Borders in the South Caucasus

Download Borders in the South Caucasus

Post on 16-Mar-2017

216 views

Category:

Documents

2 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

  • This article was downloaded by: [Simon Fraser University]On: 13 November 2014, At: 23:55Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Defense & Security AnalysisPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscriptioninformation:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdan20

    Borders in the South CaucasusShannon O'Lear aa Department of Geography and Environmental Studies Program , 213 LindleyHall, 1475 Jayhawk Blvd, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 66045-7613, USAPublished online: 16 Nov 2011.

    To cite this article: Shannon O'Lear (2011) Borders in the South Caucasus, Defense & Security Analysis, 27:3,267-276, DOI: 10.1080/14751798.2011.604486

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2011.604486

    PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

    Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content)contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensorsmake no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitabilityfor any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinionsand views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy ofthe Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings,demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arisingdirectly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

    This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distributionin any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

    http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdan20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/14751798.2011.604486http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2011.604486http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • INTRODUCTION

    A generation ago, geographical studies of borders focused predominantly on theredrawing and shifting of state territorial borders, especially those resulting from theFirst and SecondWorldWars.The field of border studies has advanced significantlyto allow an understanding of the importance of symbolic qualities of borderland areasand ways in which political, economic, cultural, and spatial factors contribute either tostability or tension in border areas.Taking a critical, investigative approach, it is nowaccepted that borders have simultaneous meanings at multiple spatial scales.

    The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it provides an overview to key ideas fromgeographic literature on borders.A selection of these ideas is then applied in an analysisof border issues in the South Caucasus. If we are interested in assessing security issuesin this region, it is important to understand how maintaining, challenging, or changingborders are spatial means of communicating power.

    The South Caucasus region is generally understood to be complex; yet it is oftencharacterized by blanket descriptors (e.g., Islamic influence, conflict-prone, oilrich etc.,) that do not elucidate or contribute to an informed appreciation of howvarious features influence local, regional and even international processes in this region.Looking at the nature, role, and meanings of borders in this region will serve to advancean understanding of current events in the South Caucasus as well as border processesmore generally.

    The cases considered in this article are: theAugust 2008 conflict between Russia andGeorgia over South Ossetia and Abhazia; the recent warming situation betweenArmenia and Turkey over their closed border; and the so called frozen territorialconflict of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. These border issues are examined toadvance an understanding of geopolitical dimensions and multiple spatial scalesinvolved and overlapping forms of power that come into play in each case.

    Defense & Security AnalysisVol. 27, No. 3, pp. 267276, September 2011

    Critical Comment

    Borders in the South Caucasus

    Shannon OLear1

    Department of Geography and Environmental Studies Program, 213 Lindley Hall, 1475 JayhawkBlvd, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045-7613, USA

    ISSN 1475-1798 print; 1475-1801 online/11/030267-10 2010Taylor & Francis 267DOI: 10.1080/14751798.2011.604486

    27.3 Master.qxp:D&SA 7/8/11 10:23 Page 267D

    ownl

    oade

    d by

    [Si

    mon

    Fra

    ser

    Uni

    vers

    ity]

    at 2

    3:55

    13

    Nov

    embe

    r 20

    14

  • GEOGRAPHIC BORDER STUDIES

    Border Studies is a surging sub-field in political geography.2 In the past, traditionalborder studies focused on the measurement, demarcation and delineation of borders.Classification schemes were a common outcome, but most of these were mainlydescriptive rather than analytical. Border studies eventually began to look beyond thevisible functions of borders to understand their symbolic qualities.3These studies thenbegan to recognize that borders are not just the territorial limits of a state, but that theyalso have multiple elements.4 Not only do borders have political, economic, andcultural dimensions, but those dimensions are also each shaped by social agency as wellas structures (such as trade policies and flows) that frame and shape individual actions.5

    Researchers made the case that in order to understand state borders, it is valuable toconsider how borders are promoted and perceived both near and more distant fromborderlands themselves.6

    Just as important as the borders themselves is the process of bordering, sinceborders are never finished.7 At a border, power can take visible forms such as watchtowers, fences, and checkpoints; but power underlying a border is not always visible.8

    Asking critical questions such as, Why, how and by whom are borders erected?Whoseinterests are served and whose interests are hurt by the existence of borders?,9 ishelpful when discerning the form of power (for example, economic power of trade flowsor blockades) that a border represents.This approach advances a more nuanced under-standing of the meaning and significance of borders.This approach is essential to gaina better appreciation of security issues in specific border areas.

    Three themes from border studies are of particular interest for this examination ofthe South Caucasus. First, in the case of the RussianGeorgian conflict in August2008, borders are examined as a form of spatialized, or territorialized, power.Theconflict did not result in a new border, but it significantly altered the meaning of SouthOssetian andAbhazian borders.This changed meaning carries significant implicationsfor Georgia, Abhazia, and South Ossetia, for the entire South Caucasus region, andalso for Russias relations with the US and Europe. Second, there is the idea thatborders are not only at the border.10 Recent relations between Armenia andTurkeyover their closed border are examined to illustrate how multiple spatial scales are impli-cated in border relations beyond the actual demarcated border.The third idea exploredin this article is that borders reflect a process of creating national identity.This idea isexamined in the specific case of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict betweenArmenia andAzerbaijan.

    BORDERS AS POWER: THE GEORGIANRUSSIANCONFLICT

    On 7 August 2008, the opening day of the Olympic games in Beijing, GeorgianPresident Mikhail Saakashvili ordered a military offensive to secure the break-awayregion of South Osettia.A five-day conflict between the Georgian military and Russian,Ossetian, and Abhazian forces (which mobilized troops to drive Georgian troops out ofthe upper Kodori Valley) ensued.11 By the time a ceasefire agreement was made on

    268 SHANNON OLEAR

    27.3 Master.qxp:D&SA 7/8/11 10:23 Page 268D

    ownl

    oade

    d by

    [Si

    mon

    Fra

    ser

    Uni

    vers

    ity]

    at 2

    3:55

    13

    Nov

    embe

    r 20

    14

  • 13 August, an uncertain number of civilians were killed, much of the Georgian militarywas decimated, and Russia claimed victory. On 26 August, Russian PresidentMedvedev exercised his authority as leader of a sovereign country and officially recog-nized South Ossetia and Abhazia as independent states. Only Nicaragua and Hamasjoined in this recognition.

    One assessment of the conflict is that Georgias move on Tskhinvali was a majorblunder, partly blamed on the lack of appropriate intelligence gathering by Georgiaregarding Russias military strength and capacity.12 Georgias military strategy duringthe conflict has been criticized for being flawed on several points.13 First, Georgia didnot recognize the vulnerability and significance of the Roki Tunnel connecting Southand North Ossetia across the Russian border. Second, Georgia failed to close this landroute providing Russia with a strategic overland supply route.Third, though Georgiasoutdated and unprepared Air Force put up a strong resistance to the Russian aircampaign, it was overwhelmed by Russian ground forces that allowed Russia toestablish air dominance. Naval engagement was minimal since Georgias naval forcehad been neglected and was only minimally prepared for defense. Russia also engagedin cyberwarfare which temporarily disabled the Georgian governments domains by aDenial of Service until Georgia had them hosted elsewhere.14

    Overall, Georgia was unrealistic about its own military capacity. Although its forcesmight have held up in a localized conflict in South Ossetia,Georgia underestimated thestrength and scope of Russias response. Georgias inadequacies and overconfidencelikely predetermined the outcome even before the conflict started. It should also benoted, however, that Russias alleged success in the conflict is relative. Russia hadsimilar inadequacies in its equipment, but its troops outnumbered Georgian troopsthree to one.15 The outcome of the conflict does not necessarily indicate that theRussian Army had been successful in its efforts to professionalize.

    Other assessments of the conflict start well before Georgias move on Tskhinvali.Russia has not been comfortable with the closer ties that Georgia has made with theWest.Georgia had already emerged as a critical energy conduit to Europe.Western, andin particular US, support of the BakuTbilisiCeyhan oil export pipeline from theCaspian Sea basin, has eliminated a Russian monopoly onWestward-moving petroleumsupplies. Georgia has supported US-led military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan andincreased the number of its troops serving in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.16

    Furthermore, Georgias efforts at democratic reform, as well as its good relationswith neighboringAzerbaijan,Armenia, andTurkey, had made Georgia a key to regionalstability.17 Georgia did not join the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States(CIS), but Russia has still had considerable power and military influence in Georgiathrough weapons supply, both to the Georgian Army and to militias and separatists.Indeed, . . . the strategy of peacekeeping in the post-Soviet space became a neo-Byzantine version of piece-keeping,18 in which Russia kept a close eye on Georgiasince it became an independent state.

    International recognition of Kosovo, strongly discouraged by Russia in support of itsally, Serbia, also served to isolate Russia:

    BORDERS IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS 269

    27.3 Master.qxp:D&SA 7/8/11 10:23 Page 269D

    ownl

    oade

    d by

    [Si

    mon

    Fra

    ser

    Uni

    vers

    ity]

    at 2

    3:55

    13

    Nov

    embe

    r 20

    14

  • The big picture is that after Kosovo, Russia had decided to go to war in order toteach theWest a lesson and to stall Georgias westward movement, particularly, itsapproach to NATO membership.19

    South Ossetia and Abhazia were, by these assessments, mere pretexts for armedconflict. Russia was interested in punishing Georgia for moving too close to NATO andtheWest and punishing NATO and theWest for their encouragement.20 Russia had beenpreparing for armed conflict with Georgia for over a decade and aimed to undermineand weaken the Georgian state. Indeed, by supplying South Ossetia with militaryequipment, Russia had chosen a military solution.21 Arming South Ossetia was just oneindication of this preparation.There were many others. Russia had been attempting todestabilize Georgia or at least incite public dissent by imposing a visa regime onGeorgian nationals wanting to work in Russia and remit funds back to Georgia. Russiabanned key Georgian exports, such as wine and mineral water (allegedly for qualitystandards reasons), interrupted gas supplies, ended postal, telecommunication, anddirect transportation links across the RussianGeorgian border, and granted Russiancitizenship to South Ossetians.22

    This last initiative allowed Russia to claim that its military actions were taken in theinterest of protecting its own citizens. Russia opened consulates in Abhazia and SouthOssetia and placed Russianpeacekeepers inrebellious provinces.23 Several journal-ists from Moscow were placed in Tskhinvali prior to the conflict and were,unsurprisingly, better placed to control how events were presented and portrayed in themedia.24 Furthermore, railway workers were sent to upgrade a railroad link in Abhazia,supposedly as a humanitarian gesture towards the isolated region. That upgradedrailroad then allowed Russia to transport tanks and other equipment rapidly to the frontof the conflict.25 Russia had held military exercises in North Ossetia in July 2008 andthen kept troops there when the exercises were completed.26 Each of these examplesillustrates different aspects of power that Russia put into play to execute a well-orches-trated plan designed to punish Georgia and, indirectly, theWest.

    Some analysts have argued that Russia prepared for and provoked conflict withGeorgia because Russia was in the process of renewing its self-image as an Empire27 andwas accommodating neo-imperial cravings28 in its zone of privileged interests.29Yetit is not Imperialism that Russia seeks. Nor can Russias relationships be convenientlyframed within a familiar Cold War binary. They are more complicated than that.30

    Instead, Russias intention is to reestablish hegemonic power in the region, both byorchestrating economic ties among its former Republics and through a demonstrationof military might.31

    Russias message was aimed not just at Georgia but to the South Caucasus moregenerally: Russias words and deeds made it clear from the outset that . . . [the war]embraced all of the South Caucasus.32 Existing conflict-prevention structures (forexample, NATO, EU, OSCE) showed no will to act during the conflict,33 and Europesdependence on Russian-controlled oil and gas supplies further discouraged anyreaction.This show of international reluctance encouraged Russia. E...