"It is urgent for Germany to add its weight as an active participant and co-facilitator" in EU diplomacy in the South Caucasus, write Lara Setrakian and Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Germany is a key architect and leader in the long-term thinking that is the basis for effective foreign policy. To be a peacemaker requires firm resolve and solid nerves. Germany has both and it can use them in the service of this EU project," they add.
In March, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosted visits from Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Since the brutal war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, both countries have called for Berlin to play a larger role in resolving the long-standing conflict between them. Germany’s economic and political capital with both parties, as well as its generally balanced position on the issue, made it an appealing candidate to co-lead the peace process. But it hasn’t heeded those calls to date. Now, as Azerbaijan and Armenia walk a thin line between war and peace, it is urgent for Germany to add its weight as an active participant and co-facilitator in the diplomatic process.
The meetings in Berlin were the highest-level signals to date that Germany might raise its level of engagement in the South Caucasus. Doing so would be of great benefit to the cause of regional peace, helping to save lives, prevent humanitarian upheaval and stem mass abuses of human rights. It would also boost the EU’s efficacy and credibility in its extended neighborhood. In the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, Europe’s influence and its diplomatic footprint in the South Caucasus has been expanding. A peace process led by Brussels is now one of the two main negotiating tracks – the other one led by Moscow. In February 2023, after a preliminary two-month deployment in the fall, an extended EU civilian observer mission was established to monitor the border between the two countries from the Armenian side.
Germany has much to offer EU diplomacy in the South Caucasus
There is ample reason for Germany to invest in this process; above all, it wants to see geo-economic stability and support the success of major EU projects. It may be the case that what Europe is trying to achieve in its foreign policy – solving problems and maintaining stability at the edge of Europe – simply cannot be done without the weight of Berlin.
Paired with the longtime engagement of France in the South Caucasus, Germany can offer a range of highly effective interventions, from hosting track 2/track 1.5 diplomacy forums to confidence-building economic initiatives. Berlin can become a platform for regular contact between officials, experts and civil society stakeholders at various levels. So far, such platforms have been far too sporadic and lacking in coherent vision; different actors have funded disparate and uncoordinated programs that did not make a lasting impact.
There are real areas for potential cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as distant as they may seem at the moment. Both countries have economic development imperatives and need to provide for the long-term welfare of their citizens; the success of both their governments depends on it. Both countries strive for greater economic ties with the block. Armenia’s government, since its Velvet Revolution in 2018, has also accelerated a set of reforms aligned with the EU democratization and anti-corruption agenda. In particular Armenia has followed the blueprint of the Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which entered into force in 2021. Azerbaijan, for its part, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the EU in 2022 on Strategic Partnership in the Field of Energy.
Germany can also be a significant part of the post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation process
A sustained platform for dialogue and peacebuilding will help surface more opportunities for economic cooperation with Europe and, eventually, with each other. As the EU’s economic heavyweight, Germany can provide incentives in trade and sustainable development that entice both countries to move forward, rather than looking back on their past grievances. Germany also has the moral credibility and capacity for stricture to serve as a no-nonsense referee in what has become a messy human rights imbroglio. Pulling the region back from the brink and preventing the risk of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh would be a huge achievement.
Berlin can also be a significant part of the post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation process, which will lay the foundation for long-term sustainable development in the region. The potential for the South Caucasus is rich and robust in opportunities, starting with transit and transport corridors that connect Europe to China and India, without the added expense and congestion of the Suez Canal. Clean energy and traditional fossil fuels, as well as goods and technology can be readily supplied to European markets. Moving Armenia and Azerbaijan forward, through this rocky period, ensures that they will be stable, long-term partners for the EU. That will also provide a stronger foothold in the South Caucasus for EU relations with Georgia and, in the long run, potentially Iran.
Europe must not repeat mistakes of the past – namely, letting short-term energy deals prevent it from building a better long-term strategy that meets all of its goals and needs. Germany is a key architect and leader in the long-term thinking that is the basis for effective foreign policy. To be a peacemaker requires firm resolve and solid nerves. Germany has both and it can use them in the service of this EU project. It is urgent from a humanitarian perspective and for EU geostrategic interests that this conflict be solved. The problems in Europe’s extended neighborhood will always penetrate back into the core of the continent; a new war in the South Caucasus will likely draw in Turkey and Iran, while potentially opening a window for confrontation between Iran and Israel. It is far less costly to enable peace and stability today than to pay the cost of instability tomorrow, with another major war in the European arena.
source: Lara Setrakian is the President of APRI Armenia. Benyamin Poghosyan is a Senior research fellow, APRI Armenia, and the founder and Chairman of the Centre for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan.
photo: Prime Minister of Armenia
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