Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why no War? The Armenian-Azerbaijan Conflict as an example of the rarity of war



The recent April increase in military violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nargono-Karabakh is an excellent opportunity to show how hard it actually is for an interstate war to happen. While the debate onthe decrease on violence rages on, we must not forget that at its baseline interstate war is a rare phenomenon.

In many ways the Armenian-Azerbaijan case is the perfect example of Stuart Bremer’s dangerous dyads, those pairs of states most likely to fight a war. In a previous post I used the Steps to War schema to gauge the low likelihood of the Russo-TurkishMID in November 2015. We can use the same schema as a way to show how much more likely Armenia and Azerbaijan are to fight a war.

Armenian armed militia's from 1920s Nargono-Karabakh. This conflict goes way back.

First a reminder of the factors that foster or inhibit the likelihood of a MID  escalating to war according to the research in Steps to War.

Effect of Factors on Likelihood of MID escalation to War
Factor
1816-1945
1945-1989
1990-2000
Territorial Dispute
Increase
Increase
Increase
Contiguity
Not Increase
Not Increase
Not Increase
Enduring Rivalry
Increase
Increase
Unclear
Mutual Military Buildups(Arms Races)
Increase
Increase (especially for Territorial Disputes)
Unclear
Common Alliance
No effect
No effect
Slight Increase
Different Alliance
Increase
Decrease
Increase
Prior MIDs
Increase
Increase
Increase


And here was the table with the presence of conflict fostering factors in the Turkish-Russian case. I have taken out the sources column (you can see them in the original post), and now added a new column for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Factor
Presence in Turkish-Russian Case
 Presence in Armenian-Azerbaijan case
Source
Prior MIDs
The last Turkish-Russian MID in the data took place in 2000
The last Armenian-Azeri MID took place in 2002-2010
Enduring Rivalry
10 Prior Russo-Turkish Disputes have taken place in the 1993-2000 period. Not enough for an enduring rivalry.
14 Prior Armenian-Azeri Disputes have taken place in the 1992-2010 period. Not enough for an enduring rivalry.
Strategic Rivalry
No
Yes
Outside Alliances
Yes
Yes
Territorial Dispute-Issue
No (there is a Maritime Issue but those do not tend to be as war-prone as Territorial Disputes-Issues)
No (Armenia does not officially claim Nargono-Karabakh, instead staking the claim by supporting the local Armenian forces)

As we can see more conflict conditions are present in the Armenian-Azeri  case in comparison to the Russian-Turkish one. Additional reasons for worry are a ongoing mutual militarybuildup , partly fed by Russia. They also share a common alliance membership, which in the post-cold war era can increase the likelihood of war. Hardliner attitudes seem to be widely shared by the public at least among Armenians in Nargono-Karabakh , and as the linked blog posts show, both the elites in government for both countries have face domestic challenges.  If we use the Risk Barometer schema by Senese and Vasquez, the Armenian-Azeri case is a high risk dyad with at least four steps to war present.  And yet now war happened? Why is this the case?

I would argue that there are three factors that counter-balance the likelihood of an Azeri-Armenian militarized dispute escalating to war.

1) Regulatory Linkage: Both states are linked to Russia through official treaties. Despite Azeri flirting with Turkey, due to a common enmity to Armenia,  and despite both states establishing some links with NATO, the political elites of both states are very much dependent on Russian support for their continued control of domestic power.  Azerbaijan’s relationship with Turkey has been fractious enough as to make the Azeri elites unwilling to give up on Russia. Armenia, isolated between two hostile regimes, is totally depended on Russian economic and military support for survival.  As a result both states are largely unable to fight a war if Russia is opposed to such a war. Russia as noted by other bloggers prefers to keep this conflict frozen. A full out Armenian-Azeri war would open up space for the intervention of outside powers, not just Turkey, but potentially Iran, the US and even the EU (as France has treaties linking it to both states). President Putin prefers to keep this as a local concern managed by Russia.

2) Economics: Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are rather poor states (Azerbaijan GDP per capita of 7811 USD, and Armenia of 3504 USD). Now poverty is not inhibitor for interstate war. The last clear-cut interstate war between minor powers was between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1999-2001 and both combatants had extremely low GDP per capita (about 181 USD for Ethiopia, and 120 for Eritrea).  However  in the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, this economic performance is the result of a rapid economic growth after 2005. Despite a retraction due to the 2008 World Financial Crises, both states have seen a continuous and rapid growth of their economies (this is also the case with Eritrea and Ethiopia).

The Eritrean and Ethiopian war had taken place in a period of economic decline or little economic growth. As a result the war did not hurt the economy is a  way that would fuel challenges to the dominant regimes. In another name, the two states were so poor that as long as the two regimes could avoid challenges due to losing the war, they would not have to worry of adverse effects on the economy also threatening their rule. Indeed they could even look forward to a phoenix factor effect in which the aftermath of the war would leadto economic development.

This is not the case with Azerbaijan and Armenia today. Both are in a state of ascending economic conditions, and a war would wreck them. Beyond the risks to the domestic power status of the elites in government brought about by the possibility of losing the war, they must also contend with the risk caused by any economic downturn caused by the war. Neither Armenia or Azerbaijan hold a military advantage big enough to permit decision makers to believe that any war would be quick or cheap.  Thus a war holds double risks. Of being overthrown due to defeat, and of being overthrown due to the economic consequences of the war.


As it can be summarized, these two factors by themselves balance the war-fostering factors in this dangerous dyad. It is a powerful reminder of how hard it actually is to get interstate war, even under dangerous conditions, and why it is such a rare phenomenon. 

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