Source: Arab News
A territorial dispute over Nagorny-Karabakh has escalated from small-scale skirmishes into all-out engagement as Armenia and Azerbaijan deploy increasingly lethal offensive capabilities. Despite a fragile cease-fire, there are worrying signs that both sides are ratcheting up for an extended conflict.
Even more, there is a gaping mismatch between the objectives and paths chosen to achieve them. At its core, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a dispute over ragged, mountainous terrain of little strategic value. However, we live in an era when far-off powers wade into disputes in the service of mostly unrelated geopolitical aims. Thus, there is ample reason to worry this conflict in the Caucasus may become a repeat of similar scuffles in Libya, Syria, Yemen or the eastern Mediterranean.
Both sides maintain strong ties with Russia and Turkey, themselves on opposing sides of conflicts in Libya and Syria, via Armenia’s mutual defense pact with Moscow, while a NATO-aligned Ankara is allied with the Azeri. Shifting strategies and deployments of troops and munitions in zones of conflict suggest an expectation by both sides of a protracted conflict. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has relegated conflict de-escalation and resolution to Zoom diplomacy, which still fails to replace shuttle diplomacy’s ability to foster dialogue between warring factions. Should current trends persist, a perfect storm is likely to cascade over the Caucasus in the form of yet another geopolitical standoff in an increasingly conflict-weary world.