Usually I interpret South Caucasus views for the West, using my training as an anthropologist, (ethnographer) so I am grateful for being presented with the challenge to do it the other way round; to use a kind of fieldwork experience among fellow Western colleagues and Western politicians to convey their views instead!
In studies of the Caucasus region, we tend to put the region before our core discipline—History, Social Science—so that regional studies become a series of ‘just so’ stories and analytic excellence becomes akin to good journalism rather than a fresh display of academic versatility.
In my discipline, Social Science, we place deliberate constraints on our work:
1) we only ask questions which will produce verifiable answers.
2) the framework of our questions must be a framework that can be applied in a comparative way ; even if we are not able to compare like with like, there has to be an element of uniformity of enquiry which, of course may be adapted to different cases—the equivalent of musical variations on a theme.
I have always held that for politicians, and often for military personnel (when on rare occasions they are asked their opinion,) Security is a question of perceptions.
Risk analysts perpetually realign hunches with perceived evidence, which itself is often a question of vision rather than fact—at least in many cases. It is important to point out that since we are dealing in the realm of perceptions, it opens the doors to the actors being assessed to manipulate these perceptions, a perpetual problem in International Relations studies.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF SECURITY RISKS
S= f (v+i)
When we refer to Western views of security risks in the South Caucasus, let us confine what we mean by these ‘views of the importance of security issues’ by expressing them in the following way:
Assessments of the importance of security issues ‘S’ are a function of: the number of varieties of risks ‘v’ and the size of their impact ‘i’.
e.g. With issues, say, of homeland security in the USA, leaders can state that security is important or not important, depending on how many different kinds of risks, the number of varieties of risks, there will be (many: airplane hijacks, or bombs, poisoning, sabotage, desecrating graves) and the size of their impact (e.g. on one particular community only or anywhere and everywhere).
e.g. in the South Caucasus, the interest of Western countries in the region’s security , which really entails an assessment of 1) whether it is worth spending resources, money and manpower, and assessing 2) whether interest in security in the region will reflect favourably on these Western countries’ image and prestige---perhaps this interest in security will depend on:
n What are the risks, the catastrophes which could happen? Are these many different ones? Highly variable? Many varieties?
n Where will their impact be? Will they be locally contained, e.g. inside Tskhinvali City in South Ossetia? Or will the impact be felt throughout the region? Or will the impact be felt throughout much of the world (for example if Caspian Oil could not be exported?)
2. WESTERN VIEWS
It’s difficult to say always which we mean by ‘Western views’ of the South Caucasus. We can say ‘American’ (although, for politeness to our Canadian colleagues, we should use another name despite Canada not having expressed much of an interest in the politics of the South Caucasus as yet) , so let us just say the United States of American and the countries of the European Union. But what about Russia’s game here where it tries to squeeze itself into that very Western identity itself?
And Russia is encouraged to do so. Did not Carl Bildt ,former Prime Minister of Sweden write: ’We have the political duty of bringing Russia back to the European fold’. And do not the Russians say ‘Great! We are one of you and now let it be us to tell you about those Southern Caucasian turbulent, undisciplined Semi-Asiatics – we are the best experts!’ And are not many Russian experts on the South Caucasus now housed in the Institutes of Oriental Studies around Russia?
Since Russia holds such an ambiguous position in relation both to Western interests and to its former colonies, despite its cultural links to Europe as a whole, it is best, for the sake of clarity, to exclude it from our definition so we confine ‘Western views’ to those in the USA administrations and the diverse opinions within the European Union.
3. THE REGION
By the “South Caucasus’ of course we mean the three republics of the region.
We happily accept that there is a region, although Tom de Waal states that the Caucasus has to be ‘reinvented’ since all three republics interact with the West as if they were three separate entities and with each other hardly at all, given the lack of transport and coordination between them.  There are other problems to conceive of the South Caucasus region as having some kind of implicit commonality.
· Of course the main issue which disrupts the cohesion of this entity of the South Caucasus is Karabagh. In comparison, Abkhazia is not an issue here as it is not an inter-republic issue. Karabagh is the main thorn in the side of the region and impedes all the prosperity which the region as a whole could deserve.
· I would contend, however, that the North Caucasus cannot be entirely left out of the way we conceive of the region. It is a great mistake to do so. There is more common culture and history (including the history of the conquest by Russia of both South and North Caucasus) than political boundaries dividing the region. This commonality is more important than any other regional shared identity. For example, the peoples of Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus have more in common than Azerbaijan has with Turkey, (despite Armenia, Georgia and Russia all having claimed, whenever it suited them, that the identity of Azerbaijanis are closest to that of Turkey) . Nor does Azerbaijan and Iran’s shared identity bear thinking of, when compared with the North Caucasus. The commonality of North and South Caucasus has to be recognized not only for ethnographic reasons. It is important for strategic analysis. It is important for conflict studies, given the role of Chechnya and the shadow it throws on all others where Russia is remotely involved. Above all, however, the link between North and South Caucasus embodies the aspirations of those peoples when they think of a better world (even if Caucasians express it only when drunk.) So when we talk of Security issues as a whole, or their future, the wider identity of the Caucasus region, which has to include the North with the South, cannot be ignored.
· As an aside, the Black Sea Region, which embraces the South Caucasus, is at present in my view a non-event, except as a fund-raising effort (particularly for nice conferences with excellent décor). Only when it can force its economic identity on the South Caucasus, which is a distant project, will this wider regional identity have significance. Military realignments emerging from a redefinition of the region as the Black Sea Region have not materialised either.
So, for the purposes of this paper, I refer to the South Caucasus Region as the three republics.
4. THE VIEWS
a. It does not need rocket science to demonstrate that there is no cohesive ‘Western’ view on the strategic importance of the South Caucasus. Concerning Europe, in the early 1990’s, idle talk suggested that the British should take Azerbaijan under their wing because of BP oil, France should take Armenia because of its large diaspora there, and Germany should take Georgia because of Shevardnadze’s relationship stemming from his willingness to promote the unification of Germany. But these views were about a century out of date. As in the rest of the world, it is the USA administrations which determine the tone of relationships with the South Caucasus, and Europe is obliged to follow along. This is neither good nor bad but rather inevitable, and regardless of which administration is in power, and it is useless for Strobe Talbott to moan that all the organizations helping post communist states (such as the Caucasus) are really just getting these countries to join the West. They will join the West and they will do it through the U.S.’s say so. The relationship between the West with the South Caucasus is—as has been said before—a relationship which shadows their relationship with Russia.
If we turn to our formula here we can see that:
If S --- the Strategic importance allocated by ‘the West’ to the region --- is a function of its assessment of the varieties of risks V ,there is only one ‘risk’ to assess: will the increasingly chauvinistic Duma eventually push Russia into invading and incorporating the South Caucasus back into Russia or not? In other words, there is only one variation to assess: Russian takeover or no takeover? This is evidence based speculation. Not only the Duma: it is Russian law itself which indicates the possibility—the military doctrine of the Russian Federation allows unilateral foreign intervention when its nationals are at risk, and when its own perceived security is at risk. And some authors such as Russia’s Minister of Defence, Sergei Ivanov, who writes in a sober style ---a pleasure to read, actually—never once, however, mentions any mechanism for scrutiny or accountability for whether there is a ‘threat’ or not which needs a violent reaction. It seems that just some opportunistic declaration would be sufficient, without legal means of challenge or scrutiny by anyone.
Also, regrettably, the Russian authorities’ innocence is even more difficult to sustain, given the extraordinarily patronising attitudes expressed in some of the pages published there, usually without the authors even being aware of their condescension (they are yet to become contrite post colonialists like the British and sometimes the French…) For example, Sergei Karaganov (Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy) writing at the same time as Serguei Ivanov, of course can criticize Russians’ worst irritant—Georgia-- about the amount of aid it receives from abroad which fosters a ‘sponging attitude in society’ (and he is right!) but it is the sneering style in which he writes which is, alas, far from untypical. And even when, trying to be even handed, he turns on Russian policy and upbraids his government for not, for example, giving economic aid itself to Georgia but leaving it to the West, he also reproaches his government for not intervening in Georgia by helping someone friendly to Moscow to come to power!
But say some US administration in the future, which Europe will be unable to counter, declares that it is already stretched elsewhere in the world and has a high budget domestic commitment for social welfare at home, for example, and that Russia can do what it pleases in the South Caucasus, what will be the impact?
The ‘ i’ for ‘Impact’ would be huge. While instability in Iran continues and ambiguity regarding nuclear intentions exist, the temptation for Russia to play ‘god’ with Western concerns, even just taunting it with closer ties to Iran, which would then be its immediate neighbour once again, is not a good thing for the West.
Much more important—and here all my Russian friends agree with me—an overtly aggressive, imperialistic Russia would be an unstable Russia. The even greater importance of the Army, with its as yet uncontrolled corruption would threaten Russian civilians themselves, let alone the West, and the unleashed illusions of grandeur of some politicians would have a lethal impact on global security if they were able to act on them with renewed confidence.
Now that alone, in my view, is probably enough to give legitimacy to the keen strategic interest of Western powers in the South Caucasus, costing several billion dollars so far. For those of us with a deep concern and affection for Russia, given the volatility of its political and military make-up so far, containment in the South Caucasus goes some way to supporting ordinary Russians in developing civil society, open society, against all odds.
b. What about the Strategic interest of the West in the South Caucasus as a function of stability in the greater regions--- the Middle East and (I hate the term ‘Eurasia’) Central Asia including Mongolia and Afghanistan?
Charles King writing about dear Georgia as a ‘Rose Among Thorns’ suggests:
‘To balance Russia’s influence, Georgia’s central government needs outside help, especially from the United States… [because] a stable and democratic Georgia is the linchpin of US policy in the Caucasus, and the Caucasus, in turn, is a critical part of the strategic future of Eurasia and the Greater Middle East’.
Here the ‘Varieties’ of risks are high in number since these would be enmeshed in what the U.S., at present at least, sees as the ramifications of Islamic fundamentalist threats which could easily plague the other regions to which the Caucasus region provides a geographical bridge. It is not the role of this conference nor of my paper to look at the nature of Islamic fundamentalist threats, except to say that we must always be cautious with the rhetoric with which they are portrayed. Like Putin in Russia, the authoritarian leaders of the wider region which include states that are nominally Moslem (e.g. Central Asia) play the Islamic card to shore up the legitimacy of their own domestic actions and so it needs to be carefully examined case by case.
A realistic assessment of the impact of instability in the South Caucasus leading to the wider region’s demise is still much in the realm of the unknown. Perhaps following Confucius, who said that the greatest sign of wisdom is to know when to say ‘I don’t know’, it would be a sober act to put a question mark next to the ‘i’ for the scope and size of ‘impact’.
Another view, however, is that we must also calculate the impact of the risks of trafficking through the region—of weapons and so called terrorists and, above all, of drugs. Russia is woefully unprepared to control any of these efficiently, particularly because the temptations for badly paid and poorly controlled officers themselves to participate in the trafficking are understandably great. So here the West sees it has a strategic interest too.
Unfortunately the question of smuggling is tied into corruption channels of the South Caucasus itself, all three republics, and it has not helped one bit that Western oil companies, for example, missed opportunities to act as conduits for their own countries’ strategic interests through insisting on probity in the dealings of the Azerbaijan government. As someone who was personally involved at the time leading up to the ‘Contract of the century’ I knew how the Azerbaijani government was desperately needful of a prestigious, huge oil contract and I am convinced that even Haidar Aliev’s entourage would have gone along with transparent practices from Day 1… at least more than actually happened.
c. Conflict zones
I guess that about 90% of the literature on the politics, international relations and strategic studies of the South Caucasus are all about conflict, which the writers usually refer to as ‘ethnic conflict’.
This is an unfortunate overestimation, standing in the way of visual clarity. The conflicts of the South Caucasus have provided countless jobs for Western ‘peace industrialists’ as I call them. This is not to belittle the sincerity of some, nor the human tragedy of the conflicts. The local politicians and businessmen have other things on their minds than to make war reparations.
It is annoying, however, to see that the progress achieved by the individuals many of these expensive conflict resolution programs bring together—civilians from Azerbaijan and Armenia, or Ossetia, Abkhazia or Georgia—can have absolutely no impact on the real peace negotiations because they take place where no peace industrialist has access. 
Human misery apart, though, the strategic interests of the West are sometimes focussed on the conflicts of the South Caucasus for other reasons.
Karabagh is the main contender here, because it is said that a renewal of armed conflict there would bring face to face in a war situation nothing less than Russia and NATO themselves!!! Military conflict is thus the one and only variation ‘v’on the risk side here , but the impact, according to this view, would be huge. NATO and RUSSIA ! However, the NATO partner fancied here, of course, is Turkey, and only Turkey.
But if we look at what happened during the actual Karabagh war itself up to the ceasefire, Turkey barely lifted a finger! An old general sent to sit in the president’s palace? A lot of hot air and declarations? A few token, symbolic weapons aptly marked ‘NATO’ found by the Armenians after a skirmish? Both sides—Armenia and Azerbaijan--- were awash with Soviet weapons. None were needed from anywhere else. Azerbaijan had scarcely any international help, and its complete military demise demonstrates that.
And help from Islamic fundamentalists? Even the Afghans whom SheikhMaktiar sent were a few dozen aged or semi-crippled fighters who were totally inadequate, according to the Azerbaijani officers concerned; those Afghans who could found Azerbaijani wives to settle down and cultivate land so as never to need to return to Afghanistan! This incident and countless others have yet to be integrated into Western views of the Karabagh war experience.
d) Economic interest
The importance of oil and the pipeline route has demonstrated the strategic significance of the South Caucasus to the West, but being the best covered issue in studies of the region, I will not dwell on them for the sake of brevity.
For petty trade: At present the majority of the populations of the South Caucasus republics are too impoverished to be of interest to the important Western players in consumer markets. BUT the culture of the Caucasus is overwhelmingly consumerist; given a chance Western businesses will find much joy in direct relationships, rather than working through Turkey by proxy as at present. And nobody need feel left out. This great capacity for consumption would be able to incorporate all regional export interests (Iran and Russia included). But this promising project can only be fulfilled if there is one unified market, not three separate ones; their populations are all too low.
But should incomes rise, it is the Karabagh issue above all which will have to be resolved for serious marketization forces for goods and services to become involved in the region. It is vital that an acceptable solution should be found for Karabagh, that it should cease to provide an impediment, in order to create a single market.
I have mostly mentioned facts that are known already but I feel I am justified:
1) I follow Andre Gide who said ‘Il faut repeter parceque personne n’ecoute’ You must repeat because nobody listens’. This is because the light in which these known facts are presented is so highly contested.
2) I think it is important to try to channel our speculations on security into rigorous thought patterns wherever possible, even if we use the same materials over and over again. Even the simplest formula as presented above is sometimes helpful.
3) Finally, even if it is agreed that through Western eyes, the South Caucasus is seen as an important strategic region, we have to accept that the elements that go to make up that view, and the actions that should follow in consequence, are as elusive as ever. But that is precisely what draws people to studying such a small region in the first place.
1)  A successful example is when some years back young Ronald Suny took a Marxist model of when a people become a nation, and applied it to the history of Georgia. It doesn’t matter if we can quibble with some of its contents, it was a lovely effort—it can be done! In International Relations and Strategic Studies it is more tricky.
 Global Affairs, 2003
 ‘Reinventing the Caucasus’ ,World Policy Journal Vol 19,No1 Spring 2002
 Nov/Dec 2002 Foreign Affairs
 That probably includes Russia itself eventually being absorbed in some way too… Although Yevgeni Primakov (Global Affairs 2003) warned that U.S. unilateralism cannot succeed and it will be forced to engage in more multi-polar positions.
 “Russia’s Geopolitical Priorities and Armed Forces” in Russian journal: Global Affairs, Vol 2 No 1 Jan-March 2004-10-14
 ibid Jan-March 2004
 Foreign Affairs (March/April 2004)
 If any of you have had to deal with the mothers of the ‘disappeared’ in all three republics – it is almost unbearable to think of—then you will know about the full scale of ongoing misery the conflicts have caused and continue to do so.
 As the memoirs presented by the Minsk negotiators at this present conference so clearly demonstrate