Monday, October 8, 2012

Post #357 - Looking Northward from Iran

The following was posted on-line by the Henry Jackson Society. In case the group is not known to you, it follows in the tradition of Henry M. ("Scoop") Jackson, a Democrat from the state of Washington (he served both in the House and the Senate, and ran for president unsuccessfully), who was known for his robust national security stance. The Society was formed in Cambridge, England, and is now based in London. (I post their guiding principles below, following the article.) I have reposted this article simply because there is so little said about Azerbaijan in the discussion of Iran, the West and possibe war, but it should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt...

Azerbaijan and Iran: The unknown equation

A guest post by Research Assistant Jamila Mammadova

As the political upheavals throughout the Middle East and North Africa continue to redraw the map in terms of geopolitical and sectarian calculus, oil-rich Azerbaijan stands to be perhaps the most important Muslim-majority country to factor in the ongoing tensions between Israel and Iran. Its strategic location in Central Asia, its internal demography — home to 20,000 Jews and 7 million Muslims, with further 30 million of predominantly Shi’a, ethnic Azeris living in Iran — and its remarkable dual relationships with both the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic put Azerbaijan in the foreground of any coming military confrontation.

Azerbaijan used to be part of Persia (modern Iran), until Russia and Iran signed the treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 as a result of Iranian defeat in Russo-Persian War. The treaty ensured that the Caucasus’ dependence on Russia and made possible the emergence of modern states on conquered territories. In 1920, Azerbaijan was invaded by Soviet forces and remained under Soviet rule until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today Azerbaijan is the independent and developing presidential Republic showing its readiness to cooperate with the West on numerous issues. [Editor's note: this obscures the fact that there is also an "Iranian Azerbaijan" -- a province in Iran's northwest that is predominantly Turkic (Azeri) in ethnicity, which includes the cities of Tabriz and Ardebil and a significant piece of Caspian Sea shoreline; it is actually larger in territory than independent Azerbaijan, though somewhat smaller in population. -- AP]

Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim dominated countries besides Turkey and Egypt to develop bilateral strategic and economic relations with Israel. Israel was one of the first states to formally recognise an independent Azerbaijan following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

It is fair to assume that both Azerbaijan and Israel see Iran as a threat. Azerbaijan is concerned about Iranian Islamist influence, which is detrimental to the elite and intelligentsia in Baku who embody the Soviet intellectual heritage. According to several reports, Iran has politically and financially supported a pro-Iranian Shi’ite opposition party called the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, which was officially banned after its leader has called for for the overthrow of the Azerbaijani government.

Tensions between the Iran and Azerbaijan also intensified because of the growing ties between the US, Israel and Azerbaijan and Iran’s support for Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave which is internationally recognised as territory of Azerbaijan. There are also challenges in the Caspian Sea area, as the territorial boundaries in this oil- and gas-rich basin were never settled after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Iran facing a diminishing consumer base because of European sanctions its increasing desperation might lead it to look for ways to augment its natural resources by sparring with its neighbours. Any move by Iran to lay claim to the north of Caspian Sea could excite regional tensions even further. [Ed. Note: the idea of Iran making such a move seems preposterous, the northern portion of the Caspian being controlled by Russia and Kazakhstan for many generations, both of which have friendly diplomatic and trade relations with Tehran. -- AP]

Links with the US have improved as a consequence of Azerbaijan providing an air corridor for American military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as having joined the US-led coalition in Iraq. For its part, Israel has been developing much closer economic and political ties with Azerbaijan. For example, in 2012 Israel and Azerbaijan signed an agreement where state-run Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to sell $1.6 billion in drones, anti-aircraft and missile defence systems to Azerbaijan. The two countries have also adopted similar positions in the fight against international terrorism. Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the radical Islamist groups that has hundreds of members in Azerbaijan, is a threat to both Jerusalem and Baku. Both countries have also cooperated on counterterrorism efforts. According to a Ha’aretz report in March 2012, Azerbaijan arrested 22 people in a suspected Iranian plot against the Israeli and US Embassies in Azerbaijan.

But the most striking news was reported in the same month by Foreign Policy magazine that the Israeli Air Force might be preparing to use Azerbaijani air bases for strikes against the nuclear program of Iran. The bases in question are located just over Iran’s northern border. This was surprising because Baku and Tehran signed a non-aggression pact in May 2005 banning third countries from using their territories for offensive operations against each other. Azerbaijan was quick to take an official position denying the use of its land for strikes on Iran.

Azerbaijan’s future options regarding Iran cannot be seen in isolation. If Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear programme, then the United States would likely become involved in trying to contain whatever regional or global consequences arise (such as Iranian or Hezbollah-orchestrated terrorist attacks).

Russia, although a partner of the United States and four other powers in their efforts to restrain Tehran’s nuclear activities, nevertheless sees Iran as a counterweight to American geopolitical influence. With its other ally, the Assad regime in Syria, likely to collapse, Russia will try and coax Azerbaijan further into the Iranian orbit. Otherwise, it risks finding itself under threat of losing a major counterweight to US power in Central Asia. As Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister stated earlier in the year: “Should anything happen to Iran, should Iran get drawn into any political or military hardships, this will be a direct threat to our national security.”

Further complicating its relationship with Russia, Azerbaijan is also a central player in European efforts to break Russia’s takeover of the regional energy sector. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline transports crude oil from Baku to the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean and then to European markets. The Nabucco project, a new pipeline to connect the richest gas regions to the European markets is seen as another way to transport Central Asian and Middle Eastern natural gas deposits to Europe, avoiding Russia.
In the light of continued diplomatic manoeuvring over Iran’s future trajectory, Baku’s position will be crucial. Its participation in any upcoming conflict might still be avoided but its political and economic influence on regional players is obvious. This small yet strategically located country could yet play a pivotal role in the next stages of the unfolding Iranian drama.

Statement of Principles, Henry Jackson Society

The pursuit of a robust foreign policy was one of Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson’s most central concerns. This was to be based on clear universal principles such as the global promotion of the rule of law, liberal democracy, civil rights, environmental responsibility and the market economy. The western policies of strength and human rights, which later hastened the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship, owed much to Jackson’s example. The fundamental and enduring values of the modern democratic world eventually prevailed.

Yet perhaps we were too complacent during the immediate post-Cold War period. New threats to the very essence of liberal democracies challenged our resolve. Our failures in the former Yugoslavia (especially Bosnia) were more than just moral. Through their impact on the credibility of our international institutions, such as NATO and the EU, they had a profound effect on the national interests of western powers. These fiascos showed that we had to engage, robustly and sometimes preventatively. The early interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, although imperfect, provide an appropriate model for future action. But modernisation and democratisation often does not require a military solution. For example, the European Union has been instrumental in expanding its democratic ‘Grand Area’ on the continent since the fall of the Iron Curtain. So has NATO, through the process of eastern enlargement, and various initiatives engaging the Soviet successor states.

We believe, therefore, that Henry Jackson’s legacy is as relevant today as his policies were during the Cold War; indeed, perhaps it is even more important than at any time previously. Therefore, the Henry Jackson Society:

  1. Believes that modern liberal democracies set an example to which the rest of the world should aspire.
  2. Supports a ‘forward strategy’ – involving diplomatic, economic, cultural, and/or political means — to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so.
  3. Supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach, that can protect our homelands from strategic threats, forestall terrorist attacks, and prevent genocide or massive ethnic cleansing.
  4. Supports the necessary furtherance of European military modernisation and integration under British leadership, preferably within NATO.
  5. Stresses the importance of unity between the world’s great democracies, represented by institutions such as NATO, the European Union and the OECD, amongst many others.
  6. Believes that only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate, and that the political or human rights pronouncements of any international or regional organisation which admits undemocratic states lack the legitimacy to which they would be entitled if all their members were democracies.
  7. Gives two cheers for capitalism. There are limits to the market, which needs to serve the Democratic Community and should be reconciled to the environment.
  8. Accepts that we have to set priorities and that sometimes we have to compromise, but insists that we should never lose sight of our fundamental values. This means that alliances with repressive regimes can only be temporary. It also means a strong commitment to individual and civil liberties in democratic states, even and especially when we are under attack.
The Henry Jackson Society is dedicated to researching and debating these issues. We do not represent any specific political party or persuasion, but provide a forum for those who agree with these simple guiding principles, or who wish to learn more about them.

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