Caucasus: The Powder Keg at Work

EDITORIAL, 11 Aug 2008

#19 | Johan Galtung

In 2003, from a TRANSCEND perspective on Caucasus (50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press 2008, chapter 39c, see also chapter 64): TRANSCEND was asked in June 1997 to explore possible ways out for the (South) Caucasian situation. As nothing along the lines suggested (broadly speaking, a Caucasian Community for the 3 countries and the 28 nations in the area, with a joint territory where the three countries meet, in the center, for joint administration, a major airport etc.) was implemented, the prognosis years ago becomes the diagnosis of today: Big Men with Big Clans will make Big Deals with Big Powers. Oil and cash will flow, building a corrupt class of nouveaux riches. People will not be asked, nations will not be respected, only the power of arms and money.

The geography then, as now, locates Caucasus “with Russia to the North, Turkey to the West, Iran to the South, and the USA everywhere eagerly waiting”, only that the USA has now arrived, in Georgia and Azerbaidjan, and Russia in Abkhasia and Armenia.

Caucasus is today a major theater in Cold War II, the long term encirclement of Russia-India-China (40% of humanity) to control Eurasia (the “world island” in MacKinder’s century old geopolitics), particularly the latter, through the eastward expansion of NATO and the westward expansion of AMPO, the USA-Japan security system (with South Korea and Taiwan as de facto members). Moreover, USA is pressing for Georgian membership in NATO, as it does for Ukraine, thereby coming even closer to the Russian heartland. This was rejected in the latest NATO meeting this spring revealing a fit of sanity among other members, but not in principle, the situation was not ripe.

Change of regime in China is No. 7 of ten geopolitical goals in the Project for a New American Century, PNAC, still a major guide to US foreign policy, and is the key underlying issue. In addition to the two Caucasian countries Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have also been given military roles, on the surface in connection with Afghanistan and generally the “war on terrorism”. Short term goals have been obtained by mediocre leaders at the highly probable risk of becoming a major war zone in the struggle for power in Central Asia, both sides probably studying how people in Afghanistan and Iraq fight foreign invaders.

This all adds up to the possibility of Caucasus as a major war zone should Cold War II become hot, like Cold War I not as direct Washington-Moscow confrontation. To mobilize the two sides Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) has to be kept alive as an unsolved issue. One possibility is Azerbaidjan invading NK when the oil has made them rich enough to override the outcome of the last war, feeding into endless chains of revenge and redistribution. As international (read: interstate) wars favor territorial integrity over national self-determination protests will be few.

Georgia, now erupting, is the case. Soviet Union had the Red Army sitting on top of some kind of federation, that lid gone the cauldron boiled over. Georgia is the same, the lid gone Abkhasia and South Ossetia (and the Muslim Ajar) seceded–refusing to be culturally and economically invaded by Tbilisi, and politically steered from there. They are much closer to Russia which does not necessarily mean really wanting to become a part of that giant country. Self-determination does not point to any reintegration with Georgia. But this is a game for giants, people do not count much.

Any solution anywhere? Georgia as a unitary country has no chance except as nationalist propaganda. As a federation somewhat more, as a community may be, as four entities inside a Caucasian Community much more.

Something of the same goes for the even more difficult Nagorno-Karabakh: Any peace must respect the Armenian right of self-determination, and equality of the parties. Swapping the Armenian human rights in NK for an oil flow for all future may look clever at the level of the two states. But “peace” at the expense of the basic need to be ruled by one’s own kind is a time bomb waiting to explode. Status quo, freezing the situation is unjust to the peoples concerned and dangerous. Dividing NK will make the parts nonviable and unstable.

Viable options might include:

  • NK as an independent state, bound to protect its minorities;
  • Joint Azerbaidjan-Armenian sovereignty, “biconsular” rule, possibly rotating;
  • Azerbaidjan/NK/Armenia confederation or even federation;
  • Caucasus as confederation or even federation, NK as a Part;
  • European Union membership to all as a de facto federation

The last four options would give the inhabitants a passport with two names on it: NK and Az or Ar, NK and the name of the community or union. For the European Union that passport already exists. For Abkhasia a Russian identity also has to be recognized, as for South Ossetia.

Peace in Caucasus implies disinviting big powers, engaging in integrative Caucasian policies. The present policies lead away from peace. A Georgian government trying to gain popular support by reclaiming “lost” territories, hoping for some kind of US support, has already aggravated the situation – possibly leading to a major confrontation. Some statesmanship, please.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Aug 2008.

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