Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. His interests lie in the field of regional security and geopolitics. One of his latest works, which appeared in 2004, is called Bezopasnost’ Kavkaza i stabil’nost razvitia Azerbaidzhanskoy Respubliki (Security of the Caucasus and Sustainable Development of the Azerbaijan Republic).
GEOPOLITICAL LESSONS OF THE POST-SOVIET CAUCASUS: FORWARD TO GLOBALIZATION OR BACK TO CLASSICAL EURASIAN GEOPOLITICS?
The author looks into the specific features of the post-Soviet Caucasus’ geopolitical development with the intention of finding out the extent to which the regional relations system has drifted away from classical Eurasian geopolitics and the extent to which the region is ready to join the globalization process. He concludes that post-Soviet Caucasian geopolitics still largely relies on its classical principles and instruments, which interfere with the region’s prompt and fullest possible involvement in the current globalization process.
Today, globalization is declared from all sides to be the key, irreversible, and nearly only trend in world politics capable of systemic changes. It is believed to be based on the objective regularities of the world’s economic, technological, communication, as well as sociopolitical and sociocultural development. There is a fairly widely shared opinion that sooner or later every country and region will be forced to blend with the unified post-industrial standard, which, in the final analysis, will create a single and harmonious world.1
At the same time, the international system’s advance toward “global harmony” has been accompanied in the post-Soviet period by problems that can hardly be described as temporary and unable to produce any serious impact on the process itself. I have in mind the wave of ethnopolitical conflicts that swept post-Soviet Eurasia, the critical nature of the socioeconomic situation, which did not change in any noticeable way and in some places became even worse, etc. This, in turn, was given all kinds of theoretical explanations. Mention can be made of Immanuel Wallerstein’s conception of the general crisis of the “capitalist world-system,”2 or Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”3 conception, which produced quite a stir several years ago. It offered an absolutely different scenario for the international system’s evolution up to and including its fragmentation along cultural and civilizational dividing lines. The neo-realists and their most prominent representatives, Kenneth N. Waltz4 and John J. Mearsheimer5 in particular, also insisted that habitual patterns of the use of force and structural geopolitical factors would be preserved in the post-Cold War world.
The highly problematic nature of the globalization trends makes us wonder about the involvement of relatively new countries and regional interstate alliances of Central Eurasia in the process: their geographic location, the specifics of socioeconomic development and domestic processes, as well as the level of maturity of their relations with their neighbors pose several questions related to their place and role in the supra-regional and world processes. I have selected the post-Soviet Caucasus6 as an object of my assessments designed to demonstrate the extent to which the traditions of classical Eurasian geopolitics are retaining their viability in the “rapid globalization era.”
The Caucasus in the Eurasian Geopolitical Context: Problematic Heritage
The geopolitical relationships in the Caucasus are a direct product of the region’s importance in the Eurasian context, which at all times stirred the Eurasian centers of power to action and affected the historical friendship/enmity alignments of the ethnopolitical Caucasian units. Svante E. Cornell wrote the following on this score: “The strategic alignments centering on the Caucasus cannot be fully comprehended without viewing their place in the wider strategic alignments of Eurasia.”7
The Eurasian great powers were locked in struggle for control over the region, which being a religious and ethnic patchwork, had no internal consolidating core. It was considerably weakened by disunity and never-ending strife, which at all times attracted external influence. As Raimo Väyrynen put it, all fragmented and heterogeneous regions tempt external geopolitical interests.8
From time to time, the struggle among the powers of the “traditional external triangle” (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) for domination over the Caucasus flared up reflecting the changing balance of power inside the triangle and affecting the degree of stability across the region. In the post-Soviet period, geopolitical confrontation remains the key factor of regional political relationships. Today, as in the past, the rivals are using cultural and ideological propaganda, selective (read: biased) military and economic aid, and de facto alliances with one of the countries against the others, as well as ethnic separatism to secure their goals.
The traditional attributes of the Caucasus’ imperative nature in Eurasian geopolitics not only continued into the post-Soviet period—they were complemented with new, easily detected factors no less stimulating for interested geopolitical players.
The Caucasus’ imperative nature is connected, first and foremost, with its geostrategic importance. Its geographic location remains one of the central factors of the region’s political development. As a crossroads, it historically determined South-North and East-West relations.9 Those who control the Caucasus have vast territories in Eurasia under their control too. This was what sealed the region’s historical destiny: for a long time it remained a scene of uncompromising rivalry among Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Karl Haushofer, a prominent representative of classical geopolitics, wrote about the Caucasus as one of the historic zones of confrontation, along with the Bosporus, Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, etc.10 In changed form, this confrontation is still going on.
In the post-Soviet period, when the Caspian and Central Asian energy resources came to the fore, the Caucasus acquired still greater importance as a door leading to them. Elkhan Nuriyev has the following to say on this score: “Control over the energy resources and export routes out of the Eurasian hinterland is quickly becoming one of the central issues in post-Cold War politics.”11 The Caspian basin and Central Asia are two oil- and gas-rich areas,12 the latter, however, being controlled by Russia and the Soviet Union13 throughout the 20th century, remained a geopolitically closed area. Today, this has created prerequisites for unilateral control over the region’s energy resources. Early in the 20th century, Alfred T. Mahan, another classic of geopolitics, wrote that “when it came to the continental force’s control of the future of Central Asia, the natural conditions between the 30 and 40 parallels offered Russia advantages, which could be described as exclusive.”14
The geopolitical demonopolization brought about by the Soviet Union’s disintegration and Russia’s weakened influence created extremely favorable conditions for the Caucasus to become a unique bridge to be used to open Central Asia geopolitically and to ease access to its natural riches.
In fact, the geopolitical importance of the Caucasus’ communication potential is not limited to Central Asia and the Caspian. It should be contemplated on the Eurasian scale. Its geographic location is turning the Caucasus into a center where transcontinental communication routes will meet. No trans-Eurasian communication line, either the West-East or the North-South line that bypasses the Caucasus, can serve its purpose effectively.
This shows that the region’s communication potential should be assessed from two points: (a) geo-economic and (b) geopolitical. They are interconnected, so neither of them can be described as preferable. It is the intertwining of the geo-economic and geopolitical factors that determines the common current nature of interstate relations in Eurasia.
The Geo-economic Importance of the Caucasus’ Communication Potential
The geo-economic factor is tied to the already mentioned energy potential of the Caspian and Central Asia. Huge energy resources have made an efficient transportation system an absolute must.
Today, a multivariant pipeline system is being created in the Caucasus. Several projects were contemplated: the northern one was expected to connect Baku and Novorossiisk, while the western one, which envisaged a pipeline along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan route, was accepted as the best option.15
At first the pipeline system in the Caucasus was intended only for Azeri oil; in 1994, Azerbaijan signed agreements with foreign corporations, which gave them access to Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil fields.16 To solve the problem of moving Central Asian hydrocarbons to the world markets, the Central Asian oil and gas pipelines should be linked to the Caucasian system with the help of a trans-Caspian pipeline. It takes no wisdom to see that the Atlantic powers have set themselves the task of preventing any external regional force from establishing its unilateral control over the developing oil and gas pipeline system in post-Soviet Central Eurasia. Svante E. Cornell has described this in the following way: “The pipeline through Turkey has thus been actively supported by the U.S. government as well as the Azerbaijani, Georgian, Turkish, Kazakh and Uzbek leadership. It seems that for these states a pipeline that passes through neither Iran nor Russia gives them a lifeline to the western world and avoids a situation of dependence on these two allies.”17
For several, mainly geographic, reasons Russia could have become such regional force: it did its best to prevent the decision on the western variant as the key transportation route for Azeri energy fuels. Anatoli Utkin, a Russian political scientist, wrote: “In the final analysis, it was the oil transportation routes that became the bone of contention between American and Russian firms and hence between the U.S. and Russia. Huge material values and Russia’s control over the Caspian republics were at stake.”18
In the long-term perspective, too, the trans-Caspian communication lines (the oil and gas lines included) that cross the Caucasus to reach the Black Sea will remain the best option for Central Asia and the Central Caucasus. An Eurasian communication system connecting the industrially developed Western countries and the Central Eurasian states fighting for survival amid the ruins of their economies will lead to cooperation first in the energy, then in the economic, and later in the social and cultural spheres. Askar Nursha has pointed out: “In an attempt to put an end to their isolation Central Asian and Caucasian states are actively involved in all sorts of transportation projects (transcontinental highways and railways and maritime corridors). They will allow the region’s countries to compensate for their unfavorable geopolitical situation and to become an integral part of the world economy. The major geopolitical centers seeking a great involvement in the region and control over transcontinental transportation flows are all for the region’s integration.”19 The West-East mainline that crosses the Caucasus will promote these aims. “Scores of multinational companies, led by the oil and gas industry, have poured huge investments into the region, and the rapidly expanding regional transportation network, spearheaded by the European Union (EU) effort to create an East-West transportation corridor, promises to increase links between the Caspian states and the outside world.”20
The Geopolitical Importance of the Caucasus’ Communication Potential
The Caucasian communication potential can be described in classical geopolitical terms; its role in the system of geopolitical relations, which determines the situation in Eurasia, is obvious.
We cannot overestimate the geopolitical importance of communication lines: throughout history, an efficient communication network has been and remains one of the linchpins on which state alliances and geopolitical blocs are hinged. At all times, the Atlantic powers have been paying particular attention to communications and an effective communication system inside the Atlantic bloc; they also exercised no less effective control over the external marine communications. This, together with other factors, allowed them to triumph in the Cold War.
The Soviet Union’s disintegration produced one of the main geopolitical effects: it moved geopolitical confrontation from the global to the Eurasian level. The confrontation scale notwithstanding, its general geopolitical nature remained basically the same: in the post-Cold War period attempts to set up new geopolitical blocs to replace the dead geopolitical giant have been renewed.21 In the post-Soviet period, the Russian establishment readily accepted the so-called Primakov doctrine (1996) that spoke of a Moscow-Beijing-Tehran strategic triangle. Its aim, writes Mr. Brzezinski, was to “bring together the world’s leading Slavic power, the world’s most militant Islamic power, and the world’s most populated and powerful Asian power, thereby creating a potent coalition.”22 A model within which Russia, Iran, and Armenia could pool forces to set up a geopolitical bloc looked more realistic. When writing about the vectors of Eurasian geopolitical bloc-building in the post-Soviet period that affected the Caucasus, Svante E. Cornell pointed to two opposing axes: the North-South formed by the three countries mentioned above and the West-East that ranged “from the U.S. over Turkey and Georgia to Azerbaijan, with the Central Asian extension of Uzbekistan.”23
The bloc of the three countries—Russia, Iran, and Armenia—is promoted by their relationships in the past, their common regional opponents as well as the solid foundation of mutually advantageous military-political and economic cooperation. These are very important factors. Since the end of the Cold War (with the exception of a very short period when liberal politicians were in power in Russia in the early 1990s), Russia and Iran as two main centers of power and Armenia, which performed a connecting and projecting function, were working hard to detract the Atlantic impulse and strengthen the continental alternative. According to Alexander Dugin, a geopolitical alliance between Russia, Iran, and Armenia is a necessary element of developing and spreading the Eurasian (continental) impulse.24
Communication Lines and Geopolitical Relations in Post-Soviet Eurasia
The new post-Cold War balance of power and the new contours of geopolitical confrontation in Eurasia did not deprive the communication lines of their importance; the priorities of individual lines, however, have been readjusted. Classical geopolitics proceeded from the central role of two types of geographic communications: sea and land routes. While in the past, the Sea Powers sought control over the sea trade routes,25 the importance of which survived in the geopolitical confrontation of the Cold War, in the post-Soviet period, when confrontation shrank to Eurasian dimensions, the Atlantic bloc had to move inland. The new geopolitical conditions called for a revision of the old thesis that to control the Land Powers there was no need for the Sea Powers to move deep into Eurasia. It was thought that efficient control over the sea routes and coastal continental line was enough.26
The new geopolitical situation presupposed much stronger influence of the Atlantic bloc on the Eurasian heartland and, most important, efficient control over the land routes that linked these regions. Askar Nursha pointed out: “During the Cold War the Land Powers and Sea Powers cooperated in the Eurasian coastal zones. In the post-Soviet era the cooperation zone has moved directly to Russia’s southern frontiers. From that time on the major geopolitical centers are competing not for coastal zones but for the strategically important Eurasian heartland.”27
This added importance to the heartland regional and sub-regional units with communication potential on a continental scale that perform the following functions: first, they are points where strategic lines of mainly land routes meet; second, they are areas that geographically link the continental centers of power and their internal intermediate components. This applies not only to the landmass, but also to all sorts of intercontinental water bodies able to perform communication functions. In most cases, these and similar imperative spatial units perform both functions simultaneously, which naturally adds to their geostrategic value.
From this it follows that confrontation between the Atlantic bloc and the continental centers of power seeking control over the key strategic units will mount still higher. The end of the Cold War left the Atlantic bloc with the best of opportunities to establish control over the inland areas. This has spurred it into geopolitical activity. Despite their obvious deficit of power and much weaker potential of their continental projection compared with the Atlantic bloc, the continental powers displayed their equally stable interest. The obvious deficit of power of each of the continental powers explained why at the beginning of the post-Soviet era geopolitical rivalry over these spaces was relatively slack.
Is There a New Continental Bloc in Eurasia?
The geopolitical logic suggested that the continental powers should form blocs to be able to address both strategic and tactical geopolitical tasks. For example, from the very beginning, the Russia-Iran geopolitical partnership was of a strategic nature. It was designed to fulfill three main functions: first, that of a cornerstone of sorts to proliferate the continental impulse; second, that of a system of regional buffers to contain the Atlantic impulse in the West-East vector; third, that of a breather to allow each of the countries to build up its own power. On the other hand, it would have been much harder to lay the foundation of a Russia-China geopolitical alliance with the possible involvement of India.
The continental impulse based on the Russia-Iran-Armenia triangle was much more effectively proliferated, not only because the states had no serious contradictions similar to those that existed between Russia and China or China and India, but also because it was much easier to build up a hierarchy of partnership within a triangle. Russia would have found it harder to achieve this with China or even India. The Russia-Iran-Armenia bloc presupposes Russia’s leadership and the role of the main center of power: both Armenia and Iran have accepted this. This model would help promote the continental impulse within the CIS as well. Zbigniew Brzezinski describes this as the second geostrategic alternative, by means of which Russia could counterbalance the Atlantic impulse: “Emphasis on the ‘near abroad’ as Russia’s central concern, with some advocating a form of Moscow-dominated economic integration but with others also expecting an eventual restoration of some measure of imperial control, thereby creating a power more capable of balancing America and Europe.”28
The two other geostrategic alternatives that Mr. Brzezinski discussed in his book have been carried out in a mutually complementary form that presupposes the bi-vector development of the Eurasian continental impulse with possible consolidation within the CIS; other Eurasian geopolitical centers and actors might join in. In any case, as the continental bloc developed, geopolitical activities designed to control the imperative Eurasian expanse were supposed to increase and did in fact increase.
“Caucasian” Problems of Forming a “New Continental Bloc”
One of the major specific features of the geopolitical processes in post-Soviet Eurasia was created by the “efforts” of the Russia-Iran-Armenia bloc to “serve” as a foundation for a broader continental alliance. Alexander Dugin is convinced that Russia should pursue only one geopolitical aim: “strengthening the Eurasian tellurocratic complex and preparing for its planetary victory in the duel with Atlanticism.”29 Has the foundation of the tellurocratic complex been completed? If not then what has interfered with the process?
I believe that the tellurocratic complex will remain incomplete in the absence of de facto control over the Caucasus. The real, but still vulnerable, independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, on the one hand, and Russia’s inability to ultimately establish its control over the Northern Caucasus, on the other, make it impossible for the North-South axis to control the Caucasus.
At first, the North-South axis powers were confronted with purely geographical difficulties and the absence of an uninterrupted land communication line between them. While Armenia and Iran have a common land border, the axis leader had no common land border with either of them. The main communication lines between Russia and Armenia cross Georgia; the lines between Russia and Iran go across Azerbaijan. In Soviet times, Russia (the Soviet Union) and Iran had a common land and uninterrupted Caspian sea border. Today, there are five Caspian states grappling with the international-legal status of the Caspian; the possibility of establishing an unhampered sea communication line between Russia and Iran is doubtful.
This problem is not limited to the Caspian states’ economic relationships. Delimitation of the Caspian seabed, which will give the coastal states the right to develop their sectors, is only one side of the problem. The international-legal delimitation of the water surface is of no less trans-regional importance, including for the North-South axis’ more or less prolonged geopolitical validity: it will undermine to a great extent the positions of Russia and Iran, which will be deprived of an uninterrupted water communication line.
The direct land communication routes between Iran and Armenia can in no way compensate for the absence of direct and free communications between Russia and Iran, the mission of which is to control the North-South axis’ main forces, while Armenia is sort of Russia’s geopolitical extension, projecting its influence on a regional scale.
The main communication routes already controlled by third countries (Azerbaijan and Georgia) that tend toward the Atlantic vector, in the future, when these states will become stronger and the West will behave in a harsher and much more obvious way, will give the Atlantic bloc even better opportunities to control the North-South axis and its development. In fact, the axis powers will be left no choice: they will be forced to draw the Caucasus into the continental camp, or to be more exact, under their control.
Forms and Methods: How Geopolitical Interests are Realized in the Post-Soviet Caucasus
The frantic and even excessive activities of the North-South axis powers throughout the entire post-Soviet period designed to compensate for the absence of a de jure controlled interaction space with methods of de facto control confirm the Caucasus’ geostrategic importance.
In Georgia, this strategy was realized, first, through consistent efforts to build up Russia’s influence in the areas where ethnic minorities lived in compact groups and in the periphery autonomies (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ajaria, and Javakhetia); and second, through the military presence along the Russia-Georgia-Armenia line that preserved the so-called “southern Batumi-Akhalkalaki-Gumri defense line, which at one time formed a kind of military shield, first against Turkey, and later, during the Cold War, against NATO.”30 This preserved the military communication line between Russia and Iran and created a buffer that contained the influence along the East-West vector. Until recently, control over the land communication lines between Russia and Iran that crossed Azerbaijan was less strict than in Georgia. Today, it is partly maintained with the help of tacit support and military-technical aid extended to the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh and by means of the occupation of the districts of Azerbaijan that border on it in the west, south, and east.31
The geopolitical effect of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which considerably weakened potentially pro-western Azerbaijan, allowed the North-South axis to broaden its common land expanse. This did not end in the creation of a directly controlled Russia-Iran land corridor, but it strengthened the axis on the whole by extending the area of Armenia-Iran mutual contacts. Until part of Azeri territory was occupied, the land border between Armenia and Iran was only 35 km long,32 while the stretch of Azeri-Iranian border was 765 km long.33 Today, a large part of the latter is under the control of the Armenian armed forces (the Armenian-occupied border Zangelan and Jabrail districts and part of the Fizuli District). The total length of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is 1,007 km34; over 50 percent of it (between Armenia and the main territory of the Azerbaijan Republic with its adjacent districts that connect Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh—Kalbajar, Lachin, Gubatly, and Zangelan) is controlled by Armenia.
I have already written that control over Azerbaijan was needed to keep the Atlantic impulse in check and prevent it from spreading along the West-East vector. First, Armenia’s traditional function of a “safety belt” between Turkey and the Turkic nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia has become even more pronounced. Prior to the 1992-1993 occupation of Azerbaijan’s southwestern territories, the narrowest land gap between Turkey and Azerbaijan’s main territory35 was about 35 km in the Meghrin (Zangezur) District (officially under Armenian control); after the occupation, this gap became much wider.36 Tadeusz Swietochowski offered a very precise description of the occupied lands’ strategic importance: “Karabagh formed a link or a barrier (depending on who controlled it) between the Muslims of the Eastern Transcaucasia and Turkey.”37
Second, Armenian control over the Azeri areas mentioned above offers a possible tool for interfering with the emerging trans-regional economic corridor running across Central Eurasia in the West-East direction. In fact, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs across ethnopolitically instable Georgian and Turkish areas; and in Azerbaijan it is too close to the frontline. In other words, continued Armenian armed control over the Azeri areas neighboring on the pipeline offers the possibility of paralyzing it by escalating the conflict from the outside.38
The geopolitical activities described above were accompanied by Russia’s geopolitically motivated moves in the Northern Caucasus, which is part of the Russian Federation. The so-called first and second Chechen wars and the related military operations in Daghestan were aimed not only at restoring the country’s territorial integrity. They also had obvious and no less important geopolitical undertones: without the Northern Caucasus, the formation of the de facto controlled Central Caucasian land expanse would have become functionally useless for the North-South axis.
The resolute steps the Kremlin undertook to restore its control in Chechnia and Daghestan should not be associated merely with its firm intention to stem Islamic radicalism. Much suggests that the Russian leaders were driven by the logic of the post-Soviet geopolitical situation in the region and, in particular, by the need to preserve control over the hinterland bordering on the Central Caucasian republics.
The defeat in the first Chechen war of 1994-1996 deprived Russia of its control over Chechnia and, to some extent, over Daghestan, the geostrategic situation of which looks more advantageous than that of its neighbors. Russia would have lost Chechnia and Daghestan if it were defeated in the second Chechen war; this was fraught with the possible emergence of an ideologically hostile regional actor interfering with the North-South axis’ advance.
It should be said that both Chechnia and Daghestan form the eastern part of the land expanse that links the Northern and the Central Caucasus. Chechnia is part of Russia’s land border with Georgia, while Daghestan forms the entire stretch of Russia’s border with Azerbaijan and part of the Russian-Georgian border. The key lines of the land and sea routes of the North-South and West-East vectors cross these borders. K. Gajiev has the following to say about this: “It is Daghestan’s location at the meeting place of several states with which Russia has close ties for certain historical reasons that determines its strategic importance for Russia. In the east, it borders on Georgia, in the south, on Azerbaijan, in the north, on rebellious Chechnia capable of unpredictable steps and actions under certain conditions. The role of the port of Makhachkala has changed: it was situated at the crossing of sea routes leading to Astrakhan, Aktau (Shevchenko), Kransnovodsk, Baku, and Pehlevi. Across the sea, Daghestan borders on several states: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. A railway and a motorway, which cross Daghestan in the north-south direction, connect Moscow and Russia’s key regions, as well as Ukraine with Baku and, further on, with Tehran. Two large bridges (railway and road) across the Samur River (part of the border line) in the republic’s southernmost part are the only land links between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.”39
After their defeat in the Cold War, the continental powers are desperate to preserve their de facto control in the Caucasus to save their geopolitical potential. In the long-term perspective, however, complete control over the Caucasus is needed to develop the Eurasian impulse and create an integral neo-continental alternative.
The following are the main possible geostrategic effects of the North-South axis’ restored control over the entire Caucasus.
First: total control over strategic land as well as sea (Caspian) links. This would turn the Russia-Iran line into a monolith foundation complete with an effective system of trans-regional bloc communications.
Second: since the Caucasus is strategically indispensable for the Eurasian communication system, control over it would lead to just as efficient control over the main Eurasian communication lines. On top of all the other advantages, the continental countries would acquire the final say on the Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas transportation issue.
Third: control over the Caucasus means that the Central Asian nations would still be as geopolitically isolated as ever under Russia’s control.
Fourth: this would create an effective inner-Eurasian buffer that would halt Atlantic cultural, economic, and political influence on the threshold of Eurasia, leaving the continental powers as the sole dominant force in the vast Eurasian space stretching from the eastern Black Sea shores to the southern part of the Korean Peninsula.
The above suggests that geopolitical confrontation is a much more likely trend than “global harmony.” Unfortunately, this is all the region had when it entered the 21st century, which promised so much.
The Region in the Early 21st Century: New Openness or Traditional Closeness?
Everyone knows that to be included in the current globalization processes, a state has to be open, at least to some extent, to the world. The same applies to regions. When talking about openness, I particularly have in mind its geopolitical aspect. No matter how much a country (region) wants to become open to the world, it cannot integrate either into the financial, commercial, communication, and sociocultural spheres, or into other spheres at the international level unless it opens up geopolitically.
Even though globalization supporters are doing their best to present the contemporary world as economy-orientated and de-territorialized,40 we cannot ignore the fact that this is not true of at least some countries and regions. Geopolitics today is very different from that of Mackinder’s, Mahan’s, and Spykman’s times. The time has not come, however, to annul such fundamental parameters as territory, geographic environment, and land and sea communication routes. They are still important; in some cases, they determine the state’s (region’s) degree of involvement in the globalization processes and their forms.
The geopolitical practices in the Caucasus, partly described above, have demonstrated that the region’s (and Central Eurasia’s) involvement in the global processes has been limited by the activities of the continental centers of power. For obvious and natural reasons, the Russian41 and Iranian political establishments rejected the idea of so-called geopolitical pluralism in the post-Soviet expanse formulated in the West as an absolute necessity of the post-Cold War period. Indeed, the Cold War outcome tipped the world balance of power. The Western victory in the Cold War meant a Western geostrategic triumph and unchallenged worldwide leadership in the economic, technological, (and within the “end of history” context) ideological spheres.42 Under these conditions, if realized, the “open doors” principle as applied to the Central Eurasian sub-regions liberated from Soviet control would have spelled another geopolitical defeat for the continental centers of power.
The continental powers’ stake on the continued traditionally closed nature of Central Eurasia can be explained by the “security dilemma,” a phenomenon described by political studies. Here I have in mind not so much the habitual (military) aspect, but its political and ideological dimension, the specific features of which Barry Buzan clearly described in his conception of internal security sectors.43
On the one hand, globalization is rightly regarded as a product of capitalist development; its achievements as well as failures being attributed to Western civilization. On the other hand, all the key continental powers were traditionally building up their political, economic, and ideological systems as very specific ones peculiar to one state only. The Soviet Union relied on the totalitarian regime, planned economy, and Marxist-Leninist ideology. Post-Soviet Russia is developing as an authoritarian political system, as a market economy in which the state has a prominent role to play, and as a Great Power with Slavophilic ideas in the ideological sphere. Iran a rigidly theocratic state, its economy being a market state-regulated economy in which religious traditions play an important role; Shi‘a Islam dominates the ideological sphere. The Chinese political system is strictly authoritarian, while its economy combines command and market approaches; its ideology hinges on Maoism diluted with Confucianism.
According to the logic of the structural-political factors described above, successful globalization in Central Eurasia would undermine the attractive image of the alternative (continental) state systems in the eyes of their societies. More than that: the geographic location of Central Eurasia (which borders on the continental powers’ territories and populations) would, in the final analysis, intensify the centrifugal trends in the border areas of Russia, Iran, and China already suffering under the burden of numerous ethno-religious and socioeconomic problems.44
Even if we do take account of all external geopolitical stimulators, it would be wrong to dismiss the problems of post-Soviet “globalization” of Central Eurasia as being caused solely by the “geopolitical plot” devised outside. There are objective factors stemming from the region’s spatial-political structure and the general sociopolitical and economic development level of the regional and neighboring states that contributed and are contributing to the region’s continued traditional geopolitical closeness.
Here I would like to say a few words about the specifically Caucasian political structure. Irrespective of the structure applied to the region—bi-sectoral (the Northern and Southern Caucasus) accepted in post-Soviet times, or tri-sectoral (the Northern, Central, and Southern Caucasus)—it is absolutely clear that only that part of the Caucasus that includes the three Caucasian states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia) can be regarded as an isolated constellation of states described above. They alone are able to develop separately from the adjacent powers up to and including integration into the globalized (Western) world. The entire region has no chance of joining the process if the states that own the Northern (RF), Southeastern (IRI), and Southwestern (Turkey) territories remain outside the globalization process.
From this it follows that if Russia, Iran, and Turkey prefer a certain form of regionalism, the outlines of which can be clearly seen in what Russia is doing in the post-Soviet expanse (regional integration alliances of the EurAsEC type), to West-channeled globalization, it is impossible to imagine the Northern Caucasus moving toward globalization as part of a single Caucasian area.
If in a flight of fancy we imagine that the three adjacent countries agreed to march together with the Central Caucasian republics toward globalization, the present level of their sociopolitical and economic development would not be enough to accelerate the process. The development level of all the regional states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia) as well as the powers (Russia, Iran, and Turkey) is unacceptably low. In no way can they be described as post-industrial countries. The three-level state classification system devised by Buzan and Wæver45 describes them as modern states, that is as “…defined by strong governmental control over society and restrictive attitude towards openness. They see themselves as independent and self-reliant entities, having distinctive national cultures and development policies, and often pursuing mercantilist economic policies. Their borders mark real lines of closure against outside economic, political, and cultural influences and their sovereignty is sacrosanct.”46
The model state to be accepted as a globalization standard of sorts is a post-industrial or, within the Buzan/Wæver classification, “postmodern state.”47 It is qualitatively different from what we can see in the Caucasus and around it. Significantly, the 2005 globalization index, which includes 62 countries, A.T. Kearney offered in Foreign Policy Magazine based on the criteria of economic integration, personal contacts, technological ties, and political involvement, Russia, Turkey, and Iran occupy 52nd, 56th, and 62nd places, respectively,48 while the Central Caucasian republics did not make the list.
It is becoming increasingly harder for the post-Soviet world to bypass, without painful losses, the global trends that affect its general development vector. Unprecedented integration of the economic, technological, communication, ecological, sociocultural, and other spheres of the planet’s states known as “globalization” demands that the traditional forms and methods of interstate cooperation be abandoned. At the same time, different states and different regions are demonstrating different trends when it comes to abandoning the classical geopolitical forms. This is probably natural for the unevenly globalizing world.
Central Eurasia and its closest neighbors can hardly be described as a region that has successfully reasserted the traditional geopolitical paradigm. What is more, the post-Soviet geopolitical practices in Central Eurasia demonstrate the opposite. This is confirmed in particular by an analysis of the geopolitical processes in the post-Soviet Caucasus. We should agree that even today, 15 years after “the end of history,” it is much harder to explain the Caucasian developments from the point of view of the globalist theoretical perspective than with the help of the political realism paradigm and classical geopolitical principles. Military and political factors obviously predominate in the region; there is a tendency toward institutionalization of the military-political sphere, yet the region is doing nothing to promote its integration. It rather divides the regional and adjacent actors. The desire to build up a single institutional mechanism of collective security has obviously been surpassed by the process of forming alliances and counter-alliances already going on. The economy, which according to globalization logic should have played the leading role in dominating the traditional spheres of contacts, is mainly trailing behind. The economic security strategy rests on vulgar mercantilism rather than on the liberal principles of globalization.
Despite its globalization rhetoric Central Eurasia still looks like a testing ground of a geopolitical confrontation between the continental and Atlantic trends. The old and painfully familiar tools are still being widely used, ranging from divide et impera to Cold War propaganda. Russia and Iran are not beating about the bush when describing what the United States is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq—the West is employing the same classical geopolitical overtones when describing Russia’s policy in relation to the separatist groups in Central Caucasus, its “gas pressure” on Ukraine and Georgia, the ploy it used to exchange Armenian debts for Armenian industrial capacities, etc. This scenario does not offer much optimism about the destinies of the countries and regions, the geographic location of which helps the nations to promote their political interests.
1The notorious “end of history” conception offered by Francis Fukuyama in his “The End of History,” The National Interest, No. 16, Summer 1989, pp. 3-18 outlined this prospect to a certain extent. Back to text
2I. Wallerstein argued that world systems were developing in cycles and that the capitalist system was confronted with its first and genuine crisis, which would deepen in full conformity with the four long-term trends: worldwide disintegration of the rural lifestyle, an ecological crisis, the change of the old development trends of state power, and the inability of the states to perform their regulatory function. For more detail, see: I. Wallerstein, Konets znakomogo mira. Sotsiologia XXI veka, Russian translation edited by V.L. Inozemtsev, Logos Publishers, Moscow, 2004, pp. 43-46 (English edition: Immanuel Wallerstein, The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1999). Back to text
3For more detail, see: S.P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1996. Back to text
4For more detail, see: K.N. Waltz, “The Emerging Structure of International Politics,” International Security, Vol. 18, Issue 2, Autumn 1993, pp.44-79. Back to text
5For more detail, see: J.J. Mearsheimer, “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War,” International Security, Vol. 15, Issue 1, Summer 1990, pp. 5-56. Back to text
6I use a relatively recent pattern that divides the Caucasus into three sub-regional units: the Northern Caucasus (the autonomous units of the RF Southern Okrug), the Central Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia) and the Southern Caucasus (the northeastern ils of Turkey and the northwestern ostans of Iran) (see: E. Ismailov, Z. Kengerli, “The Caucasus in the Globalizing World: A New Integration Model,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2 (20), 2003, pð. 135-144). Back to text
7S.E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers. A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, Curzon Press, 2001, ð. 399. Back to text
8See: R. Väyrynen, “Regional Conflict Formations: An Intractable Problem of International Relations,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 21, Issue 4, November 1984, p. 339. Back to text
9While writing about this, R. Gachechiladze concentrates on the Caucasus’ central part, but I believe the geopolitical description should be applied to the entire region (see: R. Gachechiladze, “Geopolitics in the South Caucasus: Local and External Players,” Geopolitics, Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2002, p. 115). Back to text
10See: K. Haushofer, “Granitsy v ikh geograficheskom i politicheskom znachenii,” in: O geopolitike. Raboty raznykh let, Mysl Publishers, Moscow, 2001, p. 127. Back to text
11E.E. Nuriyev, “Crossroads and Conflict: Security and Foreign Influences in the Caucasus: An Azeri Perspective,” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3, September 2001, p. 155. Back to text
12The prospected oil reserves of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan comprise 2.2 billion tons; the natural gas reserves of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan are 5.55 Tcm (see: BP World Energy Outlook 2003, pp. 4, 20, available at [www.bp.com]). Back to text
13Central Asian geography offered Russia much better conditions for geopolitical control than all other powers. The Caspian Sea in the west; the hardly negotiable mountain ridges in the east and southeast, and sandy deserts in the southwest protected the region on three sides. In the north, however, where the region borders on Russia, the natural limits are much less forbidding, which makes it vulnerable to continental expansion from the north (see: A. Nursha, “The Caspian Region: Territory and Oil,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2 (8), 2001, p. 63). Back to text
14See: A.T. Mahan, The Problem of Asia and Its Effects upon International Policies, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., London, 1900, p. 47 (quoted from: T.V. Andrianova, Geopoliticheskie teorii XX v. Sotsial’no-filosofskoe issledovanie, Moscow, 1996, p. 54). Back to text
15The main transportation corridor Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan was officially opened in May 2005; there is also the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline; a southern variant (across Iran) was also discussed. Back to text
16Azerbaijan signed 21 contracts with 33 consortiums from 14 countries (see: I. Aliev, Kaspiyskaia neft Azerbaidzhana, Moscow, 2003, p. 179). Back to text
17S.E. Cornell, op. cit., p. 360. Back to text
18A.I. Utkin, Mirovoy poriadok XXI veka, Moscow, 2001, p. 393. Back to text
19A. Nursha, op. cit. Back to text
20R. Sokolsky, T. Charlick-Paley, NATO and Caspian Security. A Mission Too Far? Washington, 1999, ð. 29. Back to text
21Russia is still the driving force behind these projects. Zbigniew Brzezinski has identified three geostrategic alternatives post-Soviet Russia has been exploiting. He called one of them “a counter-alliance involving … a Eurasian anti-U.S. coalition designed to reduce the American preponderance in Eurasia” (Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books, New York, 1997, p. 99). Back to text
22Ibid., p. 116. Back to text
23S.E. Cornell, op. cit., p. 398. Back to text
24See: A. Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki. Geopoliticheskoe budushchee Rossii. Myslit’ prostranstvom, Fourth Edition, Arktogeia-tsentr Publishers, Moscow, 2000, p. 352. Back to text
25This thesis was most obviously developed by Alfred T. Mahan as the Sea Power conception (see: T.V. Andrianova, op. cit., p. 52). Back to text
26In his continental Rimland conception, Nicholas Spykman emphasized the geopolitical importance of the coastal line of continental Eurasia (inner crescent) in the Sea Power/Land Power opposition. It was he who said, “Who rules the Rimland rules Eurasia; who rules Eurasia rules the World” (see: N.J. Spykman, The Geography of Peace, Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1944, p. 43). Back to text
27A. Nursha, op. cit., p. 64. Back to text
28See: Z. Brzezinski, op. cit., pp. 98-99. Back to text
29A. Dugin, op. cit., p. 351. Back to text
30P. Dzhincharadze, “Should Russian Military Bases Be Withdrawn from Georgia: Several Aspects of the Situation,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 5, 2000, pp. 128-129. Back to text
31On the whole, since 1994 Armenia has been de facto exercising control over about 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. In addition to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which at first had no land communication lines with Armenia, two “intermediary” districts of Azerbaijan (Kalbajar and Lachin) were occupied. Later, four occupied southern Azeri districts (Zangelan, Gubatly, Jabrail, and part of Fizuli) extended the land communication lines between Armenia and Iran. Armenian occupation of eastern districts (Agdam and Fizuli) widened the west-east vector of Armenian control. This has created a safety belt of sorts to prevent Azerbaijan’s possible attempts at establishing its control over the temporarily lost territories. Back to text
32See: CIA–TheWorldFactbook2002-Armenia, available at [http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/am.html]. Back to text
33See: Azerbaijan in Figures 2004, State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic, Baku, 2004, p. 9. Back to text
34Ibidem. Back to text
35On land Turkey directly borders on Azerbaijan in the Nakhchyvan area, separated from the main territory of the Azerbaijan Republic by the official territory of Armenia; the border stretch is merely 15 km long (see: Ibidem). Back to text
36There is every reason to believe that the transfer of the Zangezur corridor under Armenian control that took place in the 1920s was one of the Kremlin’s most important long-term strategic moves in the Caucasus intended to add territory to the “safety belt” to contain a possible broadening of the trans-regional Turkish impulse. Back to text
37See: T. Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan 1905-1920, Cambridge University Press, New York and Cambridge, 1985, ð. 143. Back to text
38In this way Russia has acquired the possibility of paralyzing the Western pipeline route both in Azerbaijan and Georgia (see: H. Guliyev, “Konflikty na marshrutakh Kaspiiskoy nefti,” Kavkaz, No. 2, 1997, p. 10). Back to text
39K.S. Gajiev, Geopolitika Kavkaza, Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia Publishers, Moscow, 2003, pp. 292-293. Back to text
40See: B. Buzan, O. Wæver, Regions and Powers. The Structure of International Security, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 31. Back to text
41The so-called near abroad conception can be described as Russia’s response to the Western thesis of geopolitical pluralism. Russia hastened to identify this political expanse as a sphere of its political interests where it intended to play a special role (see: B. Coppieters, “Zakliuchenie: Kavkaz kak kompleks bezopasnosti,” in: Spornye granitsy na Kavkaze, ed. by B. Coppieters, Ves mir Publishers, Moscow, 1996, p. 216). Back to text
42According to Francis Fukuyama the end of history meant, among other things, triumph of the Western liberal-democratic ideas. For more detail, see: F. Fukuyama, op. cit. Back to text
43B. Buzan believes that a structural, political threat may appear in the relationships of states that belong to rivaling political and ideological systems. Advantages achieved by one of them immediately create threats for the opposite side, since the success achieved by the former devalues the latter in the eyes of its own nation in the first place (see: B. Buzan, People, States and Fear. An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era, Second Edition, Lynne Rienner Publishers Boulder, Colorado 1991, pp. 120-121). Back to text
44The Russian, Iranian, and Chinese areas bordering on Central Eurasia are populated mainly by ethno-religious minorities; they are poorly developed both socially and economically. In Russia, this is the so-called “southern Muslim belt,” in Iran, the northern areas populated by Azeris and Turkmen, in China, the Uighur-populated northwestern regions. Back to text
45When assessing the contemporary states’ sociopolitical development level, Buzan and Wæver identified three levels: premodern states; modern states, and postmodern states (see: B. Buzan, O. Wæver, op. cit., pp. 23-24). Back to text
46Ibid., p. 23. Back to text
47They believe that the postmodern states greatly differ from the contemporary model inherited from the Westphalian model. They preserve certain elements of modern states, such as borders, sovereignty, and national identity, but for a wide range of reasons (the developed spheres of economic and cultural interaction) they no longer assess these elements as seriously as before. Theirs is a much more open approach to economic, cultural, and political cooperation; they are convinced that the open nature of their economy and, to a lesser degree, of their society and politics help them to achieve well-being and security (see: B. Buzan, O. Wæver, op. cit., p. 24). Back to text
48See: “Measuring Globalization,” Foreign Policy Magazine, May/June 2005, available at [http://www.atkearney.com/shared_res/pdf/2005G-index.pdf], 16 April, 2006. Back to text