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Armenia, the CSTO and Collective Security

Would the Collective Security Treaty Organization come to Armenia's aid in the event of a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh? It's a question that has been the matter of speculation for some time. And last week Armenia's defense minister said yes, the CSTO would support Armenia. Via AFP:

“Given Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, we can count on an appropriate response and the support of our allies in the organization, who have specific responsibilities to each other and the ability to react adequately to potential aggression,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told a security conference in Yerevan.

Of course, what "an appropriate response" entails could be very much up to interpretation. And much depends on whether the war would involve only Karabakh -- which is de jure part of Azerbaijan -- or Armenia. If the former, the CSTO would be less likely to get involved, since it wouldn't involve an attack on a member nation. In a piece called "Kazakhstan dashes Armenia's collective security hopes," News.az quotes a couple of Kazakh security experts saying making that point:

“If a military conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not be an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia”, [Murat] Laumulin [senior fellow at the Kazakh president's Strategic Research Institute] said. "This issue is Azerbaijan’s internal affair, because Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan’s administrative territory....”

The director for analysis and consulting at Kazakhstan’s Institute of Political Solutions, Rustam Burnashev, shares Laumulin's view.

He said that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was an internal Azerbaijani affair: “What's most important is how much Armenia itself would raise this issue and how much Azerbaijan would bring it before the international community."

"The interpretation of the Karabakh conflict by Azerbaijan and Armenia does not envisage a direct clash between them," Burnashev said.

But both of those comments imply that an attack on Armenia could trigger the collective security obligation of the CSTO, which would still be a substantial advantage for Armenia should war over Karabakh break out. It would mean that Armenia could attack targets in Azerbaijan proper (like oil facilities in Baku, for example) without escalating the conflict, while Azerbaijan couldn't do the same (i.e. attack Armenia) without getting the CSTO involved.

Then again, if a war started, legal questions might be thrown out the window and CSTO member states -- particularly Russia -- would make political/strategic decisions about whether or how much to get involved. And then, frankly, it's much harder to imagine Moscow calculating in favor of intervening on behalf of Armenia against Azerbaijan. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Armenia, the CSTO and Collective Security

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