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28 September 2010 [09:57] - Today.Az
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How valuable is Azerbaijan to the U.S.? Is it valuable at all? As a matter of fact it is. One of our regular readers, compiled an interesting analysis on the value of Azerbaijan to the United States. The article touches a few aspects to make it easier understanding the point. Check it out below.
The Caucasus region is a land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It also connects Southern Russia with Northern Iran. So the Caucasus is the point where the primary players: Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States meet and compete over influence. The secondary players involve the local countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The indispensable strategic position of Azerbaijan makes the country unique. It’s located between Russia and Iran and there is a lot of trade going between the two. This makes Azerbaijan a valuable transit country but also a buffer zone for the two. Russia and Iran are both regional competitors of the United States. The Azerbaijani geographical position alone makes the country very attractive, and no other country can offer the United States a stronghold that can play a double role.
The Republic of Azerbaijan accounts for 80% of the economy in the Caucasus and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Caucasian Machine’. Azerbaijan is a very resource rich country. What makes it particular interesting for the United States is the abundance of Azerbaijani oil and natural gas resources; the country has an energy industry dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. The influence of Azerbaijan on neighboring Georgia is extensive. George Friedman, CEO of STRATFOR intelligence said that a ‘Georgian strategy requires a strong rear base, which Azerbaijan provides, not only strategically but also as a source if capital of Georgia.’ This strong economic foundation makes Azerbaijan a strong and reliable potential ally for the United States.
Alternative energy route
Azerbaijan and neighboring Georgia together are a land bridge between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Both these countries have similar interests and therefore they have very close relations. Relations are so close that in the words of Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, ‘Georgia and Azerbaijan are already a confederation.’ The U.S. and European backed energy lines, bringing Caspian energy resources to the European markets, go through Azerbaijan and Georgia. By doing this they bypass Russia and Iran, and provide an alternative route for Europe. Azerbaijan is also a key hub for delivering Central Asia’s energy supplies to Europe. This makes Azerbaijan a key player in Europe’s energy security politics. And this means that a NATO oriented Georgia would be obsolete without Azerbaijan.
Logistical facilities, such as railroads, ports and airspace, in Azerbaijan have been made available to the United States and it’s NATO allies. Thousands of flights into and out of Afghanistan have passed over Azerbaijani territory. In 2009 alone, about 100,000 U.S. military personnel transported through Azerbaijan. It would have been impossible to deploy an estimated 30,000 troops into Afghanistan without Azerbaijan. About one-quarter of NATO’s non-lethal supplies for Afghanistan, such as food, water and fuel, go through Azerbaijan. This makes the United States heavily reliant on Azerbaijan. So when Azerbaijani officials complained that they were feeling a bit taken for granted by the Obama administration, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates quickly visited Baku, to reassure Azerbaijan. It shows that Azerbaijan, as part of the Northern Distribution Network, is crucial to the Afghanistan-plan.
Ever since the Obama administration, the United States has taken an unbalanced approach to the Caucasus. It’s the only country in the world that sends financial aid to the Nagorno Karabakh separatist movement. This all while Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act bans any kind of direct United States aid to Azerbaijan, making Azerbaijan the only exception to the countries of the former Soviet Union. Another example is that the United States openly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring Georgia, but they haven’t shown the same support to Azerbaijan. Some of the U.S. decisions in South Caucasus don’t make sense and this is what worries Azerbaijan. If the United States is interested in reaching peace in the Caucasus, its necessary to forge close ties with Azerbaijan.
by Shirvan Neftchi
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