The beginning of the 21st century was marked by global transformations in international relations. They include, in part, the recent change in the world order, which influences the global security system and the strategic environment in many areas of the world by virtue of a knock-on effect, writes Ruben Elamiryan, Head of the Chair of World Politics and International Relations at the Yerevan-based Russian-Armenian University.
In this context, one of the key issues in current international relations is the future image of the new world order in 5, 10 or 20 years. Different notions, sometimes mutually exclusive, are used to describe it: a new world order, chaos, polycentric and multipolar world and a world without poles, to name a few.
Without getting too deep into an academic dispute on formulas, it is still possible to say that the changes in the world order boil down to the consolidation and restoration of Russia’s positions, which were lost after the Soviet Union’s collapse, strategic uncertainty, the EU’s search for a geopolitical future, a shift of the US strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific Region and the growth and expansion of China’s interests and influence.
In this contest, the main challenge for Armenia is to realise the role and place of small and medium countries in the new global and regional environments because the growth of global turbulence and uncertainty and the transformation of the world order have set forth the imperative of revising one’s place and role in international relations and shaping one’s geopolitical future.
Armenia at geopolitical crossroads: Cooperation as a factor of sustainable and stable future
Armenia’s new 2020 National Security Strategy reads that “the Republic of Armenia implements its foreign policy priorities proceeding from three fundamental, comprehensive and interconnected principles: sovereignty…, the pan-Armenian community…, and cooperation as a means of establishing equitable and mutually beneficial relations with other states.”
Today, Armenia is expanding system-wide and comprehensive cooperation with almost all global and regional centres of power, both on the bilateral and multilateral basis.
Thus, relations between Аrmenia and Russia are founded on the principles of a strategic alliance, which cover all aspects of cooperation – political, military, economic, humanitarian, and others. ng together their Russian colleagues on clearing mines in Syria.
Armenia hosts Russia’s 102nd military base and the Armenian and Russian military jointly defend the republic’s borders, including its air space. Armenian servicemen are working together their Russian colleagues on clearing mines in Syria.
In addition, Russia accounts for 26 percent of Armenia’s trade and has made large direct investments in that country. It is Armenia’s leading trade and economic partner.
At the same time, Russia has the largest Armenian diaspora. According to the 2010 census, about 1.2 million Armenians live in Russia. In expert estimates, this figure may be double that.
Russia is also one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is involved in peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In addition to bilateral cooperation, Armenia is one of the most active participants in regional international organisations promoted by Russia: the CIS, the CSTO and the EAEU.
Therefore, Armenia-Russia cooperation is distinguished by sustainable development of allied strategic relations, and is a key element of stability in the Eurasian security system.
The European Union (EU) is another key partner of Armenia. Today, their relations are developing, in part, under the Eastern Partnership programme (EaP). Its implementation was launched in 2008-2009. In addition to Armenia and the EU, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine take part in this programme. It is aimed at developing relations in the four main areas: political and economic cooperation, mobility of the people and energy security.
At present, relations between Armenia and the EU are mostly based on the Armenia-EU bilateral Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which is currently in the process of ratification. It determines practically all areas of bilateral cooperation.
In addition to this, the EU is Armenia’s second trade and economic partner after Russia.
One more important component of bilateral relations is the EU’s external assistance to Armenia, which grew from 90 million euros at the start of the programme to 208 million euros in 2017.
It is also necessary to emphasise that Armenia takes part in the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network (Ten-T programme), which may become an important factor in connecting traffic routes between the EU and China.
In addition to strategic relations with the EU, Armenia has special relations with most EU member countries.
In this context, it is worth mentioning France, which has the third largest Armenian diaspora after Russia and the United States. France is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia is also an active member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie.
Armenia maintains close cooperation with Greece and Cyprus with a view to ensuring regional stability and security in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean against the current threats, some of which are caused by Turkey’s aggressive activities.
Thus, Armenia-EU relations are a strategic factor of Eurasian security in the 21st century, being a guarantor of stability of the European neighbours.
The United States is another key partner of Armenia.
Their bilateral cooperation is determined by a broad range of political, economic, military, social and humanitarian issues.
The website of the Armenian Foreign Ministry notes that “the United States occupies an important place in Armenia’s political and economic life. It takes an active part in the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a co-chair of the Minsk OSCE Group on a par with Russia and France. At the same time, the United States is the biggest donor of humanitarian and technical aid to Armenia.”
During his visit to the South Caucasus in October 2018, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton described relations with Armenia as strategically important.
The geographical location of Armenia and its neighbours also increase its importance for the United States.
The Armenia diaspora in the United States, which is the second largest in the world, also plays a major role in promoting bilateral cooperation.
In continuing the discussion of Armenia’s cooperation with the West (today we can speak about the united West), it is necessary to make special mention of its relations with NATO, which date back to the early 1990s. The current stage of cooperation is determined by the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP).
As part of Armenia-NATO cooperation, Armenian units are participating in peacekeeping missions in Kosovo (starting in 2004) and Afghanistan (starting in 2009), thereby contributing to stability and development in Eurasia.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is a relatively new geopolitical centre of power in the South Caucasus, but its presence is increasing along with the so-called China’s rise.
The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the main formats of cooperation. Launched in 2013, it is in the process of development and only has an indirect link to the South Caucasus.
Despite this, the sides are developing versatile cooperation.
Thus, Armenia is striving to integrate into the BRI by building the North-South road connecting the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea. In this way, it can become a link between not only China and Europe but also between the Middle East on the one hand, and Russia and Europe on the other. The construction of a railway between Armenia and Iran will greatly facilitate this. With the restoration of the railway traffic between Georgia and Russia this will create a railway link of the Persian Gulf with Russia and Europe.
Importantly, China is building in Armenia its second largest embassy in the post-Soviet space.
Considering China’s interest in Eurasian strategic stability and Armenia’s striving to develop ground infrastructure with Europe, Armenia may become an important partner and element of the new security system.
It is also important to mention that Armenia’s cooperation with the South-Pacific Region is not limited to China and its Belt and Road Initiative. Thus, Armenia is developing multilateral ties with India, Japan and South Korea.
The Middle East is another key foreign policy vector for Armenia. Being historically part of that region, Armenia preserves close political, economic and humanitarian ties not only with Iran, with which it has a common border, but also with the majority of the region’s countries, starting with Egypt and ending with Qatar. Beginning in 2018, Armenian sappers have taken part in the Russian mission to clear mines in Syria, with which Armenia has traditionally developed partnership relations and which is home to a large Armenian community.
Armenia strengthens ties with Israel, where Armenian embassy was recently opened (previously the residence of the Armenian ambassador was located in Yerevan).
The Armenian communities play a major role in relations between Armenia and the countries of the Middle East. Being hard hit by the Arab Spring, they still make major contribution to the domestic political life of their countries and their ties with Armenia.
The above vectors of Armenia’s relations predetermine the model of its geopolitical future, aimed at developing cooperation with Eurasian global and regional centres of power. Armenia must re-evaluate the strategic environment in the world and the region and adapt its foreign policy strategy, priorities and actions accordingly. In this respect, Armenia should pay special attention to the Middle East as a region of vital interests for Armenia and Armenians. Historically possessing, preserving and developing the strategic knowledge and understanding of that region, Armenia may become an effective link and communicator between the Middle East, on the one hand, and Russia, the West and China, on the other.
Armenia’s civilisational identity
Apart from the current trends, Armenia’s identity is largely determined by its civilisational character.
Historically, Armenia developed for centuries as a local civilisation based on the synthesis of its own values and features with the influence of different cultures, civilisations and religions: starting from Hellenism, Christianity and later the Muslim Middle East, Russian and Soviet culture and Eurasianism. This allowed Armenia to create a unique civilisation that is not only striving but is also capable of conducting dialogue between completely different actors and power centres owing to its strategic insight into different civilisations and cultures.
At present, there are several projects of Armenia’s future as a civilisation: spiritual Armenia, the Armenian world, a small country – global nation, and fortress Armenia.
The leitmotif of all these projects is the idea of Armenia as a civilisational bridge, an actor of international dialogue and cooperation.
Interestingly, this is what Russian poet Valery Bryusov wrote about Armenia: “Two forces, two opposite principles intertwined and merged into a new and integrated entity, directing Armenia’s life and shaping the character of its nation for centuries: the origin of the West and the origin of the East, the spirit of Europe and the spirit of Asia. Put on the threshold of the two worlds, and continuously being an arena of clash between nations, which was drawn by the course of events into the greatest upheavals, Armenia was designed by its very destiny to be a reconciler of two different cultures: the culture that was the foundation of the entire Christian West and the culture that is now represented by the Muslim East.”
These words are reflected in realpolitik as well. Thus, in the preamble to the Armenia’s 2020 National Security Strategy, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan writes that during its entire history Armenia became an arena for the clash of civilisations. Renouncing this approach, Pashinyan believes that Armenia must develop as a supporter and venue of dialogue between civilisations.
Moreover, we can speak not only about dialogue but also cooperation of civilisations, which will be discussed later. Armenia has the strategic experience and knowledge received during its historical and cultural development, the functioning of the communities of the Armenian diaspora and its multi-vector international cooperation for reaching this goal.
Thus, the effective combination of mutually supplementary geopolitical and civilisational identities will allow Armenia to develop a sustainable future by acting as a platform of cooperation between Russia, Eurasianism, the West, the Middle East and Asia.
A strong Armenia will also guarantee stability in the region by facilitating the implementation of its partners’ long-term interests.
Defining Armenia’s geopolitical future
In the Asia Chessboard programme of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, former US National Security Advisor Steve Hadley described relations between the leading power centres as “competitive coexistence,” which differs from the Cold War term “peaceful coexistence,” and suggested adopting a new set of principles of coexistence.
Expanding on Hadley’s approach, it seems important to introduce a new notion of “cooperation-based coexistence,” which would not only imply the renunciation of the world’s division into the spheres of influence and the adoption of the new rules of the game but will also facilitate the strengthening of the South Caucasus nations and promote cooperation with them on the principles of equal rights and opportunities, openness and honest competition of all interested parties.
In this respect, it is important to abandon the approach whereby small and medium countries are forced to make a geopolitical choice of joining the camp of one or another power centre.
Considering the complexity, nonlinear nature and diversity of current international relations and also the deep interest of practically all leading power centres in strategic stability in Eurasia and in the South Caucasus in particular, the development of cooperation-based coexistence will make it possible to avoid transferring the mounting confrontation of the global and regional power centres to the territory of small and medium countries. This transfer creates a threat of regional and pan-Eurasian destabilisation and is contrary to the interests of all actors.
Moreover, the development of cooperation-based coexistence will allow the countries of the region to become centres of stability, and, hence, of dialogue and cooperation between the centres of power and civilisations.
In this context, one of the key questions is Armenia’s ability to become one of the links and platforms for developing cooperation-based coexistence in Eurasia.
The answer to this question is positive in view of the aforementioned geopolitical features and identity of the Armenian civilisation.
However, this goal can be reached if Armenia is an understandable and reliable partner for all players. In short-, medium- and long-term perspective, Armenia must ensure the absence of any potential threats to its partners, emanating from its territory or initiated with its participation.
Moreover, the idea of a link and platform for cooperation may be physical in that it can be expressed in the development of the connecting infrastructure and institutes of cooperation, as well as virtual, technological, that is, consisting of integration and division of labour, in particular, in artificial intelligence and robotics. This must be accompanied by the development of the elites carrying strategic insight and the experience of creating Armenia’s sustainable geopolitical future, and by the development of the human capital that meets the challenges, threats and opportunities of the 21st century.