Analysis‎ > ‎13.09.2011‎ > ‎


Sergey Minasyan, The Head of the Department of the Political Studies at the Caucasus Institute, Political Scientist, Candidate of Historical Sciences

Foreign-policy relations with the key actors of the global politics constantly demand conceptual reconsideration and adjustment depending on the emerging regional conjuncture and global processes. The relations of Armenia and the US, with all their many-sidedness and deep involvement of the political elite and Diaspora organizations, are not the exclusion. This article is an attempt of a brief conceptual analysis of the main trends and dynamics of the relations between two countries in different areas in order to outline their development.

The relations with the United States are important dimension of the Armenian foreign policy, which has undergone serious transformations for the recent two decades. The relations of two countries eagerly develop particularly in the following directions:

  • Political cooperation (also in the context of the relations of Armenia with Russia, China and Iran);
  • Involvement of the US in the processes of the state formation, reforming and promotion of the processes of democratization in Armenia (including the role of the US in mending contacts between the authorities and oppositional political powers in Armenia).
  • Economics connections (especially taking into consideration the economic and humanitarian aid delivered by the US),
  • Humanitarian contacts (the factor of numerous Armenian Diaspora in the US),
  • Cooperation in the sphere of security and military and political relations (including military and technical support to the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia and participation of the Armenian peacekeepers in the international operations under aegis of the US),
  • Regional cooperation and involvement in the settlement of the conflicts (taking into consideration the mediatory role of the US as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh conflict settlement and considerable contribution of Washington into the process of the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement).

Dynamics of bilateral relations

Back in the late 1980s the US actively supported future leaders of Armenia in their struggle against the USSR authorities. The struggle of the Armenians from Karabakh for separation from the Soviet Azerbaijan also received unconditional support of the United States which considered it as a part of ”the struggle of the Soviet peoples against the communist regime”. The Congress even passed several resolutions supporting the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. In October 1992 the US Congress passed Amendment #907 to “Freedom Support Act” which prohibited the government of the US to deliver military or any other support to Azerbaijan until the later took measures to raising off all the blockades and stop using any offensive actions in regard to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

But in the second half of the 1990s the US adjusted its approaches to the region of the South Caucasus, which was also connected with the growing interest of the US in Azerbaijan after conclusion of the agreements on participation of the western oil companies in the development of the Caspian energy resources. After the terrorist attack on 9/11 the 907 Amendment was suspended within the framework of the war on international terrorism and the US initiated eager military cooperation with Azerbaijan.

However, despite the growing interest of Washington towards energy resources and geographic location of Azerbaijan, the US policy towards Armenia and Azerbaijan still remains asymmetrical. Per head Armenia is currently one of the biggest recipients of direct American support which has constituted about $2 billion for recent two decades. The US annually allot financial means to Nagorno-Karabakh too (till 2011 the Congress has allotted about $10 million) thus being the only state in the world (besides Armenia) which renders direct financial assistance to Karabakh. The US was also the main sponsor of the Armenian-Turkish “football diplomacy” which was called to normalize the relations between Yerevan and Ankara and to help Armenia to overcome partial communication blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey. Besides, being one of the OSCE Minsk group co-chairs, the US is actively involved in the negotiation process on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Very often pro-Armenian policy of Washington in the South Caucasus is explained by the activity of the influential pro-Armenian lobby in the US. This lobby is strong in terms both of its organization and experience as well as by the fact the US citizens of the Armenian decent constitute a considerable percentage of the population of some states and can vote consolidated thus influencing the US policy in our region. This factor will actualize especially taking into consideration upcoming presidential elections in the US in 2012. But predictability of the Armenian foreign policy in the eyes of the US, especially as compared with other regional actors, is also a crucial factor which makes Armenia a convenient and long-term partner for Washington.

Tendency of development

In the near terms the main prospects of development of the relations of Armenia with the US, as it seems, will be connected with the domestic political processes in Armenia, regional problems and settlement of the conflicts, military and political cooperation and programmes of assistance and economic cooperation.

Influence of the US on domestic political processes. The United States will continue influencing the organization of the dialogue between the government and oppositional forces, and first of all with the Armenian National Congress, headed by the first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, by asserting moderate pressure on both the government and opposition. At the same time the American factor will be rather important within the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia in 2012 in order to hold them as open as possible. But under any circumstances there will be no undisguised involvement of the US in the domestic political processes in Armenia, such as “coloured revolutions” in the spirit of the republican administrations of Bush.

By the way, it is already known that the incumbent US ambassador to Armenia Mary Jovanovich who was the ambassador to Kirgizstan before her appointment in Yerevan (also during the well known events and change of the authorities in that Central Asian republic) will soon leave her post. In due time the radical circles in Armenia connected with her name carrying out new “colour revolution”. As it is supposed John Heffern - Deputy Chief of Mission at USNATO, specialist on South-East Asia, China and Japan – will be appointed to the post of the ambassador. This also proves to some extent that Armenia has shifted on the scale of the priorities of the American administration from the category of the countries, which are potential subjects for various “colour revolutions” to the category of states with which the US intends to develop its relations based on the pragmatic coincidence of the balance of the interests.

Armenian-American relations in the regional context. As for the regional policy issues the Armenian-American relations will, at least, preserve current format of mutual cooperation. The role of Armenia in the American regional policy is greatly explained by the pragmatic priorities of Washington in the relations with Russia, Iran and Turkey, i.e. with the countries for which the Armenian factor is rather important. After the drop of the interest towards the South Caucasus by the Obama democrat administration and “reload” of the Russian-American relations in 2009-2010, now it is much easier for Armenia to carry out balanced policy in its relations with Russia and US. The US takes the fact of the Armenian-Russian military and political partnership and the fact of the dislocation of the Russian military base in Armenia rather calmly. The American leadership most probably realize that Armenia can efficiently cooperate with the US in its regional policy, including military and political sphere and security issues, even taking into consideration the presence of the Russian military base on the Armenian territory.

A similar situation is with the approach of the US to the cooperation between Armenia and Iran on different issues. At the same time Washington follows rather attentively and alerted after the development of the Armenian-Iranian relations in the sphere of security in order not to allow transit of the weapons and critical materials through the territory of Armenia to Iran. But the US understands the importance of Iran as the second after Georgia communication and transit partner of Armenia which is under blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan. That is the reason why the development of economic and energy projects between Yerevan and Tehran does not cause serious concern of the US. On this account no serious changes or negative steps in regard to Armenia in the light of the Armenian-Iranian relations is expected in the foreseeable future.

Armenian-American relations and the settlement of the regional conflicts. In the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the US will continue its eager activity within the format of the OSCE Minsk group in a close dialogue with two other co-chairs – Russia and France. There are no special or accelerated initiatives by Washington in the given direction expected in the foreseeable future; all the actions by the US will be directed to maintaining armistice and not allowing restoration of the military actions in the zone of the Karabakh conflict by Azerbaijan. The current situation in the conflict zone meets interests of both US and Russia and France (which also represents in the OSCE MG the EU).

At the same time the US may promote the Armenian-Turkish process which, though being frozen at given moment, has a potential for resuming. No progress can be expected till the parliamentary elections in Turkey in June, but in autumn 2011 possibly some shifts in the Armenian-Turkish dialogue may take place, including with the assistance of Washington.

Cooperation in the sphere of security and military and political relations. Some kind of activization in military and political contacts and cooperation in the sphere of security is expected. After 9/11 the US Congress raised a ban on granting military assistance and cooperation to Armenia and Azerbaijan. After that the US annually allots means to Armenia (on average from $3 to $5 million annually) on military purposes. The means are allotted within the framework of the American IMET (International Military Education and Training) programme.

Those means are mostly spent on programmes of military education (including preparation of the Armenian militaries for the participation in peacemaking operations in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan), creation of the Mine Cleaning Center, language and medical courses and etc. The exclusion is the procurement of the American communication means for using them in the Armed Forces of the RA. In the months to come, i.e. in the autumn 2011, Armenia plans to enlarge its peacekeepers’ contingent in Afghanistan (from 45 to 130 people, with the possibility to increase the number of the Armenian peacekeepers up to 260 people).

Programmes of economic cooperation and financial aid. The programmes of financial and economic support to Armenia by the US will also be continued though this support has been considerably cut off after the domestic political processes in Armenia in March 2008, especially in the line of “Millennium Challenge – Armenia” programme. This programme will last till September 30, 2011 and by that time the investments of the fund into the agriculture of Armenia and irrigation programme will be about $180 million. The programmes of the financial assistance are also implemented within the frameworks of other American programmes as well.

At the same time the incumbent US ambassador stated that the funding (including “Millennium Challenges” programme) will probably be resumed, “if the authorities of Armenia work on the correction of the shortcomings”. Most probably, here they mean the expectations of the US on the arrangement of the parliamentary elections in Armenia in spring 2012 on a decent level. In case of holding successful elections which would receive a good rating of the international structures, funding by the US, most probably, will be increased.

Source: Noravank Foundation, “GLOBUS Energy and Regional Security”, Issue 4, 2011