Vol. 4, No. 11 (June 01, 2011)

Azerbaijan joins the Non-Aligned movement

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

At the 16th ministerial of the Non-Aligned Movement in Bali, Azerbaijan formally joined that group, a step that many commentators have viewed as the latest manifestation of the balanced foreign policy that President Ilham Aliyev has pursued since coming to office but one that others see as reflecting a new direction in Baku’s foreign policy, one driven both by criticism from the West over the Azerbaijan government’s treatment of its opponents and a desire by Baku to wean Moscow away from Armenia and thereby open the way to a settlement of the longstanding Karabakh conflict.

In his speech to the Bali meeting, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov made two remarks that help to explain why this latest move by Azerbaijan is consistent with its overarching goals.  On the one hand, the minister said that “Azerbaijan feels responsible for promoting mutual respect and mutual understanding through dialogue between religions and cultures” and thus “we must find new paths and means for the realization of a more effective Movement which will be in a position to react to the rapidly changing international climate.”  And on the other, the foreign minister said, Azerbaijan’s membership in Non-Aligned Movement will give Azerbaijan “an additional platform” for promoting the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. [1] 

The Azerbaijani government has been angered by Western criticism of its response to demonstrations, not only because the West has been pressuring Baku for greater access to its oil and gas supplies and for active support against Iran but also because it appears to many in the Azerbaijani capital that the West’s criticism of Baku’s actions is an extension of its condemnation of Middle Eastern governments and because the West has been unable to deliver a settlement of the Karabakh conflict.  Given the centrality of the latter in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy thinking, a centrality highlighted by Foreign Minister Mammadyarov’s statement in Bali, Baku has clearly decided to send a message to the West that it is not nearly as much in that region’s corner as Azerbaijan had suggested earlier and as many in the West had continued to assume.

Given that, some might have expected Azerbaijan to shift its orientation more toward Moscow.  Such observers might in fact cite a variety of recent statements by senior Azerbaijani officials that Moscow and President Dmitry Medvedev are now playing the predominant role in Karabakh peacemaking.  Polad Bulbuloglu, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Moscow, for example, said recently that “a special role in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict belongs to Russia and to [its] President Dmitry Medvedev.” [2] But Moscow’s continued if not unqualified support for Armenia likely rules out such a shift for Baku as does the calculation that a move in that direction might truly prove irreversible.

Consequently, Baku has chosen to join the non-aligned movement now, a step that does three things for Azerbaijan.  First, it allows Azerbaijan to retain its freedom of action and even gives it a new place to press its position on Karabakh.  Second, it offers a new model for the foreign policies of South Caucasus countries, perhaps signaling that they can maintain themselves in between Russia and the West rather than choosing one or the other, and thus promotes the notion of Azerbaijan as a bellwether of the region.  And third, it puts pressure on Moscow to shift away from Armenia and on the West to push for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

To the extent this analysis is correct, it has already won Azerbaijan its first victory: the joint declaration of the presidents of the three co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group at Deauville, a declaration that as Ambassador Bulbuloglu noted is extremely important because “for the first time is established a definite time for results in the talks about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem,” an apparent reflection of conclusions in both Moscow and the West that the Karabakh conflict must be solved and solved now—even if that means Moscow must shift away from its traditional partner Armenia and even if it also means that the West must give up its notion that the South Caucasus or at least the most important country there has no choice but to move into the orbit of the West.


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/269888.html (accessed 30 May 2011).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/270233.html (accessed 30 May 2011).