How hard it is for an individual to live alone without the support of one’s family, friends and relatives, it is similarly impossible for a state in the modern world to function and develop without allies and partners. Our country is no exception. Naturally, like any other state, Azerbaijan is trying to conduct an independent foreign policy as much as it is possible. That is, if the circumstances are favourable. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, in today’s world of unprecedented globalisation, in the era of the military-strategic, economic, political, information and cultural globalisation, individual countries can no longer afford to be completely self-sufficient. There is need for cooperation, openness of countries and nations in relation to each other, cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual support and mutual assistance. In today’s world, the ability to organise unions, to enter into a mutually beneficial agreement and to use common opportunities to achieve common goals will play a crucial role in the development of countries.
It is no secret that it have long been said about Azerbaijan that it tries to sit on two chairs at once. The so-called balanced foreign policy that our state has been pursuing for nearly 20 years for a long time allowed Azerbaijan to avoid the many hidden rocks of global geopolitics that could easily sink the ship of our nation. Especially given the difficult geopolitical situation, in which our country was, in connection with the Karabakh conflict, and because of its geo-strategic location at the intersection of the North-South and East-West axes.
In one of my articles on the EU relations with the countries of the former Soviet Union, I said that Azerbaijan has made its choice, very peculiar, but amenable to logical analysis, given the situation. This was about the summit of Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, which was held in November 2013 and marked the beginning of a coherent chain of events that led to the Ukrainian crisis. Figuratively speaking, Azerbaijan at the moment ‘threw both of the chairs and sat down on the carpet.’ This strategy envisioned that our government refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, yet expressed a desire to continue to cooperate with Europe in all areas that are critical for our country. A similar political line was chosen in relation to our northern neighbour. We decided not to join the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, but our country continued to cooperate with Moscow on issues of mutual interest, at least so far as the ambiguous position of Russia in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict allowed us to do.
Further developments around Ukraine, the following ‘Euromaidan,’ flight of President Yanukovych, the change of power, the annexation of the Crimea by Russia and the ongoing war in the southeast of the country, convinced that this tactical choice was quite deliberate, though I continue to believe that in a strategic, historical and civilisational perspective, entry into the European Union is in the long-term interests of our country. However, as the old Chinese proverb says: ‘When a lion is fighting a crocodile, a monkey wins that watches from above.’ It is too early and quite difficult to say whether we won in this situation, but we certainly did not lose. Though we were and still are to this day on the brink. Azerbaijan, which has not defined its foreign policy priorities, remains highly vulnerable, since it has no reciprocal security obligations with any of the rival powers in the region. At the same time we are at war with one-fifth of our territory being occupied, albeit with an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, which still may be resumed at any time, no matter by which side. In any case, we are sitting on a powder keg. And it is impossible to ignore it in our foreign policy.
In today’s globalised world, no country can be self-sufficient, and we too. This is true in most part for the foreign policy course, which has to be constantly adjusted, based on the new circumstances, which often do not depend on our will. It would be naive to assume that the recent ‘confrontation’ with the West, primarily manifested in the unprecedented hitherto cooling of relations with the United States, was dictated by the meaningful will of our authorities. Certain conflicts in regard to understanding the foundations of democracy and civilised social order happened before. However, they never led to such a large-scale information war. And, probably, it would be appropriate to note that the powerful information blow to our state cannot go to any comparison with our own rather inadequate response (we call a spade a spade).
However, the recent meeting of the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs leading the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) at the US Department of State Amos Hochstein with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, to a certain extent, did dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Apparently, the situation in relations with the United States managed to break and return to a constructive route. Let us hope that the result achieved would be lasting. And here’s why.
In our opinion, it is not in the interest of such a small country as Azerbaijan, to spoil relations with the global hegemon. There is no doubt that the US today is the undisputed leader in the world – political, economic, military, scientific, information, technology, etc. And whatever some experts might say, in the next 50 years, no one can take their place. And thank God! Fortunately for the humanity, the global leader is the United States genetically born in freedom. Otherwise, the whole world would become a big ‘North Korea’ or at best ‘communist-capitalist China.’ We should always remember, if not for the United States with its Marshall Plan, then today there would be no prosperous Europe. If not for the United States, today there would be no free and prosperous Japan, and many other states, where to the US brought its values of freedom and democracy.
Yes, any hegemon makes mistakes at some point or another. And America cannot be an exception to this rule. There will always be countries that determine the vector of development of humanity on a global scale. Perhaps the US is not ideal. But would it be better if such a hegemon was oligarchic-totalitarian China, for instance?
We mentioned that the United States brings to the world ideas of freedom and democracy. One cannot deny that sometimes Americans themselves forget about it and use in its foreign policy the notorious double standards. Including in relation to Azerbaijan. In the end, without trying in any way to detract from the mistakes of our government, we must recognise that the situation in neighbouring Armenia concerning democracy and human rights is far worse, but the attitude of America has always been polite and respectful. Armenia is an aggressor, and, nevertheless, the United States persistently do not call it as such. It turns out that we have oil and gas, which everyone needs, we have 20% of our territory occupied, we have a million refugees and IDPs. However, America, which we from time to time announce as our strategic partner, has still not abolished the very same notorious Section 907, through which Armenia receives from the United States many times more ‘humanitarian’ aid than we – the victim of its aggression. You can certainly argue that the Armenians have a strong lobby, which controls both the Congress and the White House. The State Department is obliged to consider the opinion of these very Armenians, of whom there is about a million in the United States, as potential voters. To some extent, this is exemplified in the unprecedented campaign against the Azerbaijani authorities by the leading US media.
However, the same US now live more than 600 thousand Azerbaijanis from South Azerbaijan, who are also voters. After all, American Armenians were not born in Armenia proper. And that’s not taking into account all those of our compatriots who have moved overseas in the years of independence, and traditionally loyal to us American Jewish lobby, which is far ahead of Armenians in terms of their power and influence. Simply put, our diplomacy could not organise them and create an effective lobby, which is our own big miscalculation. The US is the country, where in the presence of will, intelligence, resources and dedication one can still influence public opinion and create a favourable atmosphere in relation to one’s country.
It is true that the United States often depart from their stated attractive ideals of freedom and democracy, human rights and the free market. But aren’t the Americans first to beat an alarm about this? I do not think anyone in this world criticises America, its government, domestic and foreign policy more than the Americans themselves. Therein lies the essence of the philosophy of this country. Self-criticism, which should be an example for all other countries. American politicians, statesmen and public figures are not tired to be proud of their country. And for good reason! But they do also constantly and harshly criticise it, if they think that somewhere it has made a mistake.
What is important is that, as the absolute world leader, the United States does not forget its responsibility to the world. And they, too, need to be understood. Managing such a diverse, multi-value, eternally conflicting, restless, dangerous world is too hard. Today, only the US is able to keep the world from sliding into the abyss of authoritarianism and general chaos, a stone’s throw from the accession to the totalitarian ideology on a global scale. And the United States deeply understands the absolute priority of democratic values in the name of world stability and security. You cannot live in this little world without rules, as it is impossible to live without, say, multiplication table, which is the same all over the world. Only progressive democratic development can lead to the general welfare of humankind, to the general peace and stability throughout the world. Although these words have become quite trivial, their essence and meaning do not change.
However, each state is moving with its own speed based on its world outlook, world understanding and world attitude of its citizens. So, the main thing here is not speed, but direction and purpose. Today there is no alternative to democracy, both for individual states and for international security. It is therefore necessary to ensure that our relations with the US develop in a mutually beneficial manner and in the spirit of mutual understanding. And we cannot allow ourselves to forget about the problem of democratisation. Any intergovernmental relations imply a two-way road. You cannot expect from the very same Americans good attitude towards oneself, while ignoring their interests, also related to the public opinion in the United States itself. Some experts are quite wrong to believe that even a gradual, slow democratisation in our country is able to subvert the foundations of our state. This is nonsense! At the moment the future of our country and our government depends directly on how they can adapt to the modern geopolitical realities. And these realities require a certain level of democratisation and guaranteed protection of human rights.
We can for a long time talk about conditional harm that was done by democratic choice in Georgia and Ukraine. Yes, Georgia has lost, hopefully only temporarily, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Ukraine lost Crimea and partly Donbas. But this is only in a short term. The road to building a civilised, democratic and prosperous state is difficult and full of hardships and temporary defeats. But in the long term there is no alternative. Russia, annexing Crimea, has lost Ukraine, and in exchange of Abkhazia and South Ossetia lost Georgia. And it is not at all comparable with its ‘gains.’
Once again, in a globalised world it is impossible to to be self-sufficient. Even the United States cannot afford it. What to say about Russia, now languishing under the weight of the sanctions regime. Despite all the assurances of the Russian authorities to the contrary, the economic situation is getting worse every day. Russia cannot win in the confrontation with the United States. The collapse of the Soviet Union, far more powerful than Russia, visibly demonstrated that.
Of course, a time will come when Russia will travel along the European, civilised way. It has no other alternative either. The country of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Pasternak and Brodsky will not abandon European values. Russia is a vast country, and probably it will need more time to understand that. But we are a small country and our public opinion is not genetically burdened with imperial inheritance, but on the contrary, genetically we are the heirs of the first democratic republic in the East.
From all this comes a simple conclusion: we have no alternative to normal relations with the United States. As for the double standards, no one prevents us to work with American public opinion to create a favourable impression of our country in the United States, to work intelligently, not only hoping on communications of an oligarchic-restaurant genre. As a rule, such links, as historical experience shows, are just bubbles.
It is equally important to bear in mind the fact that, despite the attractiveness of the European way of development for our country, as I have said, it is worth thinking about the reliability of the Europeans themselves in extreme situations. Whether in the case of pressure on Azerbaijan on the part of someone else our potential European allies will come to our aid? Examples of Georgia and Ukraine are quite disappointing. Again, if it were not for the United States, Ukraine would not have got the support from Europe. Only under American pressure the EU offered its support. Unfortunately, old Europe is sluggish and slow, and it repeatedly failed to seize favourable historic opportunities. In politics, it is important to use a chance in time, otherwise you will lose it. The United States is a country that always tries to use historic opportunity when offered by fate. There are also faults sometimes. But the US in the implementation of its strategy always try to take into account errors of the past. As aptly put by the Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe, ‘the United States has something rare among history’s great powers – a second chance at moulding the international system to secure its long-term interests. No other nation is likely to have as much impact in influencing the global future.’
Naturally, close relationship with the United States do not mean that we should blindly follow the US orders and take certain foreign policy decisions favourable to them at the expense of our own interests. Americans, however, do not require that. They are pragmatists and proved it by reaching an agreement with their probably main antagonist after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Iran. The last factor, namely the warming in relations between the United States and our southern neighbour, we must also take into account in long-term building of our foreign policy strategy. Recall that in his sensational book ‘The Grand Chessboard,’ which paid special attention to Azerbaijan, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that Azerbaijan was a vital ‘plug’ that controls access to the ‘bottle’ with wealth of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia. And he went on to say that further improvement in Iran-US relations was possible and necessary for the stability in the region and, above all, for stability in Azerbaijan: ‘America is too far to dominate this part of Eurasia, but too strong to be not involved in the events in it…’ wrote Brzezinski. Thus, already in the 1990s, the US defined clear geostrategy in relation to Azerbaijan. And we cannot disregard this.
Today, Azerbaijan being on a ‘minefield’ is obliged to maintain a sustained and balanced foreign policy to achieve steady geopolitical stability. We have to be reckoned not with desire, but with hard reality. In this reality, the priority should be steady and friendly relations with the world’s sole superpower, able to really influence the global geopolitical processes. Whether we like it or not, we are in a common train with the Euro-Atlantic ‘locomotive.’ Time and space, i.e. our geopolitical position in Europe and the rules of the XXI century do not allow us to ignore these rules in the future.