The EU Shouldn’t Beat Itself Up over 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War: That’s Its Ultimate Power Projection Challenge
There were a lot of bad news for the European Union during the five-week Nagorno-Karabakh War in the fall of 2020 between Azerbaijan and the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh backed by Armenia.
There have been even more bad news for the EU in that unfrozen “frozen” Post-Soviet Space conflict’s aftermath.
There is one silver lining for the EU over the rekindling of the Azerbaijan – Armenia conflict, though. Right now it is a largely fictional one and lies at some point in the future.
And that is that the South Caucasus is the Union’s ultimate geopolitical power litmus test (probably ever more so than the Western Balkans, Syria, Libya, or the Russia – Ukraine conflict).
More specifically, if there ever is another similar war flare-up in the South Caucasus (and there probably will be in the medium to long run), and the European Union actually managed to preempt, mitigate, or terminate that, then the entire world would know what the EU would have become a capable, first-rate global geopolitical superpower.
Indeed, the South Caucasus with its long-lasting Post-Soviet Space frozen conflict fertilized with tons of actual old-school ethnic hatred between Azerbaijanis and Armenians is the European Union’s ultimate power projection challenge.
If the European Union is ever capable of stopping an Azerbaijan – Armenia war, than the good people of the EU would be in the know that their Union would probably have consolidated to tackle outside forces, would have an actual common foreign, security, and defense policy, and probably a capable EU military that it can use efficiently to defend its borders, integrity, citizens, and member states as well as to guarantee peace in its “near abroad”, to borrow a nice-sounding term from the traditional Russian school of geopolitics.
All kinds of critics, both domestic EU ones and foreign ones (many of the latter expectedly gloating over that) have lambasted the Union for its failure to do anything remarkable and meaningful whatsoever during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Besides trite diplomatic calls for ceasefire and peace, the EU didn’t make any impact at all – either in favor of peace, or to defend its supposed interests in the South Caucasus region, goes the song the world-wide chorus of foreign policy experts and international security analysts have been singing.
Clearly, they haven’t been wrong.
They have also been quite right with respect to the fact that both Russia and Turkey have (somehow) emerged as the big geopolitical winners from the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.
(Although a situation in which both Russia and Turkey win should be taken with lots of pinches of lots of salt, and can hardly be deemed sustainable. Not least considering a pattern of rivalry epitomized by a total of 14 bilateral interstate wars over a period of 423 years, between 1568 and 1991, World War I and Cold War included.)
It is also correct that an Armenia which was starting a course towards EU integration, a timid one but still, was now forced to go immediately to Russia for rescue from a greater defeat. Surely so, as the EU’s virtually nonexistent hard power cannot be compared with Russia’s.
Yet, the European Union absolutely should not beat itself up over its failure to influence the course and outcome of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
Because the obvious fact of the matter is that the EU hasn’t been built for those kinds of purposes, for this presumed scale of power projection and geopolitical weight.
It simply doesn’t have the tools at its disposal to do any more than the little it actually did with respect of a complex, stubborn ethnic and interstate conflict so kind-heartedly bequeathed upon the world by the later leadership of the former Soviet Union.
Not least in a relatively tiny, relatively isolated, hard to access region sandwiched between Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
Would it have been great if the European Union had actually had the tools, capacity, standing, and power projection capabilities, including military power projection capabilities, to intervene and preempt or stop the fighting between Azerbaijanis and Armenians? Yes, it would have been.
And a lot of people out there, myself included, have been advocating relentless for an European Union that would have been able to do so – for the sake of defending itself – and for the sake of doing some good in many of the martyred neighboring parts of the world, or further away. (Because if anybody would ever imagine the EU as an evil, “expansionist” power if it had full-fledged diplomatic unity and military projection capabilities, that person would probably be highly ill-minded towards Europe.)
A lot of us out there have been advocating for a European Union capable of defending itself and serving as a vastly positive stabilization force on the regional as well as the global level. And a European Union capable of striking back at any assault coming its way. Without such capabilities, the EU is a “sitting duck” only forcing its geopolitical luck.
Yet, for the time being, the EU barely has any of that, any of the hard power needed. Sure, it is relatively good at a wide range of “soft measures”. But soft measures would only get you this far. Perhaps only to some “soft spots”.
Regardless of the present day wishful thinking of the publics in the Western part of the Union and the public weakness in its Eastern part, Europe itself has seen way too ample evidence that eventually things come to hard power. The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War is just another case in hand.
Is there really a need to remind the Europeans that “war is like love – it always finds a way” quote from Brecht’s “Mother Courage”?
Yet again, at present, the European Union has practically no hard power, and expecting it to have intervened successfully in the South Caucasus, in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians is either delusional, or senseless, or ill-intentioned. Or all of the above. There are and will be a great deal of EU haters out there.
And since the Nagorno-Karabakh frozen (and now unfrozen) conflict is the case at hand, this line of criticism of the EU over the 2020 South Caucasus War reminds of US geopolitical thinker George Friedman’s 2015 book “Flashpoints”.
That book has a chapter curiously entitled “The Wars of Maastricht”. In it, the esteemed author somehow, by a stretch of the geopolitical imagination, connects the EU’s 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (which actually gave the European Union its present name) with the wars in the European periphery at the time, in the early 1990s – the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Of course, the wars in question happened because of the falling apart of what were highly artificial and oftentimes plain evil constructs, namely, the former communist Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, respectively. Perplexingly, the author links them to the (re)formation of the European Union at the time, almost as if blaming it for them, just because those developments occurred in roughly the same time-space continuum.
It is never easy to understand unfounded expectations and/or a desire to pile up guilt on the EU, perhaps out of some sort of dislike to it, as has oftentimes been the case in the aftermath of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.
The EU does need to play a big role in the South Caucasus for the sake of helping peace, stability, and prosperity there, and for the sake of defending its own interests.
For more than a decade now, I have been writing in favor of the EU securing its own corridor to the Caspian Sea and the energy rich countries on its shores – including both Azerbaijan and the Central Asian republics. Georgia and Armenia, and potentially Azerbaijan do deserve the potential to become respect full-fledged EU members.
Of a Union that has hard power and is not afraid to use it for the greater common good.
At this point, though, there obviously isn’t any point in the European Union beating itself up over its failure to do more over the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. For the time being, it just isn’t “wired” that way.
What the EU needs to do is draw the right lessons in favor of developing hard power and power projection capabilities (and at that from an innovative war that demonstrated the power of swarms of drones in a very forceful manner), and in favor of integrating Georgia and Armenia, and potentially Azerbaijan – all ancient peoples with great history behind them rather connected with the European civilization.
The Western European publics in particular have been behaving regrettably with respect to the EU integration of “the east”, certainly wrongfully so. They keep behaving as if everything is about materialism and consumerism, and there is nothing beyond that, no common values, no sense of belonging. That can hardly be a recipe for success. Just recall how the Dutch voters rejected the EU – Ukraine Association Agreement in a referendum, the one over which the Ukrainians got upon themselves Moscow’s wrath, and which marked the first time that Europeans actually died with the EU flag in hand.
So there absolutely is no need for the EU to beat itself up over the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. It just needs to draw the right lessons act upon them fast enough so it would capable to project peace and stability before the next (God forbid!) Nagorno-Karabakh War kicks in.
(Map from IEP-Berlin, EUCASIS)