Topic Overview for the Committee on Security and Defence (SEDE)

Bella, horrida bella: “In the autumn of 2020, the conflict surrounding the region of Nagorno-Karabakh has once more flared up into military action, resulting in destruction and loss of life. What strategy should the EU adopt in its efforts to promote peaceful conflict resolution and the suppression of armed conflict?”

Johann Davies (DE)

Ein Bild, das Karte enthält.

Automatisch generierte Beschreibung
A map of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh

1. Relevance of the Topic

The signing of a ceasefire agreement by the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments in November 2020 ended the most recent eruption of a conflict that has been going on for decades over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Despite having a population that is 90 per cent ethnically Armenian, Nagorno-Karabakh is located within the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, where – until the ceasefire agreement was ratified – it had a de-facto autonomous regional government with close ties to Armenia. This is going to change with the new deal: While Armenian forces must withdraw from the region, Azerbaijan is going to regain many of the areas it lost control over to Armenia in the first ceasefire of 1994. 

That original deal could only temporarily end the fighting in a conflict which goes back at least to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, after which the regional parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to join Armenia, resulting in the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

The 2020 conflict will, however, have reopened even older wounds: on the Armenian side the memory of the 1915 genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, and in Azerbaijan the trauma of up to a million internally displaced persons (p. 2) as a result of the war in the early 1990s. 

Despite this historical hatred between the two nations, a real danger of ethnic cleansing, and Turkish support of Azerbaijan allegedly stretching to the deployment of fighter jets, the European Union has yet to become actively engaged in de-escalating the conflict, let alone in finding a sustainable solution.

2. Key Terms

– The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is the general framework for the EU’s foreign policy. According to the CFSP, the EU’s foreign policy goals are to safeguard the Union’s common values, strengthen the EU’s security, preserve peace, and promote respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

– The Minsk Group is an international conference founded by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with the goal of creating a forum for international dialogue regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and the negotiation of a peaceful conflict resolution (the “Minsk Process”), as opposed to military intervention by single states. The group is co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States and has a total of eleven members, including both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

– The Madrid Principles are a peace plan proposed by the aforementioned Minsk Group on how to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The idea is that Armenia relinquishes control over several districts surrounding the actual region, but a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh remains open. Nagorno-Karabakh itself receives an “interim status”  with a peacekeeping operation ensuring its security. Internally displaced persons from the region would be able to return home.

3. Stakeholders

– The Republic of Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country located between Armenia to the West and the Caspian Sea, an important trade route between Asia and Europe, to the East. The country has invested much of the profits of its most important sector, the oil industry, in defence systems and its military strength therefore outstrips that of Armenia. The country’s authoritarian president, who acquired this  position as a de-facto matter of inheritance from his father, has recently been facing fiercely nationalist anti-government protests.

– The Republic of Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a dominant regional power and Azerbaijan’s main ally. The two countries routinely conduct joint military drills, and, during the 2020 conflict, Turkey supplied Azerbaijan with military equipment. There are also allegations Turkey stationed jets in Azerbaijan.

– The Republic of Armenia is a predominantly Christian country situated between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Although the country has its own history of human rights violations, the 2018 pro-democracy protests, dubbed the “velvet revolution” and led by the current Armenian Prime Minister, have led to an improvement in democracy. This, however, has led to a strained relationship with Armenia’s historical ally, Russia. Nevertheless, any violation of Armenia’s national borders will trigger a military response from Russia, as both countries are members of the CSTO defence alliance (comparable to NATO). As Nagorno-Karabakh is not internationally recognised as a part of Armenia (let alone as its own country), it is not included in the CSTO.

– Next to Turkey, the Russia Federation is the main power in the South Caucasus region. Traditionally an ally of Armenia, Russia seems to have been prioritising her relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan in recent years. Under the ceasefire deal of November 2020, Russian peacekeepers will be stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh for at least five years to ensure a peaceful transition of power.

– The population of Nagorno-Karabakh has a size of about 150,000 inhabitants of which roughly 90 per cent are ethnic Armenians. As a result of the ceasefire agreement, many of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnically Armenian inhabitants have resorted to fleeing to Armenia. Dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians of both Armenian and Azerbaijani ethnicity were killed in the 2020 war.

– The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is the head of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic corps, represents the EU in international organisations such as the UN and implements the EU’s foreign policy. He or she works closely with the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), the conference of all foreign, defence and development ministers of the EU’s Member States. Together, the FAC and the High Representative determine the EU’s activity abroad and can launch military or civilian missions.

4. Conflicts

At the heart of the Nagorno-Karabakh question lies the conflict between Azerbaijan’s right to territorial integrity, as stated in Article 2 of the UN Charter, and the right of Nagorno-Karabakh’s inhabitants to self-determination, following Article 1 in the same document (see previous link), Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 1 of  the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As UN Member States, Armenia and Azerbaijan must follow the UN Charter and the UDHR and they are also both signatories of the ICCPR. The result is a clash between two important international legal principles.

So far, the EU has attempted to abide by both of these principles by emphasising self-determination in agreements with Armenia and territorial integrity in agreements with Azerbaijan. This double strategy has resulted in the EU being regarded as an unreliable actor, especially by Azerbaijan.

However, despite its lack of activity, the EU does have a stake in the conflict. It is being suggested that Turkey is using the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis as a means of establishing itself as a regional power. Given Turkey’s shift towards an authoritarian state with little regard for democracy, it should be in the EU’s interest to limit Turkey’s influence in the resolution of the conflict. This consideration becomes even more urgent when observing Russia’s reduced activity, which appears to be a reaction to Armenia’s pro-democratic revolution.

The fact that this conflict spans several decades has infused the question of Nagorno-Karabakh’s rightful ownership with deeply-felt emotional importance for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Allegedly placed under Azerbaijan’s rule by the Soviet Union as a calculated way of preventing a joint South Caucasian independence movement, Nagorno-Karabakh has become a symbol for the fight not only between two countries but between two ethnic groups.

5. Measures in place & status quo

In the past, the EU has specified its core interests regarding foreign policy, most importantly with the adoption of the EU Global Strategy in 2016, which aims to increase the EU’s presence on the world stage and make it a stronger geopolitical actor. EU priorities with importance for this conflict named in the Global Strategy include an improved and more integrated response to conflicts, with a goal of “being fully engaged in all stages of a conflict, from early action and prevention, wherever possible to staying on the ground long enough for peace to take root” (see previous link).

In 2003 and, more recently, in 2017 the EU appointed Special Representatives for the entire region of the South Caucasus, emissaries specifically tasked with representing the EU in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and promoting international dialogue. However, there have never been civil (or military) peacekeeping missions in Nagorno-Karabakh, such as the EUMM Mission in Georgia.

As part of the CFSP, the EU launched the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2005, a framework for all bilateral cooperation with Southern and Eastern neighbours, including both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Among the goals of the ENP, which was revised in 2015, are fostering stability, strengthening security and promoting democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

This approach has been complemented since 2009 by the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP), which is a joint initiative between the EU and six of its Eastern neighbours, again including both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the objectives of stronger economies, governance, connectivity and societies in the Partner Countries.

However, none of these programmes directly addresses the peaceful resolution of conflicts among Partner Countries, let alone Nagorno-Karabakh. The most recent joint statement of all the EaP members from March 2020, setting the EaP’s agenda for after 2020, subtly alludes to unresolved conflicts (page 11) but does not propose a strategy for the region.

The negotiations for a peace agreement in the autumn of 2020, brokered mainly by the Russian Federation, were held without any EU involvement.

6. Food for Thought & Brain Munchies

  • What are the EU’s interests in the South Caucasus?
  • Are there any non-traditional, more “out of the box”-ways of foreign policy with which one could solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? How could civil society, especially the younger generations, be more involved in the peace process?
  • What role could the United Nations play?

7. Links for Research

– This is a short but comprehensive article describing the events of 2020 and unravelling the decades of power politics that led to them.

– This is a three-minute video showcasing the widespread shock in Armenia after the ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan and raising questions over that agreement’s sustainability.

– The counterpart to the previous link, this video depicts the celebrations in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, after the announcement of the ceasefire agreement.

– A photo series showing the effects of war on people and settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

– Finally, a declaration published by The High Representative after the ceasefire agreement, restating the EU’s commitment to building long-term peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.