Given Armenia’s moral standing in Nagorno-Karabakh, how should America assess its national interests? Despite my admitted bias, any sort of American-led peace-keeping intervention on behalf of Armenia is far from wise. Most Americans are rightfully skeptical of protracted military intervention with our resources are stretched to their limits. The most immediate priority should be a cessation of hostilities, for the benefit of Azeri and Armenian civilians alike. That goal entails recognizing that every crisis in every region does not merit decisive American engagement as a recent Bloomberg editorial points out, elaborating that Russia still holds the most cards. Moscow has had past success in negotiating cease-fires between the two sides. Indeed, Russian arms sales to both Azerbaijan and Armenia give it a powerful point of leverage which the United States does not have. Despite Turkish involvement, Azerbaijan’s military could not get far without Russian support. Erdogan might also question his own ability to fill the gap in military support due to Turkey’s geopolitical and economic strains. While diplomatic cover from Vladimir Putin has aided Erdogan’s past expansion into Syria, he could shift Turkey’s priorities with growing isolation from Russia. Given historical and geographic proximity to the conflict, Russia has the most at stake to build upon past success and put a stop to Turkey’s behavior.
Such restraint rooted in realism would require U.S. foreign policy elites to admit some uncomfortable truths. Chief among them is that an aggressive, hostile Turkey opposed to Russia is still aggressive and hostile. Therefore, it is detrimental to regional security. If America tries to play a great game in the South Caucasus to counter Russia and Iran, it will follow in the footsteps of past military debacles such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which isolated Turkey from the United States and emboldened Ankara to act with a freer hand in regions like the South Caucasus. Indeed, we should ask ourselves whether worse U.S.-Russia relations would be a positive development in the Karabakh conflict. The answer is a definitive no. Therefore, America should cut its losses and cut off military cooperation with Azerbaijan. America can help realize Armenian aspirations for self-determination by recognizing Turkey’s rogue behavior for what it is. It should subsequently allow capable powers such as Russia the means to challenge Ankara’s hostility in the interest of regional stability.
Alexander Clark is a graduate student at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service program, pursuing a degree in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies. He traveled to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in the Summer of 2018.
Image: Yusuf, a six-year-old boy from Azerbaijan, with his face painted in the colors of the Azerbaijan flag takes part in a protest against Armenia, in Istanbul. Reuters.