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Korybko: The US mustn`t force Azerbaijan into this

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12 Punto 14 Punto 16 Punto 18 Punto presents the article "The US mustn't force Azerbaijan into making zero-sum foreign policy choices." by American Andrew Korybko.

The National Interest, an influential American foreign policy magazine, published a controversial feature piece by Michael Rubin late last week. Mr Rubin is a prestigious expert who nowadays works as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank. His official biography on that site notes that he used to work with the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and even the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His article was about why “Congress Should Stop Giving Azerbaijan A Free Pass On Iran And Russia” and very strongly argued against further American support of this geostrategic South Caucasus state.

According to Mr Rubin, Azerbaijan's recently strengthened ties with its Russian and Iranian neighbours make it an unreliable American partner. He cites such examples as the country's improved energy, diplomatic, commercial, military, and cultural ties with both of them to make his case. He provocatively concluded by stating that “Azerbaijan has become a strategic ally of both Iran and Russia, maintaining its pro-Western façade only to avoid accountability in Washington for its strategic turn. Simply put, to arm or support Azerbaijan today is to empower the Kremlin and Khamenei, not to bring security or further American interests in the region.”

With all due respect to him and the very high regard that he's held in the American think tank community, Mr Rubin is completely wrong with his assessment of Azerbaijan. It's true that its relations with Russia and Iran have markedly improved over the past few years, but this hasn't been at the expense of its ties with America. Wrongly regarding Baku's foreign policy as a zero-sum game belies a lack of appreciation for its balancing act, which in turn could influence American strategists to formulate counterproductive policies towards Azerbaijan. Instead of criticizing its balanced ties with all relevant partners, Mr Rubin should praise it for its pragmatism.

It is in America's national interest for its partners to be empowered enough to the point where they can confidently engage with all other countries on an equal basis. Azerbaijan shouldn't be subservient to anyone, whether Russia, Iran, or even America. The first two aren't pressuring Baku to distance itself from Washington because they understand how counterproductive that would be for their own soft power and overall national interests. American experts should keenly understand this pragmatism and not seek to impose a false zero-sum choice upon Azerbaijan since doing so will only lead to unnecessary distrust between them.

If the US was true to its ideals and foreign policy pronouncements, then it would regard Azerbaijan as the epitome of international pragmatism. The South Caucasus state shouldn't be condescendingly considered as a proxy to be exploited by one larger country against another. Instead, it must be appreciated for what it is: a pragmatic international actor with a balanced foreign policy which aspires to partner with anyone who's interested in doing so as long as it isn't aimed against any third party. What Mr Rubin is strongly implying in his article is that Azerbaijan should abandon this foreign policy and submit itself to the US' regional vision instead.

It's the trend of the times that countries are becoming increasingly empowered as a result of their skilful resource management and diplomatic acumen to better balance between the emerging power centres in today's multipolar world order. Azerbaijan represents one such example of this strategy successfully being executed in practice, but so too do its very close Pakistani and Turkish partners. They're also balancing between the world's most powerful countries, the first-mentioned in terms of the US and China while the second is doing this with regard to the US and Russia.

It would be against Azerbaijani, Pakistani, and Turkish interests for their countries to take one side against the other. That would also destabilize their home regions and create more tensions in what many consider to be the current New Cold War. Russia, China, and Iran respect their partners' decisions to remain closely connected with the US, and it's about time that the US reciprocates this respect as well. Mr Rubin would therefore do well to contemplate how counterproductive it would be if Congress followed his advice and pressured Azerbaijan to distance itself from its neighbours since that would then risk destabilizing the entire South Caucasus.

2021.01.26 / 15:13
Andrew Korybko
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