Friday, July 29, 2011

War Clouds Again in the Caucasus, USA Setting Western Eurasia On Fire, While NATO Slips Into Central Asia...

War Clouds Again in the Caucasus, USA Setting Western Eurasia On Fire, While NATO Slips Into Central Asia...

30 07 2011

[The would-be masters of the known universe are betting their asses on their behavior modification capabilities. They are setting more fires than they have firemen.]

Three years after the Russia-Georgia armed conflict, war clouds are again gathering in the Caucasus.

Already deadlocked for years, the peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan hit a brick wall on June 24 in Kazan, when a much-anticipated peace summit broke up without agreement. PresidentDmitry Medvedevhad put his personal authority behind the talks, having personally convened nine previous meetings between the two leaders over the past two years.

Now, there is increasing talk of war — a war that would be presumably started by Azerbaijan in a bid to regain the province of Karabakh and the surrounding districts that were seized by Armenian forces during the war from 1992 to 1994. Armenia argues that the Armenian residents of Karabakh have a right to independence and that it is unrealistic to expect Armenians to live as a minority under Azerbaijan’s rule given the history of animosity between the two sides. Each side cites atrocities against civilians committed by their adversary during a conflict that erupted in 1988.

It has become common to describe the standoff as a clash between two competing principles — “self-determination” for Karabakh versus “territorial integrity” for Azerbaijan. This makes the dispute sound like a technical difference of opinion, one that a few good lawyers could easily resolve.

In reality, there is no difference over moral or legal principles between the two sides. Rather, as in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is a question of “two peoples — one land.” The disagreement is over who owns a specific piece of real estate: Karabakh, a land-locked mountain region having no particular economic or strategic value and with a population of just over 100,000.

Karabakh has come to have deep symbolic significance for both parties. For Azerbaijan, it is a question of erasing the humiliation of military defeat and seeking justice for the 600,000 refugees that fled into the remainder of Azerbaijan as a result of the war. The refugees are roughly equal to the number of Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948, yet they have been virtually ignored by the international community. For Armenia, it is about holding on to territory after a century during which Armenian residents have been progressively driven from their lands. That process culminated in the massacres — or genocide — that occurred during World War I, a tragedy that still overshadows and immeasurably complicates the conflict over Karabakh.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe proposed some basic principles for a peace settlement back in 2007. The core idea is temporary recognition of Karabakh’s self-rule in return for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the other occupied districts. These Madrid Principles fudge the question of sovereignty by allowing for a referendum on self-determination in Karabakh at some point in the future. Armenia is being asked to give up something concrete —occupied territories — in return for something ephemeral — promises about a future referendum.

The main carrot being offered Armenia in return for leaving the occupied districts around Karabakh is the opening of the border with Turkey, which was closed by Ankara in solidarity with Azerbaijan in 1993. The 2008 Russia-Georgia war threatened Armenia’s land transit route through Georgia, leaving them dependent on access from Iran. A concerted international effort to persuade Turkey to open the border narrowly failed in October 2009, when domestic political opposition caused Turkey to retreat from an agreement to open the border that was signed with great fanfare in Zurich.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, has repeatedly stated that independence for Karabakh is non-negotiable, so Armenia’s reticence about moving ahead with the peace process is understandable. Why is Aliyev continuing to negotiate in the face of Armenian intransigence? If Aliyev can convince the international community that Armenia is blocking the Madrid Principles, that could give him some political cover for launching a war. Aliyev claims that time is on Baku’s side, since Armenia’s population is shrinking due to its stagnant economy, while Azerbaijan is booming thanks to its oil wealth. But Aliyev faces re-election in 2013, and keeping the lid on the opposition will be more difficult absent some progress on Karabakh. In addition, starting in 2014, Azerbaijan’s oil production will be past its peak, and revenues will start to fall.

Even some liberals are saying that a short war — a war in which neither side would probably achieve victory — could clear the way for real negotiations. The model is the 1973 Yom Kippur war, which Egyptian President Anwar Sadat claimed as a victory and which opened the door to the Camp David peace talks.

More important, an indecisive war would discredit the hawks on both sides, enabling peacemakers to strike a bargain without facing a coup when they returned home. Azerbaijan’s gross domestic product is five times that of Armenia, and Baku spent $3 billion in 2010 on its military, more than Armenia’s entire budget. But Armenia has taken delivery of sophisticated Russian hardware, including the S-300 air defense system and is home to a Russian military base housing 5,000 troops, whose tenure was extended last year through 2044.

Thus, an attack on Armenia by Azerbaijan could well trigger Russian intervention, just like Russia’s response to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia in 2008. Aliyev has been trying to maintain good relations with Russia in the hope that Moscow will press Armenia to agree to a settlement and will stay on the sidelines in a future conflict.

The main factor preventing a war is that none of the great powers want to see a resumption of hostilities. The West does not want to see a disruption of oil supplies, and for Russia a war would trigger a wave of refugees and possibly increased Western intervention in their Caucasus backyard. But the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 was a reminder that the major powers cannot always control their smaller allies and client states. If war were to break out, Russia would probably back Armenia because it must be seen as standing up for its main ally in the region. The mere threat of Russian intervention serves as a deterrent to Turkey entering the war in support of Azerbaijan. At the same time, however, Azerbaijan is arguably a more valuable ally for Russia than Armenia because of its important strategic location on the Caspian. Winning Azerbaijan away from the United States would be a substantial strategic gain for Moscow.

In any event, given the large and influential Armenian diaspora in the West, Armenia should not be placed indefinitely in the Russia camp. A few years down the road and a color revolution in Yerevan could see a pro-Western government there. Hopefully, cool heads will prevail, and the existing situation of neither war nor peace will stagger on through another hot summer.

Peter Rutland is professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Armenian President Sarksyan’s controversial words sparked harsh criticism from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. In defense of recent remarks made by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan that were considered by Turkish officials an encouragement for young students to fulfill the task of their generation and occupy eastern Turkey, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan rejected the interpretation, saying Sarksyan’s words were “interpreted out of context.” “I believe Turks failed to read the full text, interpreting the president’s words out of context. Serzh Sarksyan’s statement is serious and reasonable,” Kocharyan was quoted as saying in a news report by Armenian news web portal on Wednesday. Claiming that all the attention to the remarks, which he called “hysteria” in his statement, was created by Turkey, Kocharyan suggested that Turkey refuses to make sense of the remarks on eastern Turkey “because the country [Turkey] does not need to do so.”

The argument was initiated when Sarksyan replied to a question from a student whether “Western Armenia,” including Mount Ağrı (Mount Ararat), would ever be united with the rest of Armenia, saying that the success of this task depended on future Armenian generations. “When it was necessary, in the beginning of the 1990s, to defend a part of our fatherland — Karabakh — from the enemy, we did it,” said the Armenian leader in a justification of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue still awaiting resolution, and repeated that “each generation has its responsibilities and they have to be carried out with honor.”

Sarksyan’s words sparked harsh criticism from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who responded harshly during a joint press conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, condemning the remarks. He called them a “historic mistake” that should be corrected. Erdoğan stated that the remarks amount to an invitation to schoolchildren to occupy eastern Turkish lands which Armenia considers their historical homeland. The significance for Armenians of Mount Ağrı stems from a belief that the Armenians first adopted Christianity as an official religion in A.D. 301 in the area surrounding the mountain, which is now located on the eastern Turkish border with Armenia.

On Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a written statement strongly condemning Sarksyan’s remarks, which they interpreted as an “indication that Mr. Sarksyan has no intention of working for peace,” adding that “it is the responsibility of statesmen to prepare their societies, particularly their youth, for a peaceful future instead of provoking them into adopting an ideology of hate.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış also stated on Wednesday that Sarksyan’s remarks show that he does not comprehend the peaceful hand Turkey has extended to his country. “What Sarksyan has done was shoot himself in the foot. We hope the best response to Sarksyan’s delusion is given to him by the Armenian youth,” Bağış told the Anatolia news agency.

Two years ago, Turkey and Armenia were on the verge of signing a twin protocol aimed at normalization between the two countries and establishing diplomatic ties, but the parties failed to agree on preconditions, which ended up blocking the path to normalization.

On a separate note, Armenia has held the upper hand over the thorny Nagorno-Karabakh issue since the country occupied the landlocked region inside Azerbaijani borders in 1994. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region is still awaiting the outcome of an international project for a solution, supervised by the Minsk Group, founded in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States. The efficiency and legitimacy of the Minsk Group has been disputed as Azerbaijan has, at times, pointed to a biased attitude of the chairing countries, which host populous Armenian diasporas, and to the fact that the Minsk Group has failed, for almost two decades, to come up with an effective solution. Armenia is currently in possession of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory.

WASHINGTON — Retired CIA analyst Ruth Washington is one of the lucky ones. She says she could survive for six months if Congress fails to reach a debt deal and her Social Security payments are cut off.

But she and other senior citizens are not optimistic about the near future — they say their loved ones could suffer, and they are angry at lawmakers on Capitol Hill for allowing politics to endanger their livelihoods.

“I’m fine. I live well, not beyond my means. It just frightens me to think what all those people on Social Security are going to do without money. What’s going to happen if they don’t receive a check?” Washington, 83, told AFP.

“If the government delays my pension, I have about six months that I could survive on my own.”

Washington spends some of her days at the Hattie Holmes Senior Wellness Center, a gathering place for retirees in a predominantly black neighborhood in the northwest section of the US capital.

She knits, listens to jazz and talks politics with her friends. These days, the battle of attrition between Democrats and Republicans over a plan to avert a calamitous US debt default is the hottest topic on the agenda.

The world’s top economy has said it will no longer be able to borrow funds to pay its bills on August 2 if a deal is not reached — potentially depriving the 54 million Americans on Social Security of their much-needed payments.

Donald Gaines, an 81-year-old retired US Treasury legal expert, said he too could “survive for quite a while” without his pension payments, but worried about his loved ones.

“I own my house, I own my car, I have comfortable savings,” he said.

But Gaines said his son is in trouble. After banks allowed him to borrow 2.5 times the value of his home, he lost his job, and his house went into foreclosure.

“I’m sure I’m going to have to maintain the position of helping my relatives and my close friends — I couldn’t sit back and watch them,” Gaines said.

The AARP, the country’s main advocacy group for seniors, sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to “address the growing anxiety” among those worried that their benefits will be cut off with little warning.

“Beneficiaries need to know that payments will continue, regardless of the Congressional discussion over an agreement to raise the nation?s debt limit,” the letter said.

“Without Social Security benefits, unprecedented hardship would befall millions of Americans who rely on these earned benefits to pay for life necessities such as food, medications, utilities and shelter.”

Disabled veterans have taken their cause to Facebook, organizing a virtual march on Washington this week to push the government to “honor its moral obligations to those who sacrificed so much in the name of freedom.”

Preston Lee, a 78-year-old former civil servant and accountant, is not alone in voicing frustration at the political deadlock over how to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit and curb the ballooning US budget deficit.

“Most of the people I talk with feel that the politicians are really not doing their job,” Lee said. “Do I trust them? I don’t have the choice but to trust them.”

Washington said she was “angry” and accused Republicans of having ulterior motives.

“I don’t think it’s about the debt ceiling — it’s about Obama. They want him to fail and this is a way of getting him to fail. They could have solved this problem a long time ago,” she said.

Gaines agreed, calling the situation “outrageous and completely unnecessary.”

“It’s strictly politics. The Republicans do not want to see Obama succeed in anything. Their whole program is designed to keep him from going a second term,” he said.

“One sentence and a bill could solve the whole problem, but they go so far as to put the whole country in jeopardy just to keep the president from being re-elected.”

ASPEN, Colorado - Former U.S. intelligence chief Dennis Blair said Friday that the U.S. should stop its drone campaign in Pakistan, and reconsider the $80 billion a year it spends to fight terrorism.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Blair said the CIA’s unmanned aircraft operation aimed at al-Qaida is backfiring by damaging the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The former director of national intelligence suggests giving Pakistan more say in what gets hit by drone strikes and when, despite Pakistan’s record of tipping off militants when it gets advance word of U.S. action.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA, has lauded the drone campaign as a key tool to take out al-Qaida and other militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Strikes, which have more than tripled year-to-year under the Obama administration, are done with tacit Pakistani assent, though publicly, Pakistani officials decry the hits. That tension has grown worse after the U.S. unilateral raid into Pakistan May 2 to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and an earlier incident in January, when a CIA contractor was held for killing two Pakistani men in Lahore that he said were trying to rob him.

Blair said the continuing drone strikes are more of a nuisance than a real threat to al-Qaida, and that only a ground campaign by Pakistan would truly threaten it and other militant organizations. The U.S. had been training forces for that purpose until the program was canceled by Pakistan in retaliation for the bin Laden raid.

Al Qaida “can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign,” he said. “I just see us with that strategy walking out on a thinner and thinner ledge and if even we get to the far end of it, we are not going to lower the fundamental threat to the U.S. any lower than we have it now.”