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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Security Issues and Implications for U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

The South Caucasus region has been the most unstable in the former Soviet Union in terms of the number, intensity, and length of ethnic and civil conflicts. Other emerging or full-blown security problems include crime, corruption, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and narcotics trafficking. The regional governments have worked to bolster their security by combating terrorism, limiting political dissent they view as threatening, revamping their armed forces, and seeking outside assistance and allies. 

The roles of neighbors Iran, Russia, and Turkey have been of deep security concern to one or more of the states of the region. These and other major powers, primarily the United States and European Union (EU) members, have pursued differing interests and policies toward the three states. Some officials in Russia view the region as a traditional sphere of influence, while Turkish officials tend to stress common ethnic ties with Azerbaijan and most of Central Asia. EU members are increasingly addressing instability in what they view as a far corner of Europe. Armenia has pursued close ties with Russia and Iran in part to counter Azerbaijan's ties with Turkey, and Georgia and Azerbaijan have stressed ties with the United States in part to bolster their independence vis-a-vis Russia. 

The United States has supported democratization, the creation of free markets, conflict resolution, regional cooperation, and the integration of the South Caucasian states into the larger world community. The Administration has backed regional energy and pipeline development that does not give Iran and Russia undue political or economic influence. U.S. aid has been provided to bolster the security and independence of the states, including substantial rebuilding aid after the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict. In January 2009, the United States and Georgia signed a partnership agreement to underline such U.S. support for Georgia. All three regional states have supported the global war on terrorism and sent troops to assist the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. 

Congress has been at the forefront in supporting U.S. assistance to bolster independence and reforms in the South Caucasus, but debate has continued over the scope, emphasis, and effectiveness of U.S. involvement. Congressional support for the security of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (NK; a breakaway region of Azerbaijan mostly populated by ethnic Armenians) led in 1992 to a ban on most U.S. government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan. Congress authorized a presidential waiver to the ban after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, to facilitate U.S.-Azerbaijan anti-terrorism cooperation. Congressional support for U.S. engagement with the region also was reflected in "Silk Road Strategy" legislation in FY2000 (P.L. 106-113) authorizing greater policy attention and aid for conflict amelioration, humanitarian needs, economic development, transport and communications, border control, democracy, and the creation of civil societies in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Congressional concerns about rising Russian military and economic coercion against Georgia were reflected in legislation criticizing Russian actions and supporting Georgia's NATO aspirations. In the wake of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, Congress condemned Russia's invasion and provided boosted aid for Georgia's rebuilding. Congress regularly has earmarked foreign aid to Armenia and upheld a South Caucasus funding category to encourage conflict resolution, provide for reconstruction assistance, and facilitate regional economic integration. 

Date of Report: March 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 69
Order Number: RL30679
Price: $29.95

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