Another War Is Brewing, but Will the World Take Action? | Opinion

It has been a week of sleepless nights in Armenia, but the renewed violence in the Caucasus should concern people all over the globe as well. Airstrikes by Azerbaijan have hit deep into Armenian soil, killing scores of people in territory the world does not even realize is under fire. Here, schools have been shuttered and lives upended as part of what is clearly a test by a dictator in Baku of the world's resolve.

It was an unanticipated twist: less than two weeks earlier, Armenia and Azerbaijan were at the negotiating table, as part of a series of talks that provided a thin but real hope of peace between the two countries. A war between them in 2020 over the long-disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh left Azerbaijan the clear winner.

But since then, Azerbaijan's demands have grown and it is pressing for what it wants through military power. As Laurence Broers of Chatham House put it, "Baku appears to be mounting major military operations to enforce its position." Its demands now go far beyond the boundaries of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan now wants pockets of territory in Armenia proper, as well as a transit corridor cutting across the smaller country, controlled by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia has offered the use of its roads but won't cede sovereign territory for unchecked, customs-free passage for the Turkic world.

An Ambulance in Armenia
An ambulance moves near a military hospital where servicemen wounded in night border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan receive treatment, in Yerevan, Armenia, on Sept. 13, 2022. KAREN MINASYAN/AFP via Getty Images

What Azerbaijan wants and how they are trying to get it should be of utmost concern to the West. It creates a surprising and critical test of whether the United States and its partners can keep the peace in the formerly Soviet region. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a stand, issuing a clear call to Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to stop the hostilities and cease strikes on Armenian territory. France vowed to take the case to the U.N. Security Council. But the strikes into Armenia continue.

Azerbaijan has a clear military advantage over Armenia. Its oil and gas wealth enable a bigger military that is far better armed. When one side is highly motivated to wage war and able to take what it wants from another country by force, we are living way outside of any rules-based global order. We are in a phase of brutal inter-state bullying, where the stronger party can show fangs and take lives as a regular negotiating tactic. If the Ukraine conflict didn't make that clear, Azerbaijan's strikes on Armenian soil have sealed it.

What are we likely to see next? There are three main scenarios going forward, with unique implications for the global security balance.

  • The first scenario: this week's flare up leads to escalations that rock the region. Azerbaijan continues to press its demands until they are met, severely weakening the Armenian state.
  • The second scenario is that the fighting this week subsides, but serves as a show of force that helps Azerbaijan gain an even greater military edge and corresponding leverage in negotiations.
  • The third, however remote, is tantalizing in its glimmer of hope. The U.S., European Union, and Russia—very much at odds over Ukraine—can find a way to collaborate, as they did in decades past, to bring a peaceful balance to the region.

It is a rare issue on which Russia and the West agree, but this may be one. Let's see if any country blocks France's call for the Security Council to take up this critical issue.

The dynamics will say something important about whether the world can agree on anything in this era of global fracture. It will also make a vital point about whether aggressive autocracies are free to prevail over smaller democracies.

Armenia's democratic transition has been one of the most inspiring among the post-Soviet states. Azerbaijan, in contrast, has had the same family in power since 1993. President Aliyev followed his father into power, installing his wife as vice president. To boost his domestic popularity, he has constantly raised the rhetoric against Armenians, making claims on Armenian territory and issuing a series of postage stamps that portray Azeri exterminators "cleansing" Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. If such things were ever waved off as empty rhetoric, this week's attacks should clarify that they are serious threats.

Peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is something that superpowers should have the muscle to push forward. If they cannot, we will be facing the law of the jungle in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Lara Setrakian is an Armenian-American journalist, digital strategist, and entrepreneur. She is the CEO and executive editor of News Deeply and the founder of APRI, a new think tank in Yerevan.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.