty years ago when I was in government at a time when the Cold War was still quite "hot," I provided the initiative to advance the process of what might be called "peaceful change" within the Soviet Union. This was done by assisting national movements within the various so-called Soviet republics in developing greater possibilities to express their national aspirations. This enabled internal pressures to build up and surface. And, indeed, when the Soviet Union started to undertake serious reforms, it became evident that reform would be impossible because national aspirations pointed not in the direction of the reform of the Soviet Union, but in the direction of dismantling it.

The Caucasus-A New Reality
In the case of the Caucasus today, there is an altogether new reality. We're dealing with historic nations which are now independent. These countries have deep roots and a deep sense of their identity. And yet, paradoxically, they are just now engaged in the process of modern nation-building. The creation of the Soviet Union delayed that process for them.

Modern nation-building is a difficult process. Because it is so complex, the process is easily vulnerable to nationalistic emotions and, indeed, ethnic antipathies. As such, it can also be a very destructive process-one which can precipitate and lead to conflicts, violence and ultimately, self-destruction. Our task as Westerners in regard to the Caucasus must be to ascertain that the forces of national identity are channeled into constructive directions that, over time, contribute to regional cooperation which will strengthen the identity, continuity and survival of these nations. We can contribute to this process to some extent, but of course, the process must also be pursued by these nations, themselves.

In the case of the Caucasus, however, these republics still remain extremely vulnerable to external pressures in spite of their independence. Their future highly depends upon interaction among external players-major nations-which have special interests in the Caucasus. Specifically, I'm referring to Russia, Turkey, Iran, Europe and last but not least, the United States. How these countries interact in relationship to this region will be of enormous importance to the survival of these nations as independent states and to the well-being of the entire region.

The Worst Possible Scenario
Given these new geo-political realities, the worst possible scenario that could evolve would be a confluence of external pressures that are inimical to the survival of the independence of these nations. For example, if Russia and Iran were to jointly pressure Azerbaijan, then Azerbaijan's independence would be severely threatened. Without a doubt, Azerbaijan is vulnerable to such pressures.

Or, if Russia continues to exploit the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, not only will the viability of Azerbaijan be affected, but the extent of the true independence of Armenia will be limited. Thus, eventually, Armenia will also become more vulnerable. If the issue of Abkhazia is not resolved in a constructive fashion, Georgia, too, will remain vulnerable to external pressures which can adversely affect its own true independence over time and inability to chart a course in keeping with its own national aspirations.

And, of course, if Turkey were to drift into an extremist Islamic direction, the West would find it much more difficult to relate to the region in a constructive and positive way.

The Best Possible Scenario
Sketching out the "worst possible scenario" suggests by implication that there is a "best possible scenario." This would involve a constructive, compromise-based solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue through external, but active, mediation. It would also involve multiple access to the region through a variety of pipelines traversing various countries which would link them together in economic cooperation. Furthermore, it would involve some accommodation among the principal neighboring states-particularly between Turkey and Iran to open up their frontiers to genuine economic intercourse.

And last but not least, the best scenario would involve greater inclusion of Iran in their international economic community, particularly through cooperative links with Turkey. Such links would not bar Iran by outside pressures. In such a case, Russia would then become a constructive partner, and no longer the greatest influence or authority in the region.

How The West Should Respond
And thus, the question arises: "Which of these scenarios is more likely, and how can the better choice be effectively pursued?" In predicting the future, I think it is obvious that both Russia and the United States are likely to be the key players in determining which of these alternatives-the good or the bad-is the most likely reality.

For the time being, Russian policy seems ambivalent at best. Their emphasis on the reconstruction of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) has certain implications suggestive of past ambitions, as the CIS is still in a very nebulous, undefined phase of development. It's unclear how it will emerge in the long run. But if it is used as an instrument of political integration, it will become a mechanism that will threaten the independence of the states of the Caucasus. If, however, it becomes a mechanism for open trade and economic intercourse, it can, instead, facilitate a Russian role of partnership in the region.

A great deal depends on the future evolution of Russia and, together with it, the evolution of the CIS, itself. But even more important is the degree of American involvement and the extent to which the United States becomes actively engaged in promoting stability and security in this region. In my view, to make the positive scenario become a reality, a number of steps are necessary.

1. Resolve Karabakh
The Nagorno-Karabakh issue will need - and does need active mediation. It requires mediation by disinterested parties, by parties that are not engaged in any self-serving effort to reestablish regional hegemony. Specifically, it means the United States must become more involved. Active mediation does not mean taking sides, but rather promoting a solution that is acceptable to both sides in the conflict.

2. No Discrimination
Resolution of the conflict requires an absence of discrimination against any single party to the conflict. At present, the United States treats one party [Armenia] more favorably than the other [Azerbaijan]. Such partiality inhibits effective mediation. Equal treatment is a prerequisite to facilitating the process of mediation.

3. Multiple Pipelines
The United States should actively support the construction of multiple pipelines through the region. Such economic interrelationships would create a greater degree of shared interest in peaceful accommodation. The United States is already encouraging multiple pipelines to some extent, but opportunities exist for expanding these efforts and increasing the number of links.

4. Economic Links Like EFTA
The United States should support links within the CIS among states that have a special interest in the preservation of political sovereignty within the framework of the CIS, rather than in transforming the CIS into an instrument of political integration. For example, relationships between Ukraine and Georgia should be fostered. Also, increasingly, it seems Uzbekistan and some other republics share a common interest in defining the CIS in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of EFTA (European Free Trade Area), rather than of the EU (European Union).

Moscow would prefer the CIS to be like the EU. However, they overlook the fact that the EU would not have been possible had it been built on the basis of one European nation dominating the others in an imperial fashion. Had that been the case, there would have been a lot of resistance to the emergence of the EU. The same holds true in relationship to the CIS. That's why some states prefer to model the CIS on organizing principles similar to EFTA, which are clearly in the interest of political independence and geo-political pluralism.

5. Promote All Caucasus States
Of course, it is important for the United States to promote investment in all three states of the Caucasus to the extent that it is possible. An American economic presence in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will: (1) enhance the self-confidence of these states, (2) directly increase the American stake in their existence and (3) serve as a credible token of American political interest in the entire region. And that, too, is critical in creating stability.

6. Flexibility Regarding Iran
In my opinion, it is important to allow more flexibility for an evolving Turkish-Iranian relationship, especially since Iran is totally isolated from the international community. Because links between Turkey and Iran are currently being opposed internationally, this creates greater incentives for Iran to engage in a relationship with Russia which could threaten the viability and independence of the entire region. And for this reason, flexibility on this issue has strategic significance.

7. Strong Ties With Turkey
Finally, the West will not be able to pursue any policy towards the Caucasus unless it has strong strategic and political links with Turkey. Close relationships are essential to the pursuit of any Western policy which contributes to the stabilization of the region. Turkey is a critical link.

The United States, it seems to me, has a special role to play given the current strains in Turkish-European relationships. The U.S. needs to reassure Turkey that we do not view it as a Middle Eastern state which is excluded form the Western community. We need to support Turkey on issues of tangible interest, such as the passage of oil through the Bosphorus or via a pipeline to Jeyhan [southern Turkish port city on the Mediterranean].

And more importantly, we need to show Turkey that we see them as a partner in a common effort to create pluralism, diversity and sovereignty in the Caucasus so that the great nations of the region can prosper and, over time, become part of the expanding European community, themselves.

The outer frontiers of Europe are not drawn permanently in a particular fashion. They don't represent a single enduring line. They are a shifting reality. Europe is going to expand as modernization expands and also as the independent nations of the CIS increasingly identify themselves with that cause.

I'm certain the historic nations of this region have much in common with Europe, with the aspirations of European people, and with our own values. Thus, there is every reason to try to create conditions which facilitate the gradual expansion of the democratic community of the modern world based on the principles of national sovereignty and regional cooperation.

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski served as National Security Advisor to President Carter from 1977 to 1981. He was awarded the Presidential Medal For Freedom by President Carter for his role in the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations in 1981. Presently, he is associated with the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

Brzezinski is an Honorary Advisor of the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce.

From Azerbaijan International (5.2) Summer 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.

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