The world is watching a new conflict between two nations that most people could not find on the map. Armenia and Azerbaijan have renewed their hostilities for the first time in a few years as the two Central Asian countries engage in another dispute over the contested border. The U.S. foreign policy establishment, which possesses a horrific record, is already championing some type of intervention. The Trump administration is taking a different approach from its predecessors: standing back and standing by.
Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Primer
Armenia and Azerbaijan belonged to the Soviet Union before its collapse. Since the fall of the communist empire, the nations’ new borders have been a point of contention. Toward the end of Soviet rule in the late 1980s, the autonomous legislature of the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to join Armenia. When the Soviets officially dissolved, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence, but no one has formally recognized it as an independent state. Mostly ethnic Armenians populate it, but the international community recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
Hostilities have been on and off for nearly 30 years. The last incident occurred in 2016, known as the Four-Day War, which killed 200 soldiers from both nations. Two years later, Armenia had the “velvet revolution,” which led to the ousting of leader Serzh Sargsyan. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan took over the reins following massive demonstrations, but he has primarily maintained Sargsyan’s policies and rhetoric. This past spring, the self-declared government in Karabakh held an election, which the leadership in Azerbaijan viewed as a provocation.
Last month, violence flared up again, resulting in ongoing fighting that has killed 100 people. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of launching air and artillery attacks on the disputed territory, but the nation says it was conducting a “counter-offensive in response to military provocation.” Soon after, Armenia declared martial law, while Azerbaijan announced a state of war.
The World Responds
So far, the United States has kept mostly quiet regarding the conflict. President Donald Trump and his administration have refrained from making provocative comments and have chosen not to intervene. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that “outsiders ought to stay out,” adding that the White House is only “urging a ceasefire” and dialogue between the leadership in the two countries. Perhaps the president wants to avoid getting involved in another conflict on the other side of the planet, something he has hesitated to do since moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Foreign policy experts have been perturbed by the Oval Office’s lack of interest on the file. Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, told the London Guardian that the “Americans have withdrawn from this issue” and that Trump might have heard of Azerbaijan only if he had “wanted to build a Trump Tower” there. Olesya Vartanyan, from the International Crisis Group, also told the British newspaper that past U.S. administrations had engaged enough to come up with various proposals.
But that has not stopped the international community from getting involved.
The Canadian government announced that it would suspend arms exports to Turkey over claims that drone-sensor technology is being improperly utilized in the conflict. Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne confirmed that an investigation had been launched, and export permits to Ankara would be stopped.
Ottawa, as well as Great Britain, France, and Russia, have urged both sides to hold negotiations at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to settle their differences and end the dispute. E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has urged “an immediate cessation of hostilities.”
Global foreign exchange markets signaled that they fear Turkey could involve itself in the armed conflict on the side of Azerbaijan. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Armenia as “the biggest threat to peace” in the region. The Turkish lira recently cratered to all-time lows against the U.S. dollar and the euro amid concern that Ankara might participate in the battle. The lira has been decimated by the central bank’s mismanagement of forex reserves. While Erdogan has picked a side in the battle, he has not indicated he would send troops into the conflict.
But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad believes Erdogan is the driving force between Armenian and Azeri forces, adding that militants from Syria are being deployed to the conflict area. Assad told the Russian news agency RIA: “He (Erdogan) … was the main instigator and the initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” adding, “Damascus can confirm this.” Erdogan has denied the allegations.
Iran is reportedly working on a peace plan amid the rising death toll. Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, confirmed to the Associated Press that Tehran has “prepared a plan with a specific framework” to reach a conclusion for Azerbaijan, Armenia, and regional neighbors.
Foreign Policy Establishment
Former Vice President Joe Biden has weighed in on the matter, urging his opponent in November to intervene to help de-escalate the situation. Some blue checkmarks on the Twitterverse have echoed the Democratic nominee’s sentiments. But while Trump has enjoyed success on the foreign policy front, why does Washington continually need to inject itself in foreign nations’ internal affairs? The non-interventionist doctrine states two things: let the nations resolve the dispute or support a regional approach to ending the conflict. America has remained the world’s policeman for the last four years, but the Trump doctrine has emphasized diplomatic engagement, even with brutal and vile leaders. That is more than you can say about most of his predecessors of the last 50 years.
Read more from Andrew Moran.