The Limits of Multilateralism

The Limits of Multilateralism

by Roy Allison
September 1, 2003

The record today reflects a variety of serious systemic and political constraints on regionalism and multilateralism in this part of the world that are unlikely to be overcome in the medium term.

This paper analyzes structures for multilateral cooperation in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, which have been devised to mitigate and avert threats and potential conflicts, as well as to coordinate security policy, and plan joint defense activities. [1] It shows that the record of almost twelve years of interstate diplomacy in the South Caucasus and Central Asia is not encouraging for the objective of securing an effective and sustainable framework for multilateral conflict prevention or security cooperation in either region, let alone for the eight states concerned together. The difficulties in promoting such cooperation reflect broader obstacles that have hampered the development of the process of regionalism, and the formation of regional structures and institutions, especially those that exclusively involve the states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The paper concludes by outlining the key factors that help to explain the lack of progress in this field.

Multilateral Security and Defense Cooperation in the South Caucasus

As a result of the military standoff between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory of Nagorno–Karabakh, multilateral security arrangements in the South Caucasus have been suggested— with only limited success—to promote regional stability rather than the more ambitious goal of pooling defense and military development. [2] Sporadic proposals were aired in the 1990s. For example, in March 1996 the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented the general idea of a “Peaceful Caucasus,” followed a month later by a joint Georgian–Azerbaijani declaration on “Peace, Stability, and Security in the Caucasian Region.”

In June 1996 at a meeting in Kislovodsk between the presidents of the three Caucasian states and Russia, Moscow presented its own program for peace and security in the Caucasus. This was centered on the geopolitical presence of Russia in the region, and proposed creating intermediary mechanisms for settling conflicts and strengthening cooperation with Turkey and Iran. However, the attractiveness of the proposal to Georgia and Azerbaijan was undermined by its apparent objective of preventing external states, principally the United States, from involvement in the Caucasus.

The more recent “Caucasus Four” concept for regional stability promoted by Russia, appears similarly to have been intended to counteract possible wider forums, in which Western countries and…

[1] This analysis develops previous research conducted under ESRC award R000239137-A, on subregionalism and foreign policy transformation, at Oxford University.

[2] See Arif Yunusov, “The Southern Caucasus: Cooperation or Conflict,” in Renata Dwan, ed., Building Security in Europe’s New Borderlands: Sub-regional Cooperation in the Wider Europe, Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999, pp. 163–170.