OCALA, Florida — In articles in The New Yorker and The Atlantic magazines, two renowned foreign affairs commentators have outlined President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda. Both writers — Robin Wright and Tom McTague, respectively — agree: Biden plans to assert and revitalize U.S. leadership in many global areas of concern.
Even though, as Wright put it in her Nov. 11 New Yorker article, “there is an undercurrent of relief in many parts of the world that American leadership is back,” conflicts in which U.S. forces are not directly engaged provide case studies for the challenges that lie ahead for globalist-minded American foreign policy practitioners.
The conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, controlled until recently by Armenia, is just one crisis that requires American attention. In the recent conflict, the United States was unable to influence the outcome or control its allies, signs that the supposed “relief” at the return of U.S. leadership may be temporary.
Periodic fights sparked into all-out war in late September 2020, and Azerbaijan won. Its military killed a reported 2,317 Armenian soldiers and its forces seized new territory by maneuvering to cut off the Lachin Corridor, Armenia’s main line of communication to the disputed region.
At first glance, this conflict may have appeared to be localized. But, in fact, the recent conflict was a global challenge to America’s supposedly impending revitalized leadership.
Turkey, a NATO member; Israel, a U.S. stalwart; and Russia, a regular competitor, all converged in Nagorno-Karabakh and showed how strained U.S. influence has become.
Contrary to previous U.S. government warnings, as the Associated Press reported it, that Turkish-trained Syrian mercenaries sent from Libya to the fight could “degrade security and generate backlash from the Libyan public” when they are deployed, the military of Azerbaijan received and utilized Syrian mercenaries. These mercenaries were equipped for, and transported to, the conflict by Turkey.
Furthermore, oil wealth from Caspian Sea-based pipelines enabled Azerbaijan to purchase Israeli-manufactured drones, which were used with devastating effect. One Armenian combatant noted the futility of continuing the conflict, exclaiming that the war is “rifles against drones.” Azerbaijan’s use of drones was so effective that the government of Azerbaijan provided daily video of successful (and deadly) bomb strikes. These bombings ultimately crippled Armenia’s war effort.
Russia brokered a tenuous cease-fire agreement, which became effective on Nov. 10. The agreement was unique because it was the global community’s fourth attempt at a cease-fire and it did not include the United States as a signatory. Russian peacekeepers are now deployed to the Armenian-Azerbaijan border to prevent any further escalations.
Russia reestablished its dominance in the region and earned itself a space in any future negotiations as a peace mediator. In contrast, the United States failed to end hostilities by treaty and failed to rein in two allies that were contributing to the bloodshed.
For the U.S. president-elect, this tragic episode demonstrates that recommitting to global leadership will not be easy. A globalist and inclusive foreign policy agenda is good, if your country is relevant. Right now, in Nagorno-Karabakh, the United States is irrelevant.
The incoming administration’s foreign policy team must create and implement a strategy for a U.S. leadership presence in conflict zones like Nagorno-Karabakh. If not, the United States will continue to lose influence to Russia and it may continue to see some allies act against U.S. interests.
Brian Harper, an Ashland University graduate originally from Cleveland, is a military veteran with deployment experience who now works in Florida.