Expert Discusses Prospects for Comprehensive South Caucasus Stability Pact
The Key West round of negotiations are continuing between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a political settlement to Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliyev, have been guarded in evaluating the prospects for a breakthrough in Key West. The negotiations have been conducted under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. Other organizations are also promoting solutions to the South Caucasus conundrum, including the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), which in 2000 produced a comprehensive regional stabilization plan. Michael Emerson -- a former EU Ambassador to the Soviet Union and subsequently to the Russian Federation, currently Senior Fellow at CEPS is helping to promote the plan. Discussions on the proposal have prompted CEPS into cooperation with the Turkish Social and Economic Studies Foundation (TESEV), an independent think tank in Istanbul. In February 2001 TESEV organized a conference in Istanbul, bringing together ministers and senior officials as well as independent experts, which was the first occasion of multilateral dialogue in the spirit and format of a possible Caucasus Stability Pact. Emerson took time recently to discuss the stability pact plan with EurasiaNet. The transcript of the interview follows:
EurasiaNet: How did the Caucasus Stability Pact (CSP) proposal come to be elaborated?
Emerson: At the political level, the initiative came from President [Suleiman] Demirel of Turkey in late 1999, followed rapidly by Presidents [Eduard] Shevardnadze of Georgia, Aliyev of Azerbaijan, and Kocharian of Armenia. All these figures made public statements, around the time of the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, referring to the need for a Caucasus Stability Pact. Speaking personally, I use "stability pact" as a loose, generic shorthand for a comprehensive, regional, multilateral, multi-sectoral initiative to bring peace and cooperation to a region beset by ethnic conflict. The CEPS work sought to give expression in a technical and professional manner to the ideas expressed by these political leaders. We were not following the Balkan Stability Pact model at all precisely.
EurasiaNet: Why not?
Emerson: The Balkans and the South Caucasus are about the same size and both are beset with post-communist transition headaches with problems arising from ethnic mosaics. However, the Balkans are in Europe, whereas the South Caucasus is on the edge of Europe. Even when Europe gets more involved in the South Caucasus, it will remain only one of a set of interested parties including large regional states such as Russia and Turkey. This is a fundamental difference between the South Caucasus and the Balkans. In fact, those at the Istanbul conference on February 17 found themselves inclined to rename it the "Peaceful Caucasus Process," to prepare the ground for a comprehensive settlement of the regional situation.
EurasiaNet: What happened at the Istanbul meeting?
Emerson: At the Istanbul meeting, organized by TESEV, the 3+3+2 were represented at the deputy-minister or head-of-department level, with a handful of academics also present. Perhaps I should explain that "3+3+2" refers to the three South Caucasus states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), plus their three big neighbors (Russia, Turkey and Iran), plus the two even bigger "outsiders" (the European Union and the United States). This group of eight was specifically mentioned at the OSCE Istanbul summit in November 1999, but nothing had happened at that level since then, until this conference convened by the Istanbul-based think tank TESEV with CEPS. What is significant is that the official parties there found the process of speaking together around the table to be constructive, addressed the agenda in a respectful manner, found the result satisfactory and concluded that another such conference should be planned.
EurasiaNet: Do you anticipate that the EU will become a vocal and constant advocate of this nascent process?
Emerson: The February 17 semi-official conference in Istanbul is separate from EU diplomacy. As regards the visit of the EU "troika" in mid-February, in my view it marks a discernible turning-point in EU policy. Nothing substantial or specific resulted from it, but it marks a commitment to play a more active role in the region. Also, within the EU, procedures were decided whereby the foreign ministers have invited [Javier] Solana and the European Commission to make recommendations for implementation of reinforced EU policy, and to report back in time for the Belgian presidency later this year. So the EU "supertanker," which takes some shifting to change its course, is in fact changing its course here.
EurasiaNet: How do you respond to those observers who criticized the CSP proposal, when it was first published, as being too complicated?
Emerson: We sought to lay out a consistent model of a certain sort, one with detailed descriptions of a certain model of constitutional and political settlements of these ethnic and separatist conflicts, on the basis of some experience we have had in Europe with such conflicts -- something that is neither ethnic cleansing nor outright independence but more of a "fuzzy statehood" model. We sought then to surround that with economic-development and regional-cooperation initiatives which, if executed, would transform the prospects for the region from its desperate present state. This may be slightly complicated, but that is what these complicated societies need in order to live together. I should add that the CSP is not conceived as a single mega-regional multi-conflict negotiation process. The individual conflicts have to be settled each in its own way by the most concerned parties. However, the individual settlements have to form part of a wider process which can get seriously underway as soon as the major conflicts are overcome and the frontier blockages removed. Of course the South Caucasus is more complex than the Balkans, given that more neighboring and outside powers are interested in the region, without being invited or wanting (as the case may be) to dominate it.
EurasiaNet: There are also those who consider the CSP idea unrealistic. How would you answer them?
Emerson: Concerning what is "realistic" in life, or in this sort of situation, you can use this word in either of two ways. Either you can ask a diplomat or an official what he thinks is realistic in terms of what he imagines his minister may be ready to agree tomorrow, or you may ask what would realistically be necessary to achieve the objectives at which you are aiming. The objectives at which we aim are to put an end to the conflicts and then to turn the whole region around in terms of its fundamental development prospects, in the societal, political and economic realms. Given the low point to which region has descended, that is a formidable task that can be accomplished only with large levers of action. If you are not prepared to look at these large levers of action, then to us that means you are not prepared to discuss the future of the region in any serious way.
EurasiaNet: What distinguishes the CSP plan or process from other ideas of arriving at an over-arching regional settlement?
Emerson: Well, I have to say that it is not a question of what is the best approach. This is simply the only document on the table. There just aren't any others. There are five-line speeches by politicians, and that is it. The CSP may not be the right approach, but it is the only one on offer as of now.
EurasiaNet: What are the plans for the development of the CSP or "Peaceful Caucasus Process"?
Emerson: We are seeking to organize a successor conference to take place in the region perhaps this summer, and we hope for constructive discussion by more or less the same set of people. If a breakthrough actually occurs among the political leaders, for example between Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian over Nagorno-Karabakh, then one can imagine that the official level would jump into the driving seat, in which case we would be delighted. For the time being, we will seek to be facilitators in providing a diplomatically uncomplicated way for the 3+3+2 to meet together in a semi-official, informal setting without protocol, to allow the process to develop a momentum of its own.
The interview with Mr. Emerson was conducted for EurasiaNet by Dr. Robert M. Cutler ([email protected]), Research Fellow, Institute of European and Russian Studies, Carleton University, Canada.