Secession and Security in the South Caucasus: A Region at Risk

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Throughout much of its troubled history, the South Caucasus region has served as an arena for the competing interests of empires. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the three small countries in the region—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia—have struggled to overcome the legacy of seven decades of Soviet rule. The abrupt independence of these three states has been marked by the emergence of new threats from within, as the collapse of the Soviet system unleashed potent forces of separatism and secession, which challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these states. This article examines the course of the conflicts, mediation approaches, and security implications of three secessionist entities: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabagh. Special attention is given to the US-funded “Georgian Train and Equip Progamme” and the implications of Turkish-Armenian rapprochement on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The article makes the case for promoting democratization, for engaging new political actors, and for promoting cross-border co-operation. It emphasizes the potential for progress on common issues as illustrated by the co-operation on combating wild-fires in the border area between Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan in 2006 led by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The article concludes that the real prerequisites for regional security and stability stem more from internal imperatives, ranging from legitimacy to leadership, than from external pressure or mediation. From this perspective, democratization must come first, prior to any effective or lasting resolution to the “frozen” conflicts of this “region at risk.”

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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