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Balance of Power in South Caucasus and the Probability for Resumption of War in Nagorno Karabakh Armenian News Network / Groong April 11, 2006 By Sergey Minasyan and Grigor Hakobyan BACKGROUND In the weeks that followed the failed Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations in Rambouillet, the Azerbaijani government spared no time or energy to carry out major war propaganda through every media outlet in Azerbaijan. The constant barrage of threats against the republics of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh were rather unprecedented in their consistency and ferocity compared to similar remarks made by the Azerbaijani authorities for the last few years. According to various experts' opinions, the widely anticipated failure of negotiations between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, further radicalization of moods in both countries  and continued drive for self-determination by Mountainous Karabakh has created a strong possibility for the resumption of war in the region. If in the past the Azerbaijani war rhetoric was always considered to be meant for domestic consumption, the subsequent responses from authorities of the Armenian Republic and Karabakh about their preparedness to meet any military challenges to be posed by Azerbaijan against Armenia have prompted us to analyze the balance of power existing in the triangle of `Armenia-Republic of Nagorno Karabakh- Azerbaijan.' ANALYSIS It is known that after signing the ceasefire between the three sides of the conflict in May 1994, all sides carried out significant work to strengthen their armed forces. Azerbaijan has especially stood out in this issue. In the past 10-12 years Azerbaijan has purchased significant quantities of weapons and military equipment, specifically tanks, artillery systems and combat aircrafts. The parameters of armament purchases made by Azerbaijan have reached such a point that Azerbaijan now has 1.5-2 times more tanks and armored vehicles, two times more artillery systems and other equipment that exceed the limits set by the updated 1999 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)  signed by members of the OSCE in Istanbul. According to expert evaluation, the number of tanks alone, not counting armored vehicles, is nearly 500 pieces. Quite significant was the support shown by Turkey in their contributions to strengthen the Azerbaijani army. Such support ranged from training Azerbaijani military personnel to deliveries of military equipment and armaments. Due to help shown by Turkish specialists and instructors, thousands of Azerbaijani officers were trained according to western standards and some have even taken part in special-forces operations carried out by Turkish troops against Kurdish guerrillas in the southeast of Turkey. However in reality, the extent of financial and military-technical support shown by Turkey for Azerbaijan is a lot greater. As was declared by Turkish Minister of Defense Ve«ddi Kenul during his meeting with the Azerbaijani foreign Minister E. Mamedyarov, Turkish military support for Azerbaijan in whole has made over $170 million dollars . Military aid allocated to Azerbaijan by Washington after the events of September 11, 2001 was not only related to technical support allocated to Azerbaijani Defense Ministry but also in the framework of `struggle against international terrorism', which included technical improvements of Azerbaijani interior troops, border troops and custom enforcement units in addition to strengthening the Azerbaijani navy. Furthermore, modernization of Azerbaijani airfields with American financial support in compliance with NATO standards and the construction of two radar stations by Americans, in Khizi and Astare have significantly boosted Azerbaijani military capabilities that could be easily utilized in case of a renewed conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh. Recently, active cooperation in the military-technical field is also observed in Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Besides direct commercial sales of Russian military equipment and armaments to Azerbaijan, Russia has also provided significant technical aid to Azerbaijani forces. For example, according to an agreement reached between the two countries in 2002 regarding the status of the Russian Gabala radar installation, Russia agreed to upgrade the Azerbaijani air defense equipment and air force in addition to training Azerbaijani military personnel and repairing their aging equipment and armaments.  Azerbaijan certainly stands out by the size of its air force compared to that of Armenian forces. The great portion of the Azerbaijani air forces are made up of a large number of soviet helicopters and MiG-25 aircrafts of various prototypes (nearly 30 units) which are meant to be used in aerial combat, as such they are not practical for use against ground troops. However, in the presence of a very small Armenian air force, the use of Azerbaijani MiG-25 and Su-27 (purchased from Kazakhstan a few years ago) interceptors in aerial combat are very limited in scope. But it is worth mentioning the presence of certain quantity of Su-25 and Su-24 bombers within the Azerbaijani air force. These are meant to be used as close air support for advancing ground troops. These types of aircraft have gained a good reputation in various wars of the 20th century and were commonly used by Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war from 1992-1994. The superiority of Azerbaijani air forces in a renewed Conflict with Armenians is downgraded by the superiority of air defenses in the possession of Armenian and Nagorno Karabakhi forces. In fact, Armenians have installed a multi-level air-defense system comprised of long and medium range rocket launchers (S-125, S-75, `Kub') and short range air defense artillery and Human Portable SAM (`Osa', ZSU-23-4, `Igla' and `Strela') that can provide Armenians with an adequate Layer of air defense. Additionally, as the Armenian air defenses are being buffed up by the latest addition of air defense weapons and equipment the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani air forces will be practically neutralized. If we take into consideration the terrain of the region, the only air force units that Azerbaijan will be able to effectively utilize will be Mi-24 attack helicopters, however, their use will not provide Azerbaijan with much superiority over the Armenian ground forces. It is worth mentioning that during the 12 years of the current cease-fire, both sides of the conflict have built multi-level defense lines that are very difficult to overcome without having absolute qualitative and quantitative superiority over the opponent. This is especially true regarding the powerful defense lines throughout the territory of Lower Karabakh currently under the jurisdiction of the authorities of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. To reinforce the defense fortifications in Karabakh, the Armenian side has spent large resources to build very sophisticated defense lines similar to the fortification lines of WW-2, the Line of Maginot and the Line of Mannergeim. Furthermore the current front lines present a short line of contact that allows numerically insignificant Armenian forces to concentrate enough firepower to efficiently defend their positions.  According to military experts, the presence of sufficient numbers of artillery and anti-tank weapons in defense lines allow the Karabakh defense forces to inflict major losses to invading Azerbaijani troops, thus reducing the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani tanks and armored vehicles during the first wave of the attack and furthermore prevent their advancement into the depths of the Nagorno Karabakh territory. Overall, if we analyze the military forces of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh we will find that both of them are superior to Azerbaijani forces in combat readiness, despite the fact that they are numerically smaller. The organizational structure of the Karabakh army allows numerically smaller regiments to maintain mobility and work effectively, especially in conditions of mountainous combat.  Results obtained from numerous military exercises conducted in Karabakh have shown that in case of resumption of the war, volunteer mobilization of all males in the republic would constitute 100%. This allows for the army of Nagorno Karabakh Republic to numerically and qualitatively strengthen its troops within hours with veterans of the Karabakh war who are experienced in combat and very familiar with the terrain. Additional factors working against the resumption of war in Karabakh are the multibillion dollar foreign investments in the exploration and deliveries of Caspian oil and gas to foreign markets, continuing international tensions over the Iranian decision to resume its enrichment of uranium and Armenian missile defenses that are capable of devastating Azerbaijani oil and gas facilities within short period of time. Western and a number of Asian companies have made billions of dollars of investments in Baku-Cheyan and Baku-Erzerum oil and gas pipelines that are currently being built with the intention to carry out Central Asian energy resources to western markets. The construction of trans-Caspian energy pipelines constitutes the core of American interests in the region, aimed at curbing Russian and Iranian influence in the Caucasus and enhancing the sovereignties of the former soviet states.  Additionally, it is hard to imagine that United States and Europe will allow fanatics in Baku to unleash a regional war, thus jeopardizing their efforts to constrain Iranian nuclear ambitions and potentially take measures to prevent Iranian nuclear efforts from reaching a point of no return. The current American administration has repeatedly stated that a nuclear Iran is not an option that they are willing to consider and has promised to spare no efforts to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.  As such, it is hard to imagine how the instability in the South Caucasus may not play out to the benefit of Iran by diverting the international attention from its nuclear ambitions. Finally, in case of resumption of war in Karabakh, Armenia may consider carrying out missile strikes against Azerbaijani oil and gas facilities since they will be considered legitimate military targets. As such, Armenia has enough short range SCUD-B ballistic missiles to devastate any sources of fuel that can be used to power the Azerbaijani war machine. Continuous Armenian investments in rocket-artillery and air defenses enable Armenia to counter any threats of air attack by Azerbaijan and their numeric supremacy in tanks and armored vehicles are rendered useless. Let's also not forget that Armenian membership in CSTO provides the country with various defense privileges, among which an attack against any member country is considered as an act of war against the members of the alliance. Thus Azerbaijan will find itself in war not only against the combined forces of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, but also against the members of CSTO military alliance, if Baku decides to carry out offensive operations not only on the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, but also against the Republic of Armenia in the proximity of north-eastern borders (along the Azerbaijani border with Armenia's Taush and Gegharkunik provinces) or along the border of Armenia-Nakhichevan province. CONCLUSION Despite the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani armed forces in the number of military personnel or large quantities of various armaments in the possession of Azerbaijani forces for the last 10 years, which have continuously exceeded the limits allowed by the CFE Treaty, it is unlikely that the authorities in Baku will be confident enough to resume the war in the region. Even if Azerbaijan generates enough wealth from the sale of its oil, it won't be enough to gain unquestionable superiority over the Armenian troops to successfully carry out a major offensive on the front lines. As we have mentioned before, the main weakness of the Karabakh army is the lack of air force, while the Armenian air force remains numerically insignificant. However, despite such weaknesses, the possession of strong air defenses allows the Karabakh army to neutralize the advantages of the Azerbaijani air force just like they did before, during the 1992-1994 war. At the same time, neither the Armenian nor Karabakhi armies have any intentions of undertaking offensive measures within the duration of the first Azerbaijani offensive, as the current positions allow them to effectively defend themselves with the smallest number of troops. However, it is possible that Karabakh forces may undertake counter-offensive measures after stopping the first wave of Azerbaijani attack and if successful obtain new positions that will threaten important regions in Azerbaijan. Therefore, we are doubtful about the merit of Azerbaijani war threats as the prevailing corruption among the Azerbaijani armed forces and the brutalities of the illegal regime in Baku leave very few reasons for Azerbaijani soldiers to fight and risk their lives for a territory that would never be theirs. SOURCES AND NOTES 1) Noyan Tapan-Armenians Today Mar 14, 2006. 2) British Experts Urge to Reckon with New Reality in Karabakh (http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=15516). 3) Howard G. E. NATO and the Caucasus: The Caspian Axis//NATO After Enlargement: New Challenges, New Missions, New Forces/ Ed. Blank S. J. SSI: Carlisle, 1998, p.174. 4) Military Aid to Turkey is $170 million dollars//RIA `Novosti', 22.07.2005 (in Russian). 5) Korotcheno I. The Status of Gabala Radio Location Station is Determined// Nezavisimoye Voennoe Obozrenie, 22.07.2005, (in Russian). 6) The Military Balance 2005-2006. IISS: London, 2005, p. 108-111. 7) S. Minasyan: Lower Karabakh is needed for the safety of MKR. Superiority of Azerbaijan in armaments is countered by optimal defense positions of the unrecognized republic// Voenno-Promishlini Kuryer, #28 (105), October 12-18 2005. (http://www.vpk-news.ru/article/asp?pr_sign=archive.2005.105.articles.rostrum_02). 8) Giragosian R. Toward A New Concept of Armenian National Security. The World Bank: Washington, DC. January 2005. p-15-16. 9) Arminfo, Yerevan, March 11, 2006. 10) Guardian. `The neo-cons seem desperate to attack'; Jan. 25, 2005. 11) United Press International, USA March 13, 2006. ABOUT THE AUTHORS: SERGEY MINASYAN headed the Yerevan based Caucasus Media Institute (CMI) Caucasus Studies Department. He is a political scientist and holds a Ph.D. in History. His numerous publications focus on regional security and conflicts in the South Caucasus. In 1998, Sergey was awarded an MA at the Department of International Relations, Yerevan State University. In 2002, he defended his Ph.D. thesis on Military History of Armenia at the Institute of History, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Since 2002, he has lectured on the theory of international relations and regional security at various institutes and universities of Armenia. In 2003-2006, he headed the Scientific Research Centre for South Caucasus Security and Integration Studies. He had contracts with a number of Armenian and international research centers. PUBLICATIONS BOOK The Karabakh Conflict: Refuges, Territories, Security. Yerevan, 2005, (in Russian, Armenian and English), http://www.nkr.am; ARTICLES 1. EU - Armenia Cooperation and the New European Neighborhood Policy // Political Reform Process in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Political Elite and Voices of the People. CIPDD - International IDEA, Tbilisi, 2005, http://www.idea.int/europe_cis/reform_05.cfm; 2. Comments on Policy Paper: Division of State Power between Central and Local Levels // Political Reform Process in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Political Elite and Voices of the People. CIPDD - International IDEA, Tbilisi, 2005, http://www.idea.int/europe_cis/reform_05.cfm; 3. The Socioeconomic and Political Situation in Javakhetia // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-3, 2005 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2005-03-eng/16.minprimen.shtml; 4. Military-Technical Aspects of Southern Caucasus Regional Security Problems // Caucasus Review, Centre for Caucasian Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of Russia, Moscow, #-2, 2005 (in Russian); 5. In the Context of Regional Security: Russian-Armenian Military-Political Cooperartion // Vjenno-promishlenniy Kurier, #-20 (87), 08-14.06.2005, (in Russian), http://www.vpk-news.ru/article.asp?pr_sign=archive.2005.87.articles.conception_01; 6. The Georgian Army // Vjenno-promishlenniy Kurier, #-17 (84), 18-24.05.2005, (in Russian), http://www.vpk-news.ru/article.asp?pr_sign=archive.2005.84.articles.cis_02; 7. Javakhk (Javakhetia): Legal Aspects of Protection of Armenian National Minorities? Rights in Georgia in International Level. Political and Socio-economical Situation in the Region in Modern Period // Scientific Research Centre for South Caucasus Security and Integration Studies. Research Paper #-2. Yerevan, 2005; 8. Arms Control in the Southern Caucasus // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-6, 2004 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2004-06-eng/04.minprimen.shtml; 9. Iran: Armed Forces and Security Policy // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-2, 2004 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2004-02-eng/12.minprimen.shtml; 10. Militarization of Southern Caucasus and Development of Regional Military // 21 Dar, #-4, 2004 (in Russian) http://www.noravank.am/uploads/82/02_sergey_minasyan.pdf; 11. Israel-Turkey Strategic Cooperation in the Context of Regional Security Issues // 21 Dar, #-2, 2004 (in Russian), http://www.noravank.am/uploads/80/05_sergey_minasyan.pdf; 12. History and Perspectives of Russian-Iranian Military-Political Cooperation // Review of RA National Academy of Science, #-2, 2004 (in Russian); 13. Israel, Turkey: Military-Political and Military-Technical Cooperation (regional security problems) // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-1, 2004 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2004-01-eng/08.minprimen.shtml; 14. The Turkish-Israeli Military and Political Co-operation and the Issues of Regional Security // Iran and the Caucasus. Vol. VII, Brill, Leiden - Boston. 2003, http://www.brill.nl/m_catalogue_sub6_id10897.htm; 15. Russia - Iran: Military-Political Cooperation and Its Prospects // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-5, 2003 (in Russian and English),http://www.ca-c.org/journal/eng-05-2003/13.minprimen.shtml; 16. Iran's Nuclear Missile Program and Regional Security Problems // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-4, 2003 (in Russian and English),http://www.ca-c.org/journal/eng-04-2003/01.minprimen.shtml; 17. Iran on the Way to the Nuclear Bomb? (Analysis of Tehran?s Nuclear Missile Program) // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-3, 2003 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/eng-03-2003/03.minprimen.shtml; 18. CIS: Building a Collective Security System // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-1, 2003 (in Russian and English), http://www.ca-c.org/journal/eng-01-2003/16.minprimen.shtml; 19. The Contemporary Status of Iran's Nuclear Missile Program and the Russian-Iranian Relations // Iran and the Caucasus. Vol. VI, Brill, Leiden - Boston. 2002, http://www.brill.nl/product.asp?ID=9565; 20. The Role of Armenians in the Iranian Army // Peyman. A Cultural Quarterly Journal, Vol.1, #-.18-19, Tehran, Winter-Spring 2001-2002 (in Persian). GRIGOR HAKOBYAN is an independent political analyst residing in Scottsdale, Arizona and the founder of Caucasus Watch Public Research Initiative. He is an author of more than several dozens articles pertaining to Armenia and the Caucasus Region and a freelance writer for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of John Hopkins University. In 2004 he interned at the US House of Representatives where among other duties he engaged in research of ethnic conflicts and terrorism in Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2005 he interned at the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies where he engaged in an extensive research of international terrorism networks operating in the Caucasus and Central Asia and prepared congressional briefings for the Director of ICTS in regards to terrorist efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Grigor is a former ANCA Fellow and one of the main founders of Usanogh -Periodical of Armenian Students. He is also a former editor of Puma Press of Paradise Valley Community College and the winner of Puma Press `Politico' Award. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from Arizona State University.