This article was first published in Armenian and Russian in the

“Sobesednik Armenii/Hayastani Zrutsakits” weekly (Yerevan),

№ 12 (175), 1 April 2011

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Armenia opened up geopolitically, falling, inter alia, under the influence of Middle Eastern political turbulence. Meanwhile, the events of historical proportions that occurred in the Middle East within the last three months have already led to revolutions, riots, civil wars, as well as international military intervention. Today, the area of geopolitical instability has expanded from the “Arab arc” to the borders of Armenia; in particular, the probability of outbreak of a new conflict, whether internal or external, in neighboring Iran is quite high.

Hence, it is necessary to re-examine Armenia’s geostrategic situation, paying special attention to the military threats to its security and the means of their neutralization. I strongly believe that the grand failures in the nation-building process would not have happened in Armenia if an adequate defense doctrine and military policy, based on long-term threats, were in place during the past two decades.

Armenia’s defense doctrine must be (and, in all probability, it is) based on ensuring military security in all four directions: Northern (Georgia), Southern (Iran), Western (Turkey), Eastern and South-Western (Azerbaijan and Nakhijevan). Currently, Iran and Georgia present no military threat to Armenia, while the Turkish-Azerbaijani threat is more than real.

Georgian and Iranian fronts

Nevertheless, providing reliable defensibility on both Georgian and Iranian fronts is a must. First of all, Turkish and Azerbaijani troops can use these border areas (in particular, the Georgian section) for invading Armenia. Besides, on the Georgian front, no matter how undesirable it may be, certain actions aimed at protecting the Armenians in Javakhk (an Armenian-populated region in Georgia) are not excluded. And, on the Iranian front, problems could arise with the Turkish-speaking inhabitants of Iranian Azerbaijan, in case of possible future protests by this group against the central government of Iran.

Azerbaijani front

Leaders and senior officials of Armenia have repeatedly emphasized the possibility of a new Azerbaijani aggression. For example, key provisions of this realistic point of view have been clearly stated in a ten-year-old speech by a former Deputy Minister of Defense:

“Today, and in the foreseeable future, a real threat of military aggression by Azerbaijan against the Republic of Armenia (RoA) and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) can definitely be regarded as the main threat to Armenia’s security. At that very moment, when political and military leaders of Azerbaijan would believe that they possess military superiority over Armenia, the war will become inevitable. It will be directed not only against the NKR, but also against RoA, because the Azerbaijani leadership is of the opinion that the return of Karabakh would be impossible without Armenia’s military defeat.”

However, in considering future scenarios for repelling possible Azerbaijani aggression, it is necessary to bear in mind one key factor – Armenia must always be able to deliver a crushing defeat to Azerbaijan single-handedly. The point is that during a potential Armenian-Azerbaijani war, two factors make Russian intervention on the side of Armenia unpredictable. First of all, like Armenia, Azerbaijan is also a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an international organization of great importance to Russia. Therefore such intervention will severely compromise the CIS and undermine its viability. More important is the fact that if Armenia becomes incapable of defending against Azerbaijan, it will lose its “strategic ally” value for Russia. In concurrence with the weakening of Armenia, the interest of Russia (as well as Iran, China and other potential allies) in supporting the strength and security of Armenia will subside as well. And the opposite is also true: the stronger Armenia is militarily, the more willing Russia and other friendly countries will be to support us. In the foreseeable future, the international benchmark of strategic value of Armenia will be its capability to confront Azerbaijan independently. Hence, in regard to the Azerbaijani front, Armenia should base its contingency planning on the scenario of a “tête-à-tête” war with Azerbaijan and should not place too much hope on the possibility of Russia’s direct military assistance. Тhis does not imply, however, that Armenia should refrain from doing all it can to receive such assistance from Russia.

Turkish front

One of the consequences of the insufficient development and formulation of Armenia’s military politics is that the doctrine of Armenian defensive-liberation war in case of possible aggression by Turkey remains unclear both for an ordinary citizen and the government of Armenia. It is true that a number of current international factors strictly reduce the likelihood of a Turkish invasion. These factors include:

a)      the existence of the Armenian-Russian military alliance and combat-ready Armenian Army;

b)      serious internal and external problems of Turkey (the Kurdish problem and resistance, complications caused by the continuing occupation of Northern Cyprus and the process of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, political tension between the Islamist political leadership and the traditionally secular army, etc.);

c)      in case of an invasion into Armenia, Turkey will be facing the threat of condemnation by a number of international organizations and states, including political and economic sanctions and pressure: an intense reaction will come particularly from Russia, Iran, Greece, Cyprus, Syria, the European Union, and, very possibly, the United States;

d)      The Armenian Diaspora will play its role as well.

Thus, in current geopolitical conditions Turkey is unlikely to make a decision to invade Armenia, fearing an additional serious international headache. Having the aforementioned circumstances in mind, Turkey has been trying to realize its program of Armenia’s ultimate destruction not by resorting to blatant aggression, but by the “hands” of his junior ally, Azerbaijan, and the imposition of an economic blockade.

However, the foregoing arguments do not imply that the safeguarding of the Turkish front of Armenia should be removed from the agenda. The obstacles to Turkish invasion mentioned above should be regarded as neither absolute, nor eternal. In the event of any significant changes in the world or in the region, the Turkish authorities can re-calculate and conclude that, on the one hand, the final defeat of Armenia is more important than a short-lived international condemnation, and that, on the other hand, the large-scale or “limited” aggression against Armenia from a military point of view will be a rapid and easy operation, much like the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Such calculations will also consider the fact that Armenia’s destruction will increase the influence of Turkey in the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia, finally bringing to realization her dreams of becoming a regional superpower.

Fundamentals of Armenia’s defense doctrine

Taking the foregoing factors into consideration, the Armenian defense doctrine should satisfy two essential requirements:

(1) The capacity of Armenia to independently confront and win wars with Azerbaijan: it should be clear that Russian commitment to the security of Armenia is grounded, first and foremost, on strategic calculations made in Moscow rather than the “historical friendship and fraternity of the Armenian and Russian peoples,” or other similar notions. If, or as soon as, Armenia is deprived of its capacity to autonomously cope with Azerbaijan, the strategic value of Armenia for Russia would evaporate, in turn causing any Russian military commitment to Armenia to be withdrawn. In the end, the Kremlin will lose its last ally in Transcaucasia and will be forced to completely abandon this traditional sphere of its influence. The West, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, hand in hand, would collaborate to arrive at this outcome.

(2) A defense alliance with at least one external power or a group of states which would neutralize the Turkish threat: In the foreseeable future, only Russia can be interested and willing to play such a role. However, there is no 100 percent guarantee that Russia necessarily and automatically will do so in time of emergency. Of course, such protection also implies Armenia’s significant dependence on Russia and a tangible shrinking of its latitude for conducting independent foreign policy. But this dependence would not have been felt so acutely if the Armenian authorities drew a definite perimeter, outside of which ignoring the country’s national dignity and vital interests would be considered impermissible. This has not been done and, as a result, we periodically witness the extreme inequity and, consequently, the relative unreliability of the Russian-Armenian strategic partnership (the most recent example was the official visit of Turkish Prime Minister to Moscow on March 16th of this year and the most cordial presidential reception extended to him on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the signing of the infamous anti-Armenian Treaty of Moscow, which – from the point of view of international law – is an invalid document and which legalized the results of the Armenian Genocide and ceded additional territories from Armenia).

Unfortunately, Armenia is not able to ensure the safety of its Turkish front alone; therefore, it cannot act like Israel, a state in a comparable geopolitical situation. Israel’s defense doctrine is based primarily on its own capabilities and does not allow reliance on the guarantees provided by any ally state. The objective of Armenia’s military policy should be precisely the same – to strive for maximum self-sufficiency in defense capabilities.

Thus, the reiteration of what I stated as early as 1998 is fully appropriate: the first point of the Armenian defense doctrine, the preservation of independent capacity to confront and win a possible war against Azerbaijan, still requires constant and unrestricted Armenian military control over Nagorno-Karabakh; that is, the presence of the Armenian army in Karabakh and the absence of any other military force from the territory.

“Any other military force” could imply only the U.S. and NATO troops, who seek for a chance to establish their presence in this region under the guise of “peacekeepers.” On the other hand, Russia is unlikely to be able – primarily due to the lack of a sufficiently powerful “support group” consisting of strong allies – to conduct large-scale independent “peacekeeping” operations beyond its actual borders, which include the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the south. As the unfolding of events surrounding Libya in the UN Security Council and then in the Mediterranean demonstrated, “a military parade’’ on the planet is still commanded by the United States and its allies. Yet it is precisely this reality as well as the unpredictability of the situation in the Middle East that have dramatically increased the strategic importance of Armenia, especially for Russia, which, unlike the US, simply does not have any other allies in the region. The Kremlin is obviously diminishing and casually underestimating the great role that Armenia (RoA+NKR) can potentially play as an ally of Russia in the Greater Middle East. It seems Moscow still does not understand that, under current conditions, it is far more beneficial for Russia to help Armenia become a strong ally, rather than a weak client state. Exactly 1000 years ago the same mistake was made by the Byzantine Empire, which at first undermined and devoured Armenia, but was very soon forced to surrender it to the Turks, and forever lost its former political clout and military might in the region.

At the same time, the political authorities of the Republic of Armenia, although detached from reality and having driven the country and themselves into a profound crisis, must, in spite of everything, catch sight of the geopolitical landscape of the region, which has radically changed within just three months, and do their best to adequately protect and lobby the interests of Armenia in the international arena. No one will do this in Armenia’s stead!


Doctor of Political Sciences

This post is also available in: ,