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THE POWER OF SMALL (GEORGIA) OVER SMALLER (ARMENIA) Armenian News Network / Groong July 15, 2003 By Asbed Kotchikian During the past four decades, the study of small states within the US academia has seen some resurgence. Most of the studies however were form a security perspective (starting with Anette Baker Fox's `The Power of Small States') and disregarded a set of concerns that dealt with the domestic concerns of small powers. Later on there were attempts to `fix' this problem by concentrating on the study of small states from domestic perspectives by studying the relations between size on the one hand and democracy (Robert Dahl and Edward Tufte, `Size and Democracy'), political and economic development on the other. However the strongest tradition of studying small states (and which precedes the resurgence of the topic in the US) is in Europe, and especially in Scandinavian countries where the study of small states has been institutionalized since the turn of the 20th century Most of these studies paid attention to small-state-large state relations except for cases where the studies were on the issue of small state alignment and alliances with each other. In this respect small state interaction with other small states is still an understudied area. Of course there is also the issue of defining `small state' which is open to many interpretations, but for the purposes of this article a small state would represent a country which has limited resources to pursue an active foreign policy as well as the limited impact it has in regional politics, and hence becoming more of a theater rather than actor in regional politics. The three countries of the Caucasus can be categorized as small states, surrounded by regional great powers that have interests and stakes in the region. In this respect the three countries could be classified according to their decreasing strength from Azerbaijan, followed by Georgia and finally Armenia. This classification is not arbitrary. Azerbaijan, because of its oil has some bargaining leverage with greater powers. On its side, Georgia's strength is in the fact that it is a neutral country in a region where inter-state conflicts have taken their toll. Armenia, the smallest by size, it is also the smallest by its significance in the region. Away from major East-West corridors and without any natural resources to lure in western companies, today Armenia's geopolitical importance is insignificant in the region. The Georgian-Armenian relations have always been studied as two small neighboring states, however Georgia has some advantages and leverage over Armenia which might prove that Georgia has a better bargaining position vis-`-vis Armenia than Armenia has with Georgia. GEOPOLITICAL LEVERAGE One of the first areas of Armenian-Georgian relations is the geopolitical rivalry and Armenia's dependence on its northern neighbor for communication and transport. Because of the ongoing war-like conditions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the one hand and the closed border between Armenia and Turkey, the only open venues for Armenia to communicate with the rest of the world by land is Iran and Georgia. Over the past several years, Georgia has been a transit point for Armenians heading to Russia as seasonal workers, and even more unexpectedly, for those Armenians who would go to Turkey for trade. The Tbilisi-Yerevan minibuses have considerable numbers of people who would carry a load of goods bought from Turkey and which is delivered to the Armenian market. In the area of transportation, the railway linking Armenia to Russia through Georgia (and Abkhazia) is also considered to be a point of reliance for Armenia on Georgia. Although not operational because of the separatist Abkhazian war, the rail link could be of vital importance for Armenia linking it with several Black Sea ports and helping the country's blockaded economy. Among the three Caucasus republics, Georgia has the most advantageous geopolitical condition. It does not have any wars with any of its neighbors; it has access to the Black Sea and working relations with all of its neighbors. This is one of the main reasons why many of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have made the Georgian capital Tbilisi as their regional headquarters. From a pure logistical perspective, for any organization working regionally, the ability to meet with colleagues in Armenia or Azerbaijan is of paramount importance and because of the unresolved conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues could only have favorable conditions for meeting on a neutral ground. THE LEVERAGE OF ALLIANCES Since the fall of the Soviet Union the component republics of the Union have opted to form alliances and become members in international and regional organizations as safeguards for their autonomy and independence. Armenia and Georgia have moved in different directions in this sphere. While Armenia remained a staunch supporter of Russia and made shy attempts to integrate into the America-led camp (namely NATO), Georgia pursues an active pr-Western orientation. It might be possible that in the minds of policy makers in Georgia the West and the United States could be the only guarantors of Georgia's autonomy and independence as well as an opportunity for the small republic to break away from the Russian sphere of influence. Since the start of the US-led `War on Terrorism' and the expanding presence of the US military and civilian advisors in various countries in the world (among them Georgia), the hegemonic power of the US has been reinforced, thus making the pro-US camp in the international system at a comparative advantage over other regional and global alliances. Although there are many critiques and doubts about the continuation of the US as a hegemonic power in the world, the truth of the matter is that at least in the short-term future, a US dominated international order is what we are facing. In this sense, Georgia seems to be better prepared to reap the fruits of cooperation and integration into the US camp. Georgian officials have made it no secret that they are targeting a full NATO membership and integration of their country's defenses and politics with that Alliance. On its side, Armenia has made it clear that it would like to cooperate with NATO under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, but under no circumstance would Armenia seek membership to NATO. ETHNIC LEVERAGES? The only possible leverage that Armenia might have over Georgia is the ethnic component. Georgia, which is sometimes dubbed as a small empire because of its multiethnic composition, has a sizeable Armenian community and the southern region of Javakheti could easily become the next Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. This possibility alarms the Georgian leadership and helps the creation of mistrust towards the Armenian population of Georgia, which in itself is translated into mistrust towards Armenia. Although the Armenian government plays a well-balanced policy towards the Armenians of Javakheti, there are still some groups (in Javakheti, Armenia and the Diaspora), which keep pushing for more autonomy and the protection of the right of Armenians in Georgia. Such pressure has the danger of triggering increased mistrust by the Georgian government and might even be translated into an all-out hostility towards the region. The issue of the Armenian minority in Georgia is a dangerous leverage, which the Armenian state is careful not to use. However there is a danger that to appease nationalist sentiments (both in Armenia and the Diaspora) as well as to gain more legitimacy, the Armenian state might at one point `succumb' to pressures and start raising the issue of independence or autonomy for Javakheti. This move could have dire consequences for Armenia by making it a pariah state not only regionally but also internationally and further isolating Armenia from various political or economic processes in the region. As it stands the ethnic leverage that many Armenians (individuals or groups) think might work for their benefit, is actually nothing more than a potential downfall of Armenia's international diplomacy and the depiction of Armenia as an expansionist country. The fact that Armenians have taken part in the Abkhaz conflict on the Abkhaz side has already made Georgian-Armenian relations strenuous, the last thing that the two countries need is a separatist war to add to the already existing ones they each face. IS IT UNEQUAL RELATIONS? Based on the brief analysis above, it could be said that in the Armenian-Georgian relations, the latter clearly has an upper hand and more leverages on the former. However one needs to think about politics and foreign policy as something that states conduct having the best interest of their country in mind. Knowing this, there is no doubt that the Georgian leadership and government realizes that they stand to gain nothing by antagonizing and pressuring Armenia. On the contrary, Armenia could have some resources, which could be of use for the benefit of both countries. Once such resource is the Armenian lobby groups who could push for better appropriations by the US or other Western countries for the war-torn areas of Georgia and increasing investments in the impoverished regions of both republics. In an age where economy and material well-being seem to define everything, the only way to help both countries forge better relations with each other is by cooperating in the economic sphere. There are already attempts and agreements between the two countries in developing stronger social, economic and cultural ties. Although these agreements were made having the Javakheti region in mind, they could easily be expanded to include inter-nation cooperation and instead of being a point of contestation, Javakheti and the Armenians of Georgia could become the foundation of stronger inter-state relations. Finally it should be warned that cooperation between the two countries is not easy and turbulence-free. There is a lot of mistrust between the two nations and states, which go back to two centuries of preferential treatment by one group (Armenians) over the other (Georgians) by the dominant empire (Russia). This mistrust is fueled by nationalist fervor on both sides and continues to be the focal point of the inter-nation relations. The alleviation of this tension can be a long and difficult road. Perhaps the process could start if both nations - which are willing to base their mutual rivalry and mistrust over the experiences that they had during the past two hundred years - could look a bit further back in history and take lesions from four or even three hundred years ago when both countries were facing the same threats and cooperated without distinguishing between their national identity, especially as it was the age before nationalism was constructed. The road is difficult but not impossible. -- Asbed Kotchikian is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Boston University and an instructor at Wheaton College. He spent two years (2000-02) in Armenia and Georgia conducting research and teaching at the local universities. Comments to the author may be be sent to email@example.com.