Challenges of Conflict Prevention in the Caucasus
Professor Neil MacFarlane offered a parallel construction of the future of the Caucasus. He suggested that the region should remain fairly peaceful in the coming months and years; however he did not see the region receiving much international support, thus leaving it in limbo, with little chance of progress. Still, it will become increasingly difficult to ignore the Caucasus due to increasing reliance on energy from the region, concern about Islamic fundamentalism, and European Union expansion. Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Caucasus has experienced several internal and regional armed conflicts affecting mostly Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya. While some prefer to divide the regions by ethno-linguistic differences into North and South, MacFarlane said because of their political and economic interdependence, he preferred to focus his comments on the entire region. Much of the Caucasus is a strategic oil region crossed by pipelines linking the Caspian to the Black Sea, in which Moscow maintains a military presence.
Challenges of conflict prevention are as varied as what the term implies. Because the term spans the cycle of conflict, conflict prevention activities range from long term development strategies; diplomatic meetings just before the escalation of violence, military interventions to cease the fighting and/or prevent the resumption of conflict; and peace building efforts during post-conflict reconstruction. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to determine what actors contributed toward preventing deadly conflict and to what degree. Still, MacFarlane said, it is more important to remain engaged then wonder about the efficacy of conflict prevention.
In the Caucasus, the conflicts that erupted after the break-up of the Soviet Union are currently ‘frozen’ by ceasefires, but nowhere does there seem to be much progress towards peaceful resolutions of differences. In particular, there is no determined policy facilitating the return of the many displaced, especially from North and South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabagh.
Interestingly, MacFarlane noted, conflict in the Caucasus—from violence in Chechnya; to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, to the assassinations in the Armenian Parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and seven other senior officials; to the attack on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze; to disagreements over the routes for Caspian oil and gas pipelines—are less rooted in ancient ethnic animosities. Rather they are products of a complex ethnic and political kaleidoscope of history dealing with the legacy of Soviet domination and struggling over limited resources.
For conflict prevention to take hold in the region, MacFarlane surmised, structural aspects, such as the emiseration of the society will need to be addressed. When a country fails to provide basic human needs as the corrupt elites grow rich, the people notice, he added. In addition, this condition is exacerbated by increased expectations, such as in Azerbaijan, where many thought oil would solve their woes. These expectations have not been met and the unrealized hopes are giving way to frustration and anger. In most of the Caucasus, elite legitimacy is suspect, due in part to corruption and the absence of the rule of law. Because there is no engrained political structure, most are unsure of peaceful political successions. Finally, there remains the specter of Russian engagement, should it decide to reengage in the region.