BAKU: Lincoln Mitchell: Hard Diplomatic Work Is Required To Resolve


Jan 18 2010

Interview with assistant professor in the practice of international
politics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public
Affairs, Lincoln Mitchell.

As you know, region of south Caucasus is a region of frozen conflicts,
which seriously damage the security of the whole region. Now,
considering other issues, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, how important
it is for the US to have its presence felt in the South Caucasus

It’s very important for the US to have its presence felt in the
region. And it’s not easy, nor it can be done lightly. It can’t be
done by flying every now and then or by issuing a few statements. Real
hard diplomatic work is required to resolve or to be constructively
involved into the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or
Abkhazia, South Osetia.

It is not a priority, compared to Afghanistan or Iran, and as of late –
the earthquake in Haiti, which may not seem like a big deal if you’re
sitting in Baku, but is enormously important for the US. So in that
regard, while this is not really a top shelf priority, it still can,
and should get attention. Perhaps, not on a daily basis from president
Obama, or state secretary Clinton, but for the people working around
them and underneath them. The US needs to have its presence there
not in a sense that Â"we need to have an army thereÂ", but in a sense
that USA is interested and involved in resolving these problems.

Russia is considered one of the major players in the SC region,
and so is Turkey. Again, with other problems to deal with, it seems
like US began to lose its power in the South Caucasus region. Do you
believe it is so?

I would also say, that China is an important power in the region too.

You know, globally, one of the impacts of the first 8 years in
this decade was that the US has less ability to be present, and to
have influence in far away places. Part of this is true, due to the
fact that other countries that are strong, and wealthy, and taking
European Union as an example – it can play a positive role. I am not
sure however that Russia’s role in Georgia is not a positive one,
unfortunately. Part of it is due to the economic meltdown in the late
2008, from which the world hasn’t fully recovered yet. And part of
it goes to the disastrous US policy in Iraq. I wouldn’t write the
United States off from the region, it still can have its presence felt.

Policy makers in Washington understand that right now.

What are the chances, in your opinion, of the SC countries (such as
Azerbaijan, and Georgia) to join NATO?

In the short run, the chances are not very good. But that’s also a
reflection of where NATO is right now. Azerbaijan and Georgia simply
don’t have enough votes right now. A bigger picture question is
Â"should Azerbaijan and Georgia, or one of them eventually join NATOÂ".

It is the view of NATO and also of the USA, that if the country wants
to join NATO (which is very clear in Georgia’s case), then it should.

As for the long run, I think it’s a strong possibility, if that’s
what countries want to do, and if both countries can substantially
strengthen their democracy domestically.

The frozen conflicts in both countries are problems, but not unsolvable
problems. In other words, progress can be made, and NATO can lead
Georgia or Azerbaijan half way. But I don’t think it’s going to happen
anytime soon. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are hindered by bigger
picture politics within NATO, over which Azerbaijan and Georgia have
no control.

There are obvious tensions between US and Iran about this infamous
nuclear program. And it seems like Iran doesn’t react to the
sanctions. What in your opinion are options for the US to deal with
this problem? Is there a possibility for a military way of regulation?

The Obama administration, in my view, and you can see this very clearly
with Iran differs from its predecessor in a very important way. The
Bush administration was very interested in bluster and talking big. The
Obama administration is less interested in talking, and more interested
in getting things done. President Obama and his team have resisted
weighing in on issues such as Iran’s domestic political turmoil. They
know, that it will only strengthen the Ahmadinejad regime. Frankly,
I think the administration in Washington is too smart to be pulled
into taking any military action. I think they are pursuing a quieter
course, the one that will be more successful.

This issue with Iran is very serious for the United States, and not
really serious for anyone else. Iran doesn’t want to be in a position,
where the US will let Israel handle the problem, because it won’t work
out very well for Iran. But Iran is also facing a domestic political
crisis. In my view, the best US can do, is quietly watch the current
Iran regime collapse by itself, and then pick up the pieces. It won’t
be a 6 month process, I would say it might take from 3 to 5 years.

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