NATO’s partners in the South Caucasus
On 6 and 7 September NATO’s Secretary General visited the South Caucasus – a region that is strategically important to the Alliance. NATO has been progressively deepening dialogue and cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia since the early 1990s. All three partners provide valuable support to NATO-led operations, while benefiting from NATO support for security and defence-related capacity building and reform.
The South Caucasus is a crossroads of civilizations, situated between the Black Sea to the west, the Caspian Sea to the east and bordering Turkey, Russia and Iran. The region has been of considerable geostrategic importance through the ages – and continues to be so today.
The region borders the territory of a NATO member state and includes Georgia, a country aspiring to join the Alliance. It also offers useful alternative transit options for the transport of supplies to and from the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
Shared security concerns
The Allies and their partners in the South Caucasus face the same security challenges, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such threats defy borders and can only be addressed effectively through international cooperation.
Energy security is an important security issue of shared concern. The South Caucasus sits on key oil and gas transit routes, and has significant oil and gas reserves. Energy-importing countries are looking to diversify their energy sources and supply routes, while energy-exporting and transit countries need to ensure the security of their industry and pipeline infrastructure.
One serious concern are the protracted conflicts in the region. NATO does not seek a direct role in the resolution of these conflicts, but supports the efforts of other international organizations, which have specific mandates for their mediation roles.The peaceful resolution of conflict is a core value of NATO and is at the heart of the commitments that NATO’s partners in the South Caucasus undertook when they joined the Partnership for Peace.
Valued support for operations
All three Caucasus partners have provided valuable support for NATO-led operations. Armenia has been contributing troops to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) since 2004. It first deployed personnel in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in 2010 and increased its deployment from 40 to 126 in 2011.
Having actively supported KFOR in the past, Azerbaijan currently has 94 personnel deployed in support of ISAF. The country also supports ISAF’s mission with over-flight rights and has contributed to the development of Afghan national security forces through financial support and training in de-mining.
Today, with around 800 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan, Georgia is the second largest non-NATO ISAF troop contributing nation and planned deployments this autumn will make it the largest. The country also supports Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s counter-terrorist maritime surveillance operation in the Mediterranean. Georgia also contributed to KFOR in the past.
All three countries are actively working towards the development of units that meet NATO standards and that can in future participate in international peacekeeping operations.
Bilateral partnership programmes with NATO allow each of the Caucasus partners to draw on Allied expertise in adapting their defence institutions and capabilities to deal with security challenges. In the past decade, all three countries have chosen to deepen the level of cooperation and tighten the focus on their respective reform priorities.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have both developed Individual Partnership Action Plans with NATO. In the case of Georgia – following a dialogue with the Alliance about its membership aspirations and the declaration by Allies at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that the country will become a member – intensified cooperation is now being taken forward through the unique framework of the NATO-Georgia Commission that was established in September 2008.
Beyond cooperating on security and defence-related capacity building and reform, NATO and its partners in the South Caucasus work together in other areas such as border security, cyber security, and disaster preparedness and response.
Partnership has also brought some tangible benefits for citizens in the Caucasus countries. For example, in Armenia – a country prone to earthquakes – NATO provides training to improve the search-and-rescue capabilities. In Azerbaijan and Georgia, NATO has supported projects to clear and safely dispose of large numbers of dangerous, unexploded and obsolete landmines and munitions.