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Azerbaijan: Military Has Cash, But No Security Doctrine

  • Liz Fuller

(RFE/RL) Azerbaijan has yet to unveil a new national-security concept, which was to precede the formulation and implementation of a new military doctrine, despite President Ilham Aliyev's orders in early 2005 to begin work on it. Meanwhile neighboring Georgia, to which Azerbaijani commentators contrast their country's military and its progress toward NATO membership, unveiled a draft National Security Concept for public discussion last May.

Azerbaijan's failure to develop its two initiatives has led to speculation that there are conflicting strategies among Azerbaijan's military leaders, or even evidence that the country is playing NATO, the United States, and Russia off each other as it tries to curry their favor for defense cooperation.

Major Ilqar Verdiyev, a Defense Ministry press office staffer, was quoted by the online daily echo.az-com on 26 November as saying that the security concept is still in the drafting stage. When finished, it will be submitted to parliament before being signed by the president, and only after that will work begin on a new military doctrine, Verdiyev explained.

Presidential aide for military issues Vahid Aliyev had told the daily "Ayna" in April 2005 that both the national-security concept and the new military doctrine would be ready by the summer of that year.

Strained Relations

Azerbaijani military expert Yasar Jafarli, who heads the Union of Officers of the Reserve, was quoted by echo-az.com on 26 November as saying that he was concerned that the delay in drafting and adopting the two key documents could negatively affect Azerbaijan's relations with NATO.

Those relations have been strained by the brutal killing in February 2004 by an Azerbaijani officer of an Armenian attending a NATO English-language training course in Budapest, and by Azerbaijan's refusal to issue visas to Armenian officers scheduled to attend NATO planning conferences in Baku.

Experts say most of Azerbaijan's military legislation has been literally copied from analogous Soviet-era and Russian documents -- resulting in a situation in which some commanders adhere to Soviet era-standards, while others aspire to Western standards.



Further disagreements with NATO emerged last year during the discussion of Azerbaijan's draft Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), according to the daily "Ayna" on 13 April. The paper quoted unidentified sources in both the Foreign and Defense ministries as saying that those disagreements derived from Baku's stubborn insistence on continuing to adhere to Soviet military standards with regard to military training, staff management, disciplinary regulations, and the development of civil control mechanisms. The paper quoted unnamed experts from the Doktrina think tank as saying that most of Azerbaijan's military legislation has been literally copied from analogous Soviet-era and Russian documents.

Communication Breakdown?

This, those experts continued, has given rise to a situation in which individual commanders of military units espouse diverging approaches, with some adhering to Soviet era-standards while others aspire to Western standards. This could result in serious operational misunderstandings and communication failures between those commanding officers in the event of war, the experts warned.

It is, of course, conceivable that published statements implying an inexplicable delay in drafting a national-security concept and a new military doctrine are deliberate disinformation. Azerbaijan is, after all, still in a state of undeclared war with Armenia, and top officials, including President Aliyev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev, have repeatedly reserved the right to resort to a new aggression if it proves impossible to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict on Baku's preferred terms.

Meanwhile, President Aliyev has put his money where his mouth is by signing off on successive massive increases in defense spending.

Addressing Defense Ministry personnel last September, Aliyev announced that defense spending had already risen from $175 million in 2004 to $300 million in 2005 and would double in 2006 to reach $600 million, Turan reported on 17 September. But given the long history of endemic corruption within the Defense Ministry, the significance is not the dramatic increase in military spending, but how and where the money will actually be spent.

Trouble Within?

On the other hand, the failure to draft such basic blueprints could equally reflect either a lack of conceptual modern strategic thinking, or fundamental differences of opinion, or both, within the General Staff.

In recent days Azerbaijani media have engaged in speculation that Abiyev, together with other members of the top brass who received their military training in the USSR, are to be collectively dismissed and replaced with members of a younger generation of officers who have undergone training under NATO auspices, echo-az.com reported on 2 February.

In recent days Azerbaijani media have engaged in speculation that Abiyev, together with other members of the top brass who received their military training in the USSR, are to be collectively dismissed and replaced with members of a younger generation of officers who have undergone training under NATO auspices, echo-az.com reported on 2 February.

It is worth recalling that Abiyev has served as defense minister for more than a decade (since early February 1995), making him the longest serving defense minister in the entire CIS, during which time he has weathered allegations of corruption and a seemingly inconclusive probe of the ministry's expenditures.

But at press conferences in June 2004 and April 2005 reported by zerkalo.az, NGOs alleged that corruption and inefficiency continue to plague Azerbaijan's armed forces. They pointed to large-scale violations of servicemen's rights, including the arbitrary withholding or withdrawal of housing and annual leave, and even of salaries.

In July 2005, a group of 17 servicemen went on trial on charges of bribery, forging documents and abuse of office, ITAR-TASS reported. The trial of a second group of officers on similar charges opened at the Military Collegium of the Court for Severe Crimes on 24 October, day.az reported, and preliminary hearings in a third trial, this time of 18 military personnel, got under way at the same collegium on 16 January.

Conflicting Interests?

An alternative, and to some U.S. analysts more plausible explanation for Azerbaijan's failure to draft these key national-security and military blueprints, is a glaring but as yet unformulated discrepancy between the perceived relative importance of cooperation with NATO, on the one hand, and bilateral cooperation with the United States, on the other.

Alekper Mammadov, director of the Center for Democratic Civic Control over the Armed Forces, accused the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in June 2004 of merely creating the illusion that the armed forces are being reformed to bring them in line with NATO standards. That may well be an exaggeration; but Azerbaijan's NATO IPAP does not give the impression that Baku considers cooperation with the alliance a top priority.

For example, the IPAP envisages only a meager set of steps, such as making available for peacekeeping programs only one infantry company of 120-130 men; a civil defence unit of about 20-30 men; one specialized unit (medical or logistic); and two Mi-8 helicopters.

The delays could be related to Azerbaijan's undeclared war with Armenia, as top officials have repeatedly reserved the right to resort to a new aggression if it proves impossible to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict on Baku's terms.



The U.S., by contrast, is apparently perceived as the partner of choice, insofar as it is already providing more tangible assistance in the form of maritime security training and operations in the Caspian Sea, its counterproliferation effort in the south along its border with Iran, and a new program to enhance border security along Azerbaijan's northern border with Daghestan.

Within the framework of that assistance, Washington will also supply portable land-based radar facilities and provide modern radar facilities for Azerbaijan's Caspian naval bases, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 January. That assistance results from Washington's perception of Iran as a security threat, a perception that could change in time, however.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is reluctant to compromise the potential for greater defense ties with Russia by aspiring too enthusiastically to NATO membership or by jeopardizing its existing defense cooperation agreement with Russia. This is because any strategic advantage that Baku can offer Russia -- such as continued use of the Qabala over-the-horizon radar station --- serves to undercut the importance of Armenia to Russia's overall strategic security.
Nagorno-Karabakh
Click on the map to see an enlarged map of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area.

In February 1988, the local assembly in Stepanakert, the local capital of the Azerbaijani region of NAGORNO-KARABAKH, passed a resolution calling for unification of the predominantly ethnic-Armenian region with Armenia. There were reports of violence against local Azeris, followed by attacks against Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. In 1991-92, Azerbaijani forces occupied most of Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Armenians counterattacked and by 1993-94 had seized almost all of the region, as well as vast areas around it. About 600,000 Azeris were displaced and as many as 25,000 people were killed before a Russian-brokered cease-fire was imposed in May 1994.

For a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,click here.

Of particular interest:

2005 In Review: Conflicts In Caucasus Still Characterized By Gridlock

Nagorno-Karabakh President Expresses Optimism

Nagorno-Karabakh: OSCE To Unveil New Peace Plan

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