Vol. 2, No. 24 (December 15, 2009)

Taking geopolitical risks into account in the formation of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy

Azer Khudiyev
Analytic Department
Baku Center of Synergistic Research
First Secretary 
Central Asian Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan

Foreign policy as such represents an extremely complex process.  In this sphere, every term and concept must be used with absolute precision.  From this point of view, in contemporary policy in the use of terms like “national goals” and “national interests,” one must consider all their nuances.  Sometimes these concepts correspond: national interests are understood as national goals and conversely.  But in fact there are extremely precise differences between them.  
The resolution of the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh can be presented as a national goal.  But it would be incorrect to achieve this goal at any price.  Here the demand to observe national interests is an absolute condition.  Since the means and conditions of achieving national goals must be regulated by starting from the standpoint of national interests.  This fact is confirmed by history and experience.  For example, at the present time, under conditions of the existence of geopolitical risks, attention to national interests becomes more important.  The theoretical study and practical application of the possibilities of administration of geopolitical risks in foreign policy in correspondence with national interests are acquiring particular importance. 
The origin of the concept of “risk” is not exactly known.  The first discussions of it occurred in the ancient East.  In the West, this concept is encountered only at the point of the transition from the Middle Ages to Modern Times.  In the 16th century, Giovanni Votero uttered the phrase that remains well know to this day: “Chi non risica, non guadagna” – or “Who does not risk does not gain anything.” 
In the middle of the 20th century, Martin Heidigger stressed that risk is the actualization of possibilities, the result of which were earlier unknown.  All authors of serious scholarly research devoted to risk consider that a definition of risk corresponding to all scientific requirements does not exist.  In addition, the concept of “risk” is widely used both in scholarship and in politics and geopolitics.  When they use this term, diplomats have in mind concrete factors and a relationship to them. 
In every contemporary society there exist recognized spheres of risk.  Thus, this concept can be applied to both a region and to the world as a whole.  Despite the fact that risk appears in the entire world, each society and state must investigate risks related to it, take them into consideration, and use them in politics.  The price of attempting to achieve success in this world full of risk by studying only the experience of others can be even as great as involving the loss of statehood!  That makes it absolutely necessary to consider risks in foreign policy.
The world is rapidly globalizing and intergovernmental relations are becoming so complicated that even the strongest states find themselves unable to completely avoid the risks that arise.  The reasons for that lie in the essence and nature of risk: this factor forms a specific quality of the contemporary world and in a natural way appears everywhere.  Indeed, wherever there are political processes, there are also risks.  And as a result, the most constructive foreign policy will take them into consideration.  In principle, risks are closely connected with the adoption of decisions.  
In connection with foreign policy, two things are especially important.  The first aspect consists of the analysis of decisions taken by a diplomat arising out of the essential features of the goals of foreign policy.  In this aspect, the adoption of decisions depends on the specific nature of the problems.  Here are defined the goals, formed principles adequate to the situation, and proposed a method of assessing diplomatic moves.  And on this basis, it is possible to define the relationship between utility and harm.
The second aspect involves an assessment of how adequate to the goals of the state are the decisions taken by a diplomat on the basis of his learning, worldview, and ability to assess what is taking place.  In this case are defined possible geopolitical risks.  This approach is closely connected with analytic thinking and is applied also in diplomacy.  Analytic thinking is capable of offering formal rules, procedures, and methods which can bring maximum benefit to the subject in various situations. 
Geopolitics is the realization of state policy regarding the geographic position of the country.  This is a very complicated procedure and it immanently (internally) unites in itself a multitude of factors.  Moreover, risks arising in the implementation of this policy include within themselves many factors as well.  These include the risk of foreign aggression against the state, the risk of the collapse of the state as a result of internal forces, the risk of the reduction of the ability of the state to defend its interests in the internal sphere up to the point of loss of sovereignty, political risk and domestic risks as well.
In this way, geopolitical risks have strategic significance and may even have global harm.  Earlier these risks related to fundamental risks, and as a result they were included in the category of force majeure situations.  However, the contemporary level of globalization has made more important the problem of managing these risks.  Among those who may be involved in this administration are international organizations, organs of state power, trans-national corporations, national elites, ethnic groups, diasporas, and political parties, among others.  
Therefore, in the investigation of geopolitical risks, one must consider also ideological, ethno-psychological, inter-ethnic relationships, mental capacities, geo-cultural and other factors.  Foreign policy is the sum of actions taken by the state on the international arena and is realized by the inter-relationships of the state with other states and peoples.  Inter-state relations are regulated on the basis of bilateral and multi-lateral agreements signed in the framework of international law and norms.  From this point of view, it is necessary to consider that foreign policy is closely connected with domestic policy because for contemporary societies, questions of a systemic approach and of the unity of internal and foreign aspects are vitally important.  

The principles noted above in connection with geopolitical risks and the necessity of managing them permit the definition of the anatomy of these risks in the South Caucasus and the formation of a foreign policy corresponding to them.  In the South Caucasus, these risks manifest themselves at three levels: First, the concrete form of the manifestation of global geopolitical risks in a definite region, second, risk conditions by the historical, ethno-political, socio-cultural features and the specific traditions of statehood in the region, and third, risks for the political, geographic, ethno-demographic, socio-cultural, economic and territorial integrity of a specific country as they arise as dangers in its society.

Each of these levels has its specific parameters.  For example, it is possible to identify risks which are conditioned by relations among civilizations in the regional manifestation of global risks, risks which are generated by the competition of military blocs, risks which are created by inter-national terrorist networks and the drug trade, risks which appear as a result of contradictions between interests of  trans-national corporations and the interests of local governments, and risks, the source of which are the energy policies of the superpowers. 

Among the other parameters of risks formed in the South Caucasus region itself, one can identify risks conditioned by the inter-relationships between powers neighboring the region and the local governments, threats for regional integration, dangers created by the aggressive foreign policy for the development of inter-relationships among regional states, risks arising from the interest of outside powers in the territory, and cultural and national-spiritual values of states of the regions, risks determined by the contradictions between energy security and other spheres of security in the South Caucasus and also risks the source of which are frozen conflicts.

As parameters of risks arising inside these states are separatist challenges directed from abroad, risks arising from efforts to artificially create problems around national minorities, risks conditioned by efforts to transform religious questions into political ones, risks arising as a result of regional contacts, risks arising from the impact of separatist regions on other parts of the country, and risks arising from a violation of the demographic balance, among others.

Given this very complexity, it is quite difficult to take into consideration risks in the formulation and conduct of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan.  Diplomacy must consider also the connections between risks appearing at various levels.  And these risks must be evaluated in terms of the hierarchy of goals of the state in each particular case.  For example, at the contemporary historical state in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of priority.  Considering the various geopolitical risks involved in the course of the resolution of this question, their combination into a single structure and the management of them in order to serve the government interests of Azerbaijan require a creative political and diplomatic approach.  Here it would be a mistake to ignore even for a moment a variety of factors which do not have direct relationships to politics.

An example of this complexity is provided by an attempt to consider how and to what degree the financial crisis in Russia plays on the geopolitical dynamics of the South Caucasus or alternatively the impact of financial crises in the West on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  In both cases, these changes require the development of a dynamic model of policy.  From this point of view, the definition of the place of factors of risk in the formation of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan through the prism of the intensification of the social-cultural and economic integration in the region seems to us to offer real possibilities.  However for this, our diplomacy most cope also with the difficult task of dealing with the geopolitical factors which interfere with the resolution of frozen conflicts.  Observations show that precisely on this issue, Azerbaijani diplomacy has recently increased its efforts.  

One should recognize that after the August events of last year, serious changes have taken place in the geopolitical picture of the South Caucasus.  Here, the factors of risk have significantly intensified.  Now, in diplomatic activities, it is considered that the geopolitical situation in this region has become very febrile and can lead to unexpected events.  The recognition of the factor of unpredictability has become one of the basic aspects of foreign policy.  And in this aspect, we consider that the method of managing geopolitical risks is the most effective, because under contemporary conditions, geopolitical processes are so closely connected with one another that the understanding of them as an integral system together with the use of indefiniteness in state interests is one of the most constructive approaches.

The super powers use this approach at a global level, and regional states must use it in correspondence with their level as well.  It is possible that the systemic management of indefiniteness as part of the pursuit of a specific goal is a new direction in diplomacy.  But this requires that careful steps be taken in order to make the country’s foreign policy more successful.  In undefined situations, arising at the regional level, one must conduct a balanced foreign policy in order to guarantee our state interests.

Thus, the formation of a successful foreign policy under conditions of the presence of hierarchical geopolitical risks requires the application of new scientific approaches to policy formation and implementation.  In this, the basic principle is not the suppression of risks but their management.  And the management of risks must be carried out in correspondence with the priorities of foreign policy in a specific time and place.  That is, the management of risks from the beginning must serve concrete goals, or in other words, at each particular stage, the tactic of managing risks must be able to change, remembering that in all cases, the support of state interests as the basic goal must form the essence of diplomatic activity.