Why the United States Shouldn’t Intervene Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

In Eastern Europe, few borders are as heavily disputed as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  These two former Soviet states are fiercely competitive over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, having fought a war over ownership of the territory from 1988 to 1994, and having periodically engaged in skirmishes along the border, even as recent as July 12 of this year.  Nagorno-Karabakh is officially part of Azerbaijan, however, it is populated by ethnic Armenians, with their popular leaders making repeated attempts to break away from the Azerbaijani government with political and military backing from the Armenian government.

These tensions reached a particularly brutal boiling point on September 27, as both nations were accused of attacking each other’s military personnel and endangering civilians, leading to a gruesome exchange between the two and only succeeding in reaching a shaky ceasefire (which both nations are already accusing each other of violating less than a day in) on October 9.

With over 300 estimated casualties and thousands displaced, many have questioned what the United States’ role should be in bringing this conflict to an end.  Being the world’s first true global hegemon, with a significant presence in Eastern Europe via our numerous alliances and scattered military bases, how best should we use our influence to bring peace to the region?  The answer is simple: we shouldn’t.

With a military and economy as large as the United States’, it is no surprise that military intervention has been a recurring theme of American foreign policy.  However, in cases such as these, that strategy has historically had less than amicable results. Aside from posturing American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops around the region to contain Russia’s sphere of influence, the United States has had little direct intervention in Eastern Europe. However, we can look to the neighboring region of the Middle East, for a model of what to expect.  Oftentimes across history we see the United States has levied its vast resources to build up regional allies and help them suppress competition. Almost just as often, this has had disastrous repercussions.  For example, during the Cold War, the United States aided an overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 and funded and trained the Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 to push Soviet proxies out of the region.  The results?  The modern Iranian regime and a spike in religious terrorism in the Middle East, respectively.

Military intervention is a short-term solution to long-term, deeply rooted conflicts. We could intervene in Nagorno-Karabakh — we certainly have the capacity to do so — but whatever side we support, it will not be the first time either of these two nations fought, nor will it have been the first time either side got the better of the other. There can be no decisive victory in battles where culture is a greater priority than strength. If we give Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian leaders of the region will not stop trying to reconnect with Armenia, if anything resorting to more radical tactics in the event that they cannot compete with Azerbaijan’s raw strength. If we give the Armenians the region, Azerbaijan will hold a deep hatred of the United States for separating them from their recognized territory and be pushed closer to rival hegemons such as Russia.

Also necessary to consider are the broader geopolitical implications of American intervention in the conflict. Firstly, consider the possibility that we support Armenia in taking Nagorno-Karabakh. Mere days into the conflict, Turkey voiced its support for Azerbaijan, vowing to aid their longtime ally “on the battlefield or the negotiating table.” They have also been accused by Armenia of sending F-16 Fighting Falcons to Azerbaijan, though the Turkish government vehemently denies this. To side with Armenia would make us diametrically opposed to Turkey, a longstanding member of NATO and indisputably our most powerful and influential ally in Eastern Europe.

Alternatively, consider if we instead aid Azerbaijan. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO), an Eastern European security bloc led by Russia, and they are a clear favorite of Moscow between the two nations. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has shown hesitance to directly intervene, stating “It is deeply regrettable that the hostilities continue, but they are not taking place on Armenian territory.” However, Russia has negotiated on behalf of Armenia, even mediating their unstable truce. And should the United States, Russia’s greatest geopolitical rival since the founding of the Soviet Union, intervene in a conflict between two of their former satellite states, they would inevitably broaden their role in the conflict.

Neither country wants to compete with or be indebted to a powerful nation hailing from the other side of the world. If we force our way into this conflict, we will not break the perpetual cycle of violence, but merely set in motion a new conflict of a different nature later down the road.