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Review & Outlook - 07/15/2003

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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
asbed@bu.edu.

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