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Caucasus: Analysis -- Seeking Security For The South

By Harry Tamrazian

With the Karabakh and Abkhaz disputes still unsettled, and the war in Chechnya on the doorstep, many voices are calling for a regional security arrangement for the South Caucasus. RFE/RL's Harry Tamrazian looks at the various proposals.

Prague, 9 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The call for permanent peace in the South Caucasus has never been so urgent and loud as it is now. Six years have passed since formal cease-fire agreements ended the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, but in neither case has the cease-fire been underpinned by a political settlement. And no such settlement appears imminent.

The issue of a security system for the South Caucasus was first raised by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan last November at a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In an unprecedented move, Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev called on the 54 members of that organization to create such a system for the volatile South Caucasus region.

At the time, however, the international community, concerned that the war in Chechnya might spill over into Georgia or Azerbaijan, reacted coolly to the proposal for a wider-ranging regional security system.

But the idea did not die altogether. Turkey was the first to react positively, with Ankara indicating that the South Caucasus would become the second item on its foreign-policy priority list after the EU, replacing Cyprus and Turkish-Greek relations. And before leaving office, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel traveled to Tbilisi in January to launch his last foreign-policy initiative in the form of a "Caucasus Stability Pact."

Notwithstanding Turkey's concern that the war in Chechnya could spill over into Georgia and create an influx of refugees into Turkey, the main goal of Demirel's stability pact was to create a stable political landscape for the "energy corridor" that Ankara hopes will bring the oil riches of the Caspian region to its Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Demirel wanted to enlist the U.S. and the EU as official participants and sponsors of his Caucasus Stability Pact. According to Demirel's plan, international financial organizations such as the IMF and World Bank would also take part in the project, providing funding to secure the economic recovery of the region.

The only country conspicuous by its absence from Demirel's blueprint was Iran, while Russia was accorded a secondary role. Iran was likewise not included in Aliev's draft proposal.

While Moscow officially welcomed Demirel's proposal, at the same time senior Russian officials made clear Russia's discomfort at the prospect of U.S. direct involvement in the Caucasus. Russian Defense Ministry official Leonid Ivashov said that the U.S. and NATO should not be allowed to participate in the creation of a security system in the Caucasus. In Ivashov's words: "The involvement of Americans in the South Caucasus would not improve the security of this region. The realization of U.S. plans in the post-Soviet republics is very dangerous, and may explode the situation."

Then in late March, Armenian President Robert Kocharian unveiled a more detailed blueprint based on the so-called 3+3+2 formula, meaning the pact would constitute an agreement between the Caucasian three -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia -- with three neighbors -- Russia, Iran, and Turkey -- as guarantors and two outsiders -- the U.S. and the EU -- as sponsors.

Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili expressed approval of that formula, saying Tbilisi "supports all initiatives aimed at stabilizing the situation in the Caucasus." But Azerbaijan has meanwhile distanced itself from the concept of a regional security system, arguing that the idea is not workable until the Karabakh conflict is resolved.

The most recent and most comprehensive proposal, called "A Stability Pact for the Caucasus," was drafted by the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, or CEPS. This is the institution that played an important role in shaping the EU's Balkan Stability Pact and has drafted a solution for settling the Cyprus problem.

After extensive research, CEPS came to the conclusion that many problems in the region could be solved by creating a "South Caucasus Community," modeled either on the EU or another comparable regional grouping such as ASEAN. The CEPS Task Force for the Caucasus, headed by Michael Emerson of London School of Economics, called on the EU and the U.S. to work closely with Russia in creating and supporting that South Caucasus Community, which would have its own parliament (a Parliamentary Assembly with 170 deputies) and its own executive (a Council of Ministers).

CEPS advocates resolving the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts by granting those territories a high degree of self-government, separate constitutions, horizontal and asymmetric relations with the state and regional authorities. It says the two regions should be allowed to preserve their own cultural identities, and should be given shared competence in security issues, external affairs, and economic policy.

The CEPS Caucasus group is currently engaged in acquainting the international community and international organizations with the details of its proposed South Caucasus plan. It has already made a presentation to NATO, and plans to submit its proposals to an international conference on Central Asia and the Caucasus in Tehran on Sunday and to the OSCE in Vienna on Wednesday.