BAKU: Azerbaijan’S Diplomatic Offensive: It Is Time We Decided On Ou

by Rauf Mirqadirov

April 5 2008

NATO summit in Bucharest

For most of the media the main talking point at the NATO summit in
Bucharest was the refusal of the North Atlantic bloc at this stage
to finally resolve the question of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership.

However, the events in Bucharest had an immediate bearing both on
the settlement of all "frozen conflicts" in the post-Soviet space in
general, and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in particular. I will
start with the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagornyy Karabakh,
especially as this problem, within the context of the NATO summit,
was discussed by the co-chairmen of the Minsk OSCE group and the
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, as well as the newly-elected
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. It will be recalled that on the
first day of the summit the head of the international relations
department of the president’s administration, Novruz Mammadov, in a
conversation with journalists, said that the Azerbaijani president had
had a "tough" conversation with the co-chairmen of the Minsk OSCE group
– Matthew Bryza (US), Yuriy Merzlyakov (Russia) and Bernard Fassier
(France). President Aliyev demanded explanations from the co-chairmen
in connection with the voting of the US, France and Russia at the UN
General Assembly against the resolution tabled by Azerbaijan on the
situation in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories.

According to Mammadov, to justify their action the co-chairmen said
that the position of their countries remains unaltered and they
support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

[Passage omitted: The co-chairmen issued a special statement,
reaffirming their support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity
and saying that a peaceful settlement to the conflict would require
political compromises on the final status of Nagornyy Karabakh]

In passing the presidents of the opposing sides exchanged tough
statements. Aliyev once again stated that Nagornyy Karabakh would
never be independent of Azerbaijan, but Robert Kocharyan threatened
that he would not rule out the possibility of "Armenia recognizing
a Nagornyy Karabakh Republic if Azerbaijan’s policy led the talks
process into an impasse". However, the co-chairmen of the Minsk OSCE
group if, of course, one can judge by the statement made after the
meetings with Aliyev and Sargsyan, remained of their own opinion.

They continue to talk about recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial
integrity. However, at the same time they are not making it clear if
the conflict should be settled by taking into account territorial
integrity. The final status of Nagornyy Karabakh will again depend
on the results of talks and a referendum among the people of this
Azerbaijani territory. In short, the position of the co-chairmen
remained unchanged.

Resolving Karabakh conflict

Let us try to predict the prospects for a peace settlement to the
conflict. It is difficult to imagine that Armenia, at least under
the present regime, would agree to even a purely formal status of
Nagornyy Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan for at least two reasons.

One is that the external factor, in the shape of Russia’s patronage,
which is not averse to using, especially after the precedent of
Kosovo, the subject of "frozen conflicts" in the post-Soviet space,
will always weigh heavily on official Yerevan’s foreign political
course. Secondly, one must also take into account the serious domestic
political factor after the presidential elections in Armenia. Thus
a split Armenian society would never forgive the Kocharyan-Sargsyan
duo for this treachery. And both have constantly stated that Nagornyy
Karabakh must never be a part of Azerbaijan.

But Azerbaijan today needs to try to reach a packaged-stage-by-stage
settlement to the conflict. In other words, the main parameters,
including all possible options of a future status for Nagornyy
Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan must be clearly set out in a major
political agreement on a settlement to the Armenian-Azerbaijani
conflict. In short, the population of Nagornyy Karabakh, naturally
with the participation of its Azerbaijani section, can only be left
with the right of a choice between these several options of a status
as part of Azerbaijan. The Kosovo precedent has become a clear and
unambiguous signal that a conceptual definition of the future status of
Nagornyy Karabakh cannot be left to later stages of a settlement to the
conflict, especially after the deployment of peacekeeping forces. Such
a development of events would mean the final loss of Nagornyy Karabakh.

However, as we have already seen, to achieve the definition of an
acceptable final status of Nagornyy Karabakh within the framework of
the current peace talks is virtually impossible. Basically, Azerbaijan
may try to achieve a definition of the precise international-law
framework for a settlement to the conflict, transferring discussion
of this question to the UN and other international organizations,
including such regional organizations as the OSCE, NATO or the European
Union. Especially as recently the UN has been gradually losing its
function as an international universal instrument in the settling
of such conflicts and, as a consequence, enhances the role of such
international organizations as NATO and the EU.

Role of UN

But still, let’s start with the UN. Only the UN Security Council can
adopt a resolution which is binding, including by the co-chairman
of the Minsk OSCE group, and which clearly defines the framework
of a settlement to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagornyy
Karabakh based on international law. However, taking into account
the fact that all the co-chairmen of Minsk OSCE group, who have the
right to a veto in the Security Council, voted against the resolution
submitted by Azerbaijan at the UN General Assembly, the adoption of
such a document in the Security Council is not possible. To commit
the OSCE to implement such an objective is out of the question,
for the simple reason that at the OSCE all decisions are taken on
the basis of a consensus.

To use the resources of NATO and the EU also seems impossible. And
it is not because Azerbaijan is not a member of these Euro-Atlantic
international organizations. Basically, neither Serbia, and especially
not Kosovo, are yet members of NATO or the EU. However, the US,
precisely by means of these international structures, is trying to
get a settlement to the Kosovo conflict. The problem lies in the fact
that the US and its allies are clearly not in favour of a settlement to
the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict within the framework of Azerbaijan’s
territorial integrity. Here it is not even important what the reasons
are for the US and its allies not having clearly defined their position
in regard to a settlement to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. We
will just have to take it at face value.

Use of force

Azerbaijan may also try to use force in a settlement of the conflict.

Speaking the day before the conference "Azerbaijan and the European
Union-2008", organized by the British Links organization, and in
his interview with, international lawyer Erkin Qadirli, in
a language everyone could understand, explained Azerbaijan’s right
to use force in a settlement to the conflict: "People tell us that
the sides should follow the principle of a peaceful settlement to
conflicts. But there is no such principle in international law. There
is a principle of the peaceful settlement to disputes, but not
conflicts. When a dispute grows into a conflict, the principle of
individual or collective self-defence, as reflected in article 51 of
the UN Charter, comes into play. Yes, Azerbaijan and Armenia pledged
when they joined the Council of Europe that they would apply their
efforts towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict. In this sense,
a commitment made voluntarily could have a legal significance. But
it is important to bear in mind that this commitment is mutual and
failure to comply with it by one side frees the other side from
having to comply with its part of the commitment. Moreover, the
importance of such pledges within the framework of the Council of
Europe or the OSCE can in no way outweigh the importance of rights
in the framework of the UN. Nor should one forget that the right
to self-defence is a norm of ordinary international law and by its
juridical force stands above many other norms (jus cogens). What,
then, is the significance of the commitment of a peaceful settlement
to the conflict within the framework of the Council of Europe? Only
that the Council of Europe does not want its members to fight. The
Council of Europe is a political club, and from this point of view
its requirements can be fully understood. People say to us openly:
‘If you start fighting, we will exclude you.’ That’s fair and square.

And there is no point in getting upset or angry on this score. We
have to decide what is more important – membership of the Council of
Europe or the restoration of our territorial integrity."

[Passage omitted: Croatia faced a similar dilemma; quote from Richard
Holbrooke’s book "To End a War"]

Changing the balance

In other words, Azerbaijan could, and should use force to settle the
conflict. However, this force should be used to change the "existing
realities" which developed after Azerbaijan’s defeat, as we like to
say, during the first Karabakh war and which allow Armenia to lay
down its conditions. But we must also bear in mind the fact that the
objective of the use of force cannot be a final settlement to the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. No, that is simply impossible.

However, by such methods Azerbaijan can achieve a new balance in the
military-political situation and new realities whereby the Armenians
will simply be unable to dictate their conditions any more.

Incidentally, this is quite possible. But it is hardly worth discussing
such subjects in the press. The only question is to what extent are
we prepared for such a development of events.

And, finally, the refusal of the NATO summit, under pressure from
Russia, to finally resolve the question of accepting Ukraine and
Georgia into the North Atlantic alliance creates new problems
for the post-Soviet countries, on whose territories the so-called
"frozen conflicts" exist, both real and potential. Russia, having
sensed a "weak spot" in NATO, will increase the pressure on these
countries: in the case with Georgia, Ukraine (one should not forget
the Crimean question and eastern Ukraine) and Moldova – head on,
and in its relations with Azerbaijan – through Armenia. Kocharyan’s
aforementioned statement is clear confirmation of this. NATO is well
aware of this, too. It was not by chance that in the declaration of
the NATO summit in Bucharest there is separate mention of "frozen
conflicts" and it expresses support for the territorial integrity of
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

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