Mar 24, 2006

Abkhazia: Deeper EU Engagement in South Caucasus Conflicts

The future of the South Caucasus hinges on the sound resolution of its ethnic conflicts, said the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia on a recent visit to Yerevan

The future of the South Caucasus hinges on the sound resolution of its ethnic conflicts, said the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia on a recent visit to Yerevan.

"The countries will lead a peaceful lifestyle and they will define their place in the world without any pressure," said Daniel Freed, according to Regnum.

But some analysts are less optimistic. It is impossible to resolve the conflicts in the near future, they say, though the will to do so should intensify.

Russia has long been the main "peacekeeper" in the South Caucasus. But with little progress in the past 12 years of negotiations, hopes for a brighter future have thinned since the 1990s.

Even the West is troubled by the conflicts in the South Caucasus, perceiving them as a potential threat to regional security and taking a more active role in their settlement. But the European Union has been more cautious than the Americans.

In a recent report on "Conflict Resolution in the South Caucasus: The EU's Role," the International Crisis Group (ICG) called for greater involvement on the part of the European Union, which has an interest in South Caucasus security, it argues. For an outbreak of war on the periphery of Europe could spread to involve its core, reports Regnum.

According to Director Sabine Freizer of the ICG Caucasus Program, Brussels became involved in the South Caucasus conflicts only recently. The UN is actively engaged in Abkhazia and the OSCE in South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Union can do more: not only can it serve as a mediator, but it can encourage cooperation among the parties by offering deeper integration into its structures.

"The European Union tries to define its role in new neighborhood where there is neither peace nor war," says Director Nicholas Whyte of the ICG Europe Program. If the EU can't develop a strategy for South Caucasus security, argues Director Whyte, then it will lose regional credibility. Worse still is the possibility of a war breaking out for which the EU had no effective response.

Why should the EU grow more active in the South Caucasus? For starters, to ward off the impending threat of conflict. But also, as several European analysts note, to promote democracy and lasting political stability.

The EU has other interests in the South Caucasus: access to Caspian oil and natural gas, reliable communication between Europe and Asia, and the suppression of drug trafficking, human trafficking and environmental protection.

While Georgia often tries to distance itself from its South Caucasus neighbors in its case for joining the EU, European analysts cast doubt on the accession of any South Caucasus states. Nonetheless, the EU must recalibrate its approach. It must embrace the action plan of the European Neighborhood Policy and set out to resolve the South Caucasus conflicts.

EU strategy should aim to promote a united and strong South Caucasus. This could lay the groundwork for the peaceful resolution of South Caucasus conflicts.

While South Caucasus states remain disunited, and local analysts rule out any future federation, the EU could use the "Stability Pact for the Caucasus" as the basis of its conflict resolution policy.

Regional cooperation grows more urgent with time - the South Caucasus cannot escape this.


Source: The Messenger