The Armenian Weekly March 2014 Magazine:
Armenia’s Foreign Policy in Focus
In an interview with news.am in June 20121, Armenia’s deputy foreign minister, Shavarsh Kocharyan, defined the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and ensured that regional security was Armenia’s top foreign policy priority for the coming five years. The creation of favorable external conditions for economic development, and work toward the prevention and condemnation of crimes against humanity, such as genocide, followed in the list. Focusing on the latter, Kocharyan recalled the upcoming “100th anniversary of the tragedy the Armenian people survived,” and pointed out the importance of prevention efforts not only for Armenia and the diaspora but for the entire world—because, he said, “unpunished crimes against humanity and their denial create fertile ground for recurrence of similar events.” As for Armenia’s international relations, Kocharyan mentioned its strategic partnership with Russia, ties with U.S. and the European Union (EU), as well as with neighbors such as Georgia and Iran. China, India, Japan, the Arab world, Africa, and Latin America would be a “focal point of Armenia’s foreign policy priorities,” he said. Concerning international organizations, the deputy foreign minister cited the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and its relations with Russia as factors that ensure Armenia’s military and political security, as well as cooperation with NATO and European powers.
This busy agenda as outlined by Kocharyan was apparently not convincing for the opposition. “We don’t have a foreign policy doctrine as a state; we just act on an ad-hoc basis each time we see something is wrong,” said Aram Sargsyan, head of the Armenian Democratic Party, in a briefing with journalists on Sept. 14, 2012.2 This is the main criticism against Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and his handling of Armenia’s diplomacy since he assumed the job in April 2008, after the election of President Serge Sarkisian, especially in the aftermath of the extradition of Ramil Safarov (the Azeri official who assassinated his Armenian counterpart during a NATO training program) from Hungary to Azerbaijan, where he was immediately released and honored as a national hero. Whether Armenian diplomacy could have prevented the extradition of Safarov is, of course, debatable. However, there is enough ground to maintain that early warning was emitted, no less than in the form of a letter that the Armenian community in Hungary sent to the Ministry of Diaspora, yet Armenian diplomacy failed to preempt, or react properly.
A single episode, no matter how critical, cannot, of course, be an argument to judge 20 years of foreign policy, as Aram Sargsyan’s statement, among others, suggests. Moreover, the Safarov affair was a circumstantial event, which a priori does not tell much about the rationale of Armenian diplomacy. Yet, when one year later, on Sept. 3, 2013, President Sarkisian surprised everyone with his decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, and instead join the Customs Union with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, Armenian diplomacy suffered a severe blow in its credibility. Just days before, the deputy foreign minister had given public assurances that Armenia would stand firm in its engagement with the EU’s proposal and integrate the Eastern Partnership program. Foreign Ministry officials had been negotiating the agreement with their European counterparts since 2010, right after Brussels launched the program.
The disappointment in Armenia was immediate and was widely reflected in the social media. It was not only about “an economic choice,” as Armenian Weekly columnist Houry Mayissian put it.
“The agreement with the EU would have required that Armenia gradually adopt EU regulations and standards. Implemented correctly, these regulations would have contributed to Armenia’s
Of course, no one could question the explanation given by Armenian officials regarding the president’s move: Sarkisian, to quote De Waal, could not have possibly refused Putin’s “offer.”4 Economic
and energy dependence and military reliance on Russia were unquestionably the reasons. An expert on EU-Armenia relations, Syuzanna Vasilyan, observes that “[t]hrough its promulgated foreign policy of ‘complementarity,’ Armenia has benefited not only by being able to direct its gaze equally towards both the EU and its member-states and Russia and to take advantage of the technical and financial assistance offered by the former and military guarantees ensured by the latter, but it has also managed not to be the ‘apple of contention’ between the United States and Iran.”5 Despite this carefully balanced foreign policy, Armenia’s main concerns—the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, the threat posed by Azerbaijan and Turkey’s ongoing blockade—have not been addressed. Vasilyan highlights Armenia’s disappointment from the Europeans: “Previously hopeful of the EU as capable of delivering on these challenges by ‘disciplining’ Azerbaijan to halt military escalation and Turkey to open the border with Armenia, the country seems to have become discouraged given the [EU’s] inability/non-disposition to meddle with such a major security provider as Turkey and energy provider as Azerbaijan.”6 However, she does not discount Russian pressure, which she characterizes as no less than “intolerance” for Armenia’s “complementarity” policy. As a result, Vasilyan concludes, Armenia has moved from a foreign policy of “complementarity” to “supplementarity.”
The Sept. 3, 2013 decision, hence, seems to have indicated a turning point in Armenia’s foreign policy. With the prospect of a Eurasian Union in 2015 and Armenia’s inclusion in it, complementarity would not make much sense. Assuming that the Eurasian project would/could indeed become a reality, it would not be a Soviet Union resurrected, rather the attempt to institutionalize the Russian zone of influence on its “near abroad,” as coined early in 1992 by then-Prime Minister Andrei Kozyrev, a Westerner so to speak. Complementarity, as coined and explained by Vartan Oskanyan, Robert Kocharyan’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2008, is a proactive diplomacy meant to be more than a balancing act or neutrality. The idea, he wrote in his memoirs, was that Armenia could be a meeting point, where the interests of competing powers could find some sort of common ground. “Moreover, pursuing our own national interests, we had to be able to ensure that we would not exploit the opposing interests of third parties and play one against the other.”7 This proactive diplomacy will not end, but it has clearly been seriously jeopardized; and the Eurasian prospect of the Russian zone of influence in its near abroad has put serious limitations on its implementation beyond its use in public declarations, discourses, or wishful thinking…
The complementarity vision is not exempt of criticism. It failed, for instance, to consider the importance of the so-called Global South, in general, and South America, in particular, until Azerbaijan in 2010 launched an aggressive diplomacy and very quickly took advantage of Yerevan’s passivity. Yet, there is little doubt that the concept enjoys popularity and some broad consensus among the Armenian political elite. It is clear now that an assertive Moscow has little sympathy for it. It is also clear that structural factors, namely security, energy, and economy, and not political ones explain the impossibility for the Sarkisian Administration to convince the Kremlin that within the logic of complementarity, Armenia’s Association Agreement with the EU would not have nullified its strategic partnership with Russia. Likewise, at least for now, Yerevan also failed to convince Brussels that while Armenia could be in a Customs Union with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, within the complementarity logic it could have also joined the Eastern Partnership program. Incidentally, Putin’s either/or logic for the Eurasian Union did not only apply to Armenia; he also applied it with Ukraine, although the now-removed Viktor Yanukovich did not need any conceptual sophistication when deciding in favor of the Russian 15 billion credit line and subsidized gas prices, instead of complications with “European values.”
Against Russian assertiveness, then, Armenia apparently had no choice; it was first and foremost a national security matter in terms of military reliance, as well as for economic and energetic dependence. However, as Mayissian correctly observed, “While partly the result of the hostility we have faced from Azerbaijan and Turkey, it is also in large part a consequence of the inability of successive Armenian governments to negotiate a position of mutual benefit in this strategic alliance. In a region where other countries are either outright hostile to Russia or have more subtly yet decisively expressed their inclinations towards Europe, Armenia remains one of Russia’s few allies. In the last two decades, Armenian leaders—both in government and in opposition—have failed to communicate to Russia that this ongoing alliance comes at a cost; and that cost is not the mere survival of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh, but rather their growth and prosperity.”8
This leads us to ask about the root causes of the failure of Armenian diplomacy in consolidating the complementarity action line, if by that concept we mean a strategic orientation in the country’s foreign policy. For, as much as the structural factors put serious limitations on “small states” like Armenia,9 the making of foreign policy is also influenced by domestic factors. Thus, as the field of foreign policy analysis developed since the late 1950’s, the focus has mostly been on the decision-making process.10 Who makes the decisions, in what conditions, and from which perspective? These questions open fields of inquiry that help to shed some light on explications that seem too deterministic or too abstract, such as the widely used “national interests.” So far, Armenia’s foreign policy has not been studied from this analytical perspective; nor do we have serious research on the institutionalization of foreign policy in terms of the structuring of the ministry, the organization of diplomatic careers, the formation of future diplomats, the evaluation of their performance and, last but not least, the resources dedicated to a field Oskanyan defined as “the defensive and offensive frontline” of a small country like Armenia—vital “not only to ensure security and territorial integrity, to seek a resolution of the conflicts, but also to attract investments, secure exportation, implement big project and, in general, for economic development.”11
The farewell to complementarity that Armenia’s East-turn has apparently imposed on Yerevan’s foreign policy does not mean forgetting about its virtues. It suggests, however, that a serious analysis is needed to reconsider the domestic-structural foundations of Armenian diplomacy in terms of decision-making and resource allocation, as well as its strategic orientation. Finally, foreign policy, as any public policy, needs a broad national consensus to rally support for any decision affecting Armenia and Armenians in general. In other words, when addressing the analysis of Armenia’s foreign policy from a normative perspective in terms of “what to do?” and aiming for a broad national consensus-building objective, neither the democratic imperative nor the engagement of the diaspora should be overlooked.
1 “Armenian MFA on Foreign Policy Priorities Envisaged in Government Program: Interview.” See http://news.am/eng/news/110512.html
2 “Armenia does not have a foreign policy doctrine: Sargsyan.” See http://www.1in.am/eng/armenia_politics_2218.html. Last access: September 15, 2012.
3 Houry Mayissian, “Democracy, Sovereignty and Armenia’s Eurasian Path,” The Armenian Weekly, Sept. 12, 2013. See http://armenianweekly.com/2013/09/12/democracy-sovereignty-and-armenias-eurasian-path. Last access: Sept. 12, 2013.
4 Thomas de Waal, “An Offer Sargsyan Could Not Refuse,” Eurasia Outlook, Carnegie Moscow Center, Sept. 4, 2013. See http://carnegie.ru/eurasianoutlook. Last access: Sept. 4, 2013.
5 Syuzanna Vasilyan, “Armenia from a Foreign Policy of ‘Complementarity’ to ‘Supplementarity’? A Sandwich Story!” International Affairs Forum. See http://www.ia-forum.org/Content/ViewInternalDocument.cfm?ContentID=8084. Last access: March 6, 2014.
7 Vartan Oskanian, Through the Road of Independence. The Big Challenges of the Small Country. From the Minister’s Diary, Yerevan, Armenia: Civilitas Fund, 2013, p. 82. Original in Armenian; unofficial translation by author. The same procedure will apply to any quote from any non-English texts.
8 Mayisian, Op. Cit.
9 See Asbed Kotchikian, The Dialectics of Small States: Policy Making in Armenia and Georgia, VDM Verlag, 2008.
10 Valerie M. Hudson, “The history and evolution of foreign policy analysis,” in Foreign Policy. Theories/Actors/Cases, Second Edition, Eds. Steve Smith, Amelia Hadfield and Tim Dunne, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 13-34.
11 Oskanyan, Op. Cit., p. 12.