On June 17, 2013, the Regional Studies Center (RCS) participated in a special discussion focused on the issue of European Union engagement in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RSC Director Richard Giragosian was invited to give a presentation at the European Policy Centre (EPC), a leading think tank in Brussels, and was joined by Zaur Shiriyev, from the Centre for Strategic Studies in Baku. The speakers offered an Armenian and Azerbaijani perspective on the issue, with each speaker briefly outlining his view on EU engagement, based on two separate policy papers that each speaker prepared for the EPC (see attached)..
The presentations were then followed by a lively discussion, with reaction by three prominent officials: Philippe Lefort, EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus, Bernard Fassier, the former French Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, and Herman Herpelinck, Group Secretary General of the Belgian Senate.
Notably, the Armenian and Azerbaijani speakers were in strong agreement over the need for greater EU engagement, noting that the EU was still very much a peripheral player regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, seemingly content with supporting the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and financing a number of confidence and peace-building projects. However, as the speakers each agreed, greater EU engagement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is both an imperative and a necessity.
As Richard Giragosian stressed, the conflict is the only one in wider Europe in which the EU has no direct role whatsoever, which is dangerous for both Brussels and for people in the region who strive for peace. Giragosian went on to warn that there are several factors necessitating greater EU engagement at the moment, not least an increasing risk of “war by accident” stemming form Azerbaijan’s constant threat of war and based on miscalculation and threat misperception, where small skirmishes can quickly spiral out of control.
He called on the EU to adopt a new policy approach based on ‘more for more’ but also on ‘less for less’, punishing bad behavior as well as rewarding reform and progress. For too long, the West has looked for balance and parity in a region where it may be counterproductive to do so, he argued. If one or both sides fail to meet minimum expectations of behavior, there should be less tolerance, and if necessary, less parity, he added.
He argued that the EU needs to adopt policy recommendations which emphasize the need to “cease and desist” and remind all parties to the conflict that there is no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, which will only be solved by political and diplomatic means. He also urged the EU to directly engage the democratically-elected officials in Karabakh.
For his part, Philippe Lefort, EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus, argued that the debate on changing the format of the Minsk Group misses the point: “it took a long time to finalixe the format, and changing it would be dangerous in itself,” he said. There is no alternative plan, no better format and no more logical or rational solution than the existing Madrid Principles, said Lefort, stressing instead the importance of inducing the players “to take the risk of peace.”
Stressing that he was expressing his own views and not those of the French government, Bernard Fassier, the former French Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, offered the EU three pieces of advice: Try to develop a fresh impulse for promoting democracy in both countries; more effectively link EU assistance and programs in both countries to the condition of both governments ending their belligerent rhetoric and propaganda; the EU could pressure Azerbaijan and Armenia to adopt more realistic military budgets, and urge them to develop the poorer areas of their countries instead.
Herman Herpelinck, Group Secretary General of the Belgian Senate, argued that the conflict needs to be transformed over the long term – and that only collaboration, politics and diplomacy can improve security. He warned that often the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is described as pre-war rather than post-war, and stressed the need to adhere to the Madrid Principles. “The EU is engaged in preventing the conflict from spiraling out of control,” he said.