The Next Crisis You're Not Watching: Don't Ignore the South Caucasus

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia rarely make American headlines. But all three face incredible pressures—which the U.S. can't afford to ignore.

The development and export to world markets of Caspian energy remains a Western strategic interest. But with the emergence of alternative global sources of energy, the drop in oil and gas prices, and the reduced need for logistical support to NATO forces in Afghanistan the South Caucasus may become less important in these dimensions.

The pivotal location between Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Middle East, however, requires that the West pay more policy level attention to the South Caucasus. Peacemaking with Armenia and Azerbaijan has long been frustrating for the West and Russia, but it remains worthwhile to reduce the risk that Nagorno-Karabakh will erupt into a hot war. It could even ensnare Turkey, Russia and Iran in wider tensions. This requires the parties to decide that face-to-face negotiations under Minsk Group mediation are the way forward. Second, the West should pursue tough love with Azerbaijan to counter its authoritarian spiral and free the remaining political prisoners. Finally, the West ought to conduct a more direct dialog with the Georgian government and opposition about democratic principles and freedom of the press, and how they may affect its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Denis Corboy is a visiting senior research fellow at King’s College London and was European Union ambassador to Armenia and Georgia.

Richard Kauzlarich is Co-Director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy at George Mason University and was U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Kenneth Yalowitz is the Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown University, a Global Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center and was U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.