Does this apparent inconsistency reflect diverging priorities within the upper echelons of the country's leadership? Or are both moves part of a complex and far-reaching strategy focused on winning back control over Nagorno-Karabakh?
The "National Security Concept" approved by President Ilham Aliyev in 2007 affirms that "Integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic political, security, economic, and other institutions constitutes the strategic goal of the Azerbaijan Republic. The Azerbaijan Republic views its partnership with the Euro-Atlantic structures as a means for contributing to security, economic prosperity and democracy in the whole Euro-Atlantic area."
But the "National Military Doctrine" adopted by parliament in 2010 does not list such "integration" as a strategic goal, although it does affirm Azerbaijan's continued willingness to cooperate with NATO.
Azerbaijan has successfully implemented two successive Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP) with NATO, in 2005-07 and 2008-09. But already in 2008, opposition politicians and Baku-based military analysts were voicing concern that NATO membership was clearly not a priority for the country's leadership.
NATO's Parliamentary Assembly for its part highlighted areas in which Azerbaijan still failed to meet key criteria, such as strengthening parliamentary control over the armed forces and the country's questionable record on human rights.
Azerbaijan's third two-year IPAP, for the period 2012-13, was approved only last month. Armenia's was approved one month earlier. Within days, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry published a list of three NATO training courses in which Azerbaijani servicemen will participate during the first six months of 2012. There will also be a working meeting in Brussels next week, and talks in Baku with German defense specialists.
In late November, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov reportedly attributed the delay in finalizing Azerbaijan's third IPAP to objections by unnamed NATO member states. But Cesur Sumerinli, head of the Doktrina Center for Journalistic Military Analysis, said it was the result of Azerbaijan's failure to comply with some requirements of the second IPAP concerning civilian oversight over the armed forces and increasing civilian representation in the upper echelons of the Defense Ministry.
Some commentators construed Azerbaijan's accession to the Non-Aligned Movement as evidence that the country had turned its back on NATO. Military expert Uzeir Jafarov termed it "a blow to everything done to date to promote cooperation with NATO."
Addressing the Bali meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement at which Azerbaijan was formally accepted as a member, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov explicitly noted that membership would give Azerbaijan "an additional platform" for promoting the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
If Baku regards the Non-Aligned Movement primarily as a forum for exerting diplomatic pressure on Armenia, then by the same token Azerbaijan's renewed cooperation with NATO is presumably intended to enhance the military's capability to make good on Aliyev's periodic warnings that if diplomacy fails, Azerbaijan will have no choice but to resort to force to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back under its control.