Roadblock in Azerbaijan/NATO relationship?

June 30, 2011

From Eurasianet:

Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may not be progressing at a brisk clip, but some local analysts believe that the country’s accession to the Non-Aligned Movement last month put an even bigger question mark over the future of Azerbaijan’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

On May 25, Baku signed on with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a grouping set up in 1955 to oppose “domination” by the world’s “major powers” and colonialism in its various forms. Apart from Belarus and Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan is the only former Soviet republic to have joined the left-leaning organization, a group more closely associated with the Cold War era.

The surprise decision to join forces with NAM prompted criticism from the Azerbaijani opposition that Baku is selling out on closer cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.  NAM membership requirements state that any “bilateral military agreement with a Great Power” must not be “deliberately concluded in the context of Great Power conflicts.”

Azerbaijan has been one of the most stalwart allies of the United States during the War on Terror, and US support for their NATO membership (and in their disputes with Armenia and former imperial master Russia) was seen as their reward.   Joining the NAM might put that relationship into question. However, the same article also notes that:

Elkhan Shahinoglu, director of the Baku-based Atlas research center, sees another weakness to what he describes as an “illogical” tactic for dealing with Armenia. “Tensions in the South Caucasus are growing and Azerbaijan needs a military alliance with [NATO member] Turkey and deeper cooperation with NATO to ensure its security,” Shahinoglu said. “It does not need neutrality.”

NAM’s criteria about military alliances related to “Great Power” struggles appear flexible, however; Afghanistan and Iraq are both NAM members.

Some Baku analysts, though, still regard this move as an attempt by Azerbaijan to distance itself from NATO and to give itself room for criticizing the alliance. Military analyst Jasur Sumarinli , editor-in-chief of the news agency Mil.az, believes that the withdrawal of Azerbaijan’s 90 soldiers from Afghanistan could soon follow.

“The cooperation with NATO will stall even more,” Sumarinli said, adding that Russia’s influence on Azerbaijan, correspondingly, could increase. “Such a decision should not be taken without public and parliamentary debates.”

Azerbaijan’s National Security Concept document lists Euro-Atlantic integration as a “strategic goal.” Yet, unlike neighboring Georgia, which has cast its foreign-policy lot definitively with the West, Azerbaijan has always attempted to balance its interests between NATO, Russia and, to its south, Iran.

Read the whole thing.




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