Restoration of military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Armenian soldier (Armenian MoD, July 27, 2022)

Almost every war, short or long, ends at the negotiation table. There are exceptions to this rule, like World War II, which ended with the capitulation of Nazi Germany and Japan. However, the capitulation of one side is an unlikely scenario for the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan suffered significant defeat during the first Karabakh war in the early 1990s but did not sign the capitulation. Armenia faced almost the same fate in 2020, and while Azerbaijan and some experts in Armenia argue that the November 10, 2020, trilateral statement was a capitulation for Armenia, there was no formal capitulation. Since the end of the 2020 Karabakh war, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been negotiating to reach a long-lasting solution. Russia, and since mid-2021, the EU have acted as primary mediators, organizing several high-level summits and hectic behind-the-scenes actions to facilitate the process. President Putin organized three summits with the participation of Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, and work is probably underway to bring back Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to Russia soon. The president of the European Council facilitated two meetings between Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev in April and May 2022, while the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council and the aide to President Aliyev have already held three meetings in Brussels. 

Despite ongoing efforts to find a lasting solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and foster regional peace and security, the situation remains fragile. In the last 21 months since the end of the second Karabakh war, there have been several escalations along the line of contact between the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan, as well as Armenia-Azerbaijan borders. Azerbaijani troops encroached into the Armenian territory in May and November 2021 while taking some villages and heights in Nagorno Karabakh. The latest escalation occurred in early August 2022 and resulted in the Armenian decision to evacuate a small city and two villages along the Lachin corridor under Azerbaijani pressure. 

Currently, the recurring pattern of the negotiation process is the coercive diplomacy implemented by Azerbaijan. Whenever Armenia seeks not to implement a new demand of the Azerbaijani side, we see escalation from Baku. The vision of Azerbaijan is apparent. Baku wants to maximize its victory in the 2020 Karabakh war and use its military superiority as a critical tool against Armenia. Simultaneously, Azerbaijan is raising the stakes and hinting that if Armenia does not satisfy its demands in Nagorno Karabakh, then territories of Armenia proper will be in danger. 

The Armenian government acts from a position of weakness. The general idea is the acceptance of the fact that as Armenia lost the 2020 war, there is no other way to appease Azerbaijan than to fulfill its wishes. The Armenian leadership speaks about the necessity to establish an era of peace and has already hinted that it is ready to see Nagorno Karabakh as an autonomy within Azerbaijan under the international guarantees and permanent deployment of international peacekeepers. The Armenian government probably hopes that significant concessions may pave the way for some final solution to the conflict. 

The main reason behind this logic is the continuing significant military disparity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the end of the 2020 Karabakh war, Azerbaijan spent significant resources to boost its military potential. Baku established new military units along the border with Armenia, mainly in the territories it took during the war. Several new agreements on the supply of modern weapons to Azerbaijan have been signed with different countries. Meanwhile, Armenia still works on elaborating the army reform and modernization strategy without concrete actions and achievements in that direction. As negotiations are underway amidst Azerbaijani military superiority, and as Baku is ready to use its military might to get more concessions from Armenia, the vicious circle of Azerbaijani demands, military escalation and acceptance of demands by Armenia will continue. 

The current situation does not bode well for regional peace and stability. History proves that negotiations from a position of weakness and appeasement policy do not result in long-lasting peace and will only bring more tension. The only way to overcome this situation is to close, or at least reduce, the power gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Given the general trends in the development of military art, Armenia should focus its efforts on acquiring short-range (up to 550-600 kilometer) missile systems and developing combat drones and anti-drone technologies. Given the booming IT sector in Armenia and the possibility of buying many components for producing short-range combat drones in the consumer market, assembling combat drones in Armenia is not something beyond reach. Many countries, such as Iran, India and China, can serve as a source for drones, drone technologies and components. Reducing the gap between the military capacities of Armenia and Azerbaijan will stabilize the region and create more favorable conditions for the fruitful Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations to establish lasting peace and stability in the region.     

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and a senior research fellow at APRI – Armenia. He was the former vice president for research – head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia. In March 2009, he joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies as a research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Dr. Poghosyan has prepared and managed the elaboration of more than 100 policy papers which were presented to the political-military leadership of Armenia, including the president, the prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Poghosyan has participated in more than 50 international conferences and workshops on regional and international security dynamics. His research focuses on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region, as well as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. He is the author of more than 200 academic papers and articles in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University College of International Security Affairs. He is a graduate from the US State Department Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security Policy Making. He holds a PhD in history and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

1 Comment

  1. Even if Armenia somehow gets parity with Azerbaijan, there is another factor to consider; that of Turkey. For any nationalist Turk, Azerbaijan is not a seperate country, but also a homeland. And as Turkey and Azerbaijan get more and more conected as the years pass, it will be even more difficult for Armenia to compete with Azerbaijan. Because it will have to compete against both of them.

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