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Caucasus: Peace And Integration Still Far Off

The authors of a far-reaching proposal to create a "South Caucasus Community" comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia say unresolved ethnic conflicts in the area mean that stability and economic integration are still a long way off. RFE/RL correspondent Emil Danielyan talked with the Brussels-based analysts responsible for the proposal, who say the leaders of the three regional states and breakaway entities have yet to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace.

Yerevan, 2 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts at the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, or CEPS, proposed a comprehensive Stability Pact for the Caucasus five months ago.

Modeled on post-war European integration, their idea called for a number of specific actions that would help put the war-torn and impoverished region on the path to economic development. The CEPS plan -- the most thorough yet proposed on resolving conflicts in the South Caucasus -- suggested mechanisms for ending the long-running conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. It called for a regional security order to be jointly guaranteed by Russia and the West. The establishment of a South Caucasus Community would mark the final phase of the integration process.

A CEPS task force led by Michael Emerson, co-chairman of the independent think-tank, toured the region this summer to gauge the state of opinion both in its sovereign states and unrecognized entities. Speaking to RFE/RL in Yerevan on Thursday (Sept 28), Emerson said:

"My overall impression is that we are still a long way away from getting a real breakthrough. However, at the level of ideas, I think we are for the moment rather happy that this comprehensive proposal for the whole region has at least got onto the desks, into the minds of the leaderships, senior civil servants, and intelligentsia of the region."

Emerson discussed prospects for regional peace at a two-day international conference last week in the Armenian capital. He said that the current situation leaves the region with no chance of reversing its decade-long economic decline, with closed borders and the threat of renewed fighting continuing to make it unattractive to foreign investors.

For Emerson, economic cooperation and -- eventually -- integration is the only way out of the current impasse, which he describes as "low-welfare, deadlocked equilibrium." Most experts attending the Yerevan conference agreed that no major cooperation schemes can get off the ground in the Caucasus before a solution is found to its regional conflicts. Settlement of the Karabakh dispute was seen as particularly essential for the success of such initiatives.

One of the participants, Georgian political scientist Ghia Nodia, argued that policymakers across the region have little incentive to make major concessions -- not least because their domestic public opinions would not support them.

Emerson replies:

"I hope that public opinion in Armenia and elsewhere can understand that there is no chance for this country and the rest of the region to be as successful as you would like it to be without settlement of these conflicts."

Emerson also challenged the Armenian government's view that joint projects with Azerbaijan on energy, transport, and communications can be launched before there is a peace deal on Karabakh.

The proposed CEPS Stability Pact calls for unconventional solutions to the future status of Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. It suggests that the conflicting parties draw on what it calls the "family of modern European solutions," including notions such as shared sovereignty, equality among ethnic communities and "multitiered" governing structures. In this way, Karabakh might form a confederation or "common state" with Azerbaijan or become an Armenian-Azerbaijani "co-dominium."

Under the CEPS plan, settlement of area conflicts would be followed by the creation of a wider regional security system under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. The plan sees the OSCE as the only international structure that can accommodate the often conflicting interests of Russia and the West. Emerson himself believes that neither NATO nor the CIS can play such a role.

The idea of a regional security system propped up by interested world powers has been supported by Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian leaders over the past year. But Emerson said that all three need to "articulate that more deeply than they have done so far."

He adds: "If Russia, the EU, [the] U.S. [and] OSCE are to invest in this project more heavily, then there has to be credible expressions of political interest on the part of the leaders of the South Caucasus. That at the moment is rather on the thin side."

Emerson describes as "cautious" the reaction so far of outside powers to the proposed Security Pact. Russia, he said, has resisted any increase in Western influence in what for centuries was a zone of its exclusive hegemony. But Emerson did see "some chance of new thinking in Moscow."

As for the European Union, Emerson said it is reluctant to embrace a Caucasus Stability Pact unless both Russia and the United States join in first.