Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Sixth Report


Memorandum submitted by Jonathan Cohen, Conciliation Resources

  1.  The dominant images of the Caucasus and Central Asia in recent years have been conflict, social and economic disarray and the prospect that the extraction and export of oil might transform the regions prospects. This memorandum will focus on the way in which peace and conflict relate to questions of democratisation and development and how these issues should inform the pursuit of British interest in the regions concerned. The focus will be primarily the three countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, where I have more extensive field experience in initiatives related to the prevention and resolution of conflicts and the processes of democratisation. My experience of the Central Asian states does, however, suggest that although each country has a specific set of circumstances to confront (as they do in the Transcaucasus as well) a number of the insights are equally pertinent to Central Asia. In general it can be commented that although Central Asia has not suffered the consequences of open warfare (apart from in Tajikistan), the states face as many if not more challenges in regard to state and national building compared to the Transcaucasus.

  2.  In order to assess the FCO's role in promoting British interests in and relations with the countries of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, it is necessary to commence by defining what these interests are and how they should be balanced with each other. Four broad umbrella areas of interest have to date been of paramount importance, not just to British policy in the region, but for Western policy in general:

    —  the formation of democratic political institutions as the long-term guarantor of stability and prosperity: this encompasses the establishment of the rule of law, human rights, representative and accountable structures of government, a free media and a healthy civil society;

    —  the promotion of market economic reform;

    —  co-operation and greater integration of these countries into the Euro-Atlantic and international communities, as a means to enhance their sovereignty vis-a"-vis Russia, although at the same time not wanting to jeopardise Russia's integration into an international co-operation framework; and

    —  the advancement of responsible security policies, including on weapons non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, drug trafficking and in relation to restricting the spread of Islamic fundamentalism (particularly in Central Asia).

  3.  This categorisation of interests indicates an external view of the needs of the area, whereas it is likely that through a recognition of the interests of the countries themselves, in terms of state-building proceses, economic insecurities and social development, the interests of external states will best be secured. A balance has to be achieved in which the interests of the States themselves are respected, in which the international community operates in as consistent a fashion as possible and the termporary advantage in economic and security terms (that often distorts the pursuit of longer-term goals of democratistion and just and sustainable development) is avoided. It is particularly important that the international community does not resort to slogans advocating democratisation, human rights, and transparent elections only to subordinate these to "strategic goals" be they in regard to the extraction and transportation of oil, or the containment of Russia.

  4.  In order to pursue British interest it is necessary not only to define them further but also to support a diverse means of engagement. Persistent instability in the region is unlikely to lead to British military engagement, however it could demand substantial humanitarian assistance and threaten further conflict on the borders of Russia, Turkey, Iran and China. In this light British policy must be oriented to engagement which will diminish the likelihood of such threats. The FCO requires the capacity to address these countries in a comprehensive fashion. Enhancing the presence of British diplomats in the Caspian region is one necesssary step. However, if British interests are perceived as the promotion of long-term regional stability and prosperity through democratisation and economic development, they will have to be pursued through a wider range of means: the rigorous action and accountability of international fora in which the UK participates, such as the OSCE, the EU and various UN agencies; the business community; and supporting the work of British agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) active in relief, rehabilitation, development, the promotion of civil society organisations and peacebuilding activities.

  5.  This memorandum explores issues relating to conflict and democratisation, on the basis that the unresolved conflicts in the region are one of the most serious challenges to democratisation and economic development. At the same time, prescient support for democratisation processes can make an important contribution to the transformation of existing conflicts and the prevention of potential conflicts in the regions concerned.

  6.  The societies of the region are only partially coming to terms with the notion that democracy in multiethnic societies means participation in decision making by diverse groups, airing of different views, and potentially greater levels of overt conflict. Ways in which difference (ethnic or otherwise) is handled in societies undergoing transition has a significant impact on whether or not more democratic processes can be consolidated or subsumed to a persistent authoritarianism. Therefore in supporting the development of the rule of law it is important that attention should be paid to developing and institutionalising effective ways to co-operatively resolve serious difference. This also necessitates support for institutions and processes, not individual leaders.

  7.  In Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, state building has been occurring concurrent with a process of nation building. The needs of the latter (particularly in Azerbaijan and Georgia where the very diversity of ethnic affiliations and identity groups has been a major cause of the current fractured statehood) have in many ways complicated the coherence of the former. In terms of establishing a monopoly of the use of force, generally regarded as a prerequisite for the defence of the realm, Azerbaijan and Georgia have clearly been deficient. The new states have not been able to control and administer their given territory—in addition to the challenges posed to territorial integrity by the Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts, the extent of criminality has also, at times, questioned the reach of state control. Question marks still loom over the degree to which democratisation is entrenched: legislatures remain relatively weak and the imposition and adjudication of law fragile. Governance remains bedevilled by corruption and malpractice.

    Elections have been held for central political institutions and in some cases for local government, although they have been flawed. Tampering, as well as outright manipulation, has ocurred and central authorities have at times been implicated. Nevertheless, elections and parliamentary processes have generated a degree of pluralistic political debate and new transparency within societies.

  8. The so-called separatist entities (Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia) have entrenched their positions, working to establish the trappings of statehood, such as parliaments and presidents—in some cases elected through the ballot box—flags and anthems. Despite de facto political sovereignty in no case has there been any de jure recognition from the international community, which shows no inclination to change in this matter. The political proceses within each entity are more restrictive: solidarity has played an important part in their ability to survive to date, but at the same time this presents a dilemma for future development. Pluralism, democratisation and the development of civil societies have been relegated as lesser goals than survival and political consolidation, however at some state greater emphasis will have to be given to the type of societies that are being built, not just to the need to survive. Despite the appearance of more authoritarian regimes it would be mistaken to assume that there is no political debate within these smaller societies. Rather, debate occurs in a more circumscribed fashion and with the participants aware of the sensitivity of exposing chinks in their armour to their antagonists.

  9.  Economic indicators show a development crisis throughout the region, despite the development of a new economic elite: radical deindustrialisation, military expenditures occupying an ever larger share of shrinking budgets, labour productivity decreasing, unemployment growing, consumption shrinking and swathes of the population living below the poverty line. In rural areas monetary economies hardly function. Other indicators are reduced life expectancy and birth rates. The establishment of currencies, though still relatively weak, has been considerably more successful than the ability of states to raise taxes. Indeed the degree of tax evasion has imposed major contraints on the exercise of economic policy. The hold of mafia type organisations on business practices reflects on the market less as a civilising mechanism than as one generating inequality and quick, but not always clean, wealth. Certainly the wealth generation that has occurred has not yet been transferred into reinvestment in the productive capacities of any of the countries. In the war-torn regions economic reconstruction has occurred at different rates. The most advanced being Nagorno-Karabakh, where the existence of a secure border with Armenia, the largesse of a wealthy diaspora, and the expropriation of as much material as can be carried from occupied territories in Azerbaijan, has contributed to renovation of much of the economy. In South Ossetia links to North Ossetia provide an important outlet, while trade with Georgia is in fact both a sign of the relative progress in the peace process as well as a confidence-building measure encouraging further progress. Abkhazia has faced the most severe economic challenge: trade restrictions imposed through the CIS, are seen as sanctions and a blockade from Abkhazia's perspective. While there is trade with Turkey across the Black Sea, with Russia across the river Psou and even with Georgia across the Inguri, there is little productive industry in Abkhazia and much of the agricultural bounty of what was a supremely fertile region, has gone to waste. The trade that does exist is either of a subsistence kind or controlled by mafia-type organisations. The Georgian government sees the sanctions as the most effective form of leverage it holds against the Abkhazians, however the effect seems rather more to drive the Abkhazians further towards Russia (which is far from being a reliable ally or an economically stable partner for Abkhazia). The long-term viability of the economies of the conflict-ridden zones remains questionable, and certainly they are far more distant from prospects of substantial external investment than those areas which are more stable or under the sovereignty of internationally recognised states. Furthermore, isolation in economic as well as political terms, generates a siege mentality and a degree of self-reliance that reduces the propensity not only to compromise but to any form of contact with the antagonists.

  10.  One of the most active arenas of development in the Transcaucasian states has been civil society. Although an ill-defined notion, much emphasis has been placed on its development by Western donors, perceiving the promotion of civic notions as being an antidote to ethnic nationalism and a glue to bind together democratisation. NGOs tend to attract able and bright young people because they are seen to be realtively "clean". Those engaged in this field provide good role models and their commitment to change is respected, therefore acting to attract fresh recruits. In contrast political actors are all too often seen to be compromised either by incompetent decision-making or corruption (real or perceived). Indeed it can be argued that NGOs possess a considerable degree of moral authority in these circumstances. In Georgia (where the NGO sector is most developed), a good example is presented of a vibrant independent sector able to meet some needs not met through official channels, either because of the dearth of resources, policy or political constraints. It is already apparent that the NGO community there has begun to engage in a dialogue with parliamentary and governmental representatives—providing commentaries on draft laws and participating in a Consultation Board on NGO matters with the State Chancellery (although this is at present regarded as a rather rudimentary body). Such activities indicate a growing awareness of the roles NGOs can play. There is however a danger that this authority can give some individuals/organisations an inflated sense of themselves and their role: despite the proliferation of NGOs and the extensive sphere of their activities, a number of caveats still limit their influence in society:

    —  the development of NGOs is, to varying degrees throughout the region, stifled by government bureaucracy, in particular the imposition of excessive registration fees and burdensome tax policies, although in some countries more active political obstruction persists (this applies more in Central Asia than in the Caucasus) since NGOs are considered as oppositional;

    —  the burgeoning activity of NGOs has primarily been confined to cities ( and mainly capitals), only in some instances are activities spreading beyond cities, to towns and rarely to rural communities.

    —  NGOs tend to perpetuate their own constituency: it is important to strengthen this constituency and give it more credibility, but only few reach beyond this constituency to work with dispossessed and marginalised groups;

    —  Perhaps the most significant problem for NGOs is the extent to which they are not yet rooted in their own societies: NGOs are sustained due to external financial support and are dependent on this support. This leaves them vulnerable to the vagaries of international donors;

    —  An additional point of vulnerability relates to the fragility of democratic institutions in general: those institutions and mechanisms supporting participatory democracy and the rule of law, despite considerable progress in recent years, have not yet consolidated democracy in terms of the creation of a free and open political space. Should there be political reversals, it is questionable to what extent civil society is entrenched and able to resist.

  11.  It is necessary to remain cautious about the strength of civil society vis-a"-vis the states in the region, but for the long-term health of political communities, civil society and the state need to relate not in opposition to one another but in a partnership which encourages self-reflection and critical assessments. The international community can play a role in assisting in this development through financial support, training programmes (for NGO representatives as well as for officials), the provisionof scholarships and lobbying to ensure more equitable legislation and in creating frameworks within which legislation can be implemented.

  12.  The past couple of years have also witnessed the emergence of civil society voices in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, although they are more marginalised and fragile. It would be a mistake to automatically assume that such civil society actors are more compromise orientated than political leaders. Although civil society actors undoubtedly have a peace-building role to play it is not a straightforward one: in many cases, since the cease-fires, the space for cross-community peacebuilding has diminished, marginalised by comprehensive but exclusive official processes. While civil society roles in cross-conflict initiatives could be enhanced there is also a crucial role for such actors to play within their own communities. The experience of Conciliation Resources, in its work in Abkhazia (in collaboration with United Nations Volunteers) has primarily focused on assisting the development of local NGOs, which are gradually grappling with the severe socio-economic and political consequences of the conflict. The development of the capacities of civil society actors and their influence on political life is part of a need to bridge the gap between politics and important social constituencies in order to broaden discussion about options within societies confronted by unresolved conflicts. A major problem is that in both Abkhazia and Georgia, in the process of conflict resolution, societies and politicians appear divorced from one another. On the one hand there is little public information on or understanding of the progress and constraints on negotiations processes. On the other hand political leaders have not been inclined to mobilise support for compromises. Furthermore, actors in both Abkhazia and Georgia base their judgements of the other party on minimal information and contact, in the post-conflict period. In this context it is important that the activities of NGO third parties (such as the Free University, Brussels, the Berghof Centre, Berlin and International Alert, London) are supported (politically and financially) since they can contribute a great deal to the official mediation process facilitated by the UN (Abkhazia) and the OSCE (Nagorno Karabakh and South Ossetia—in the latter case there has already been much progress as a result of initiatives by organisations such as Links and the Conflict Management Group).

  13.  Conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh, which escalated during the Soviet Union's demise and the immediate post-Soviet era have yet to be resolved. Furthermore, potential flashpoints for future conflicts exist throughout the region (the Fergana Valley, intersecting Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan being the most sensitive). These conflicts should not be reduced to the notion that they are merely ethnic in character: they were a function of elites and societies grappling with changing power constellations and access to resources in the context of a disintegrating empire and were very much political conflicts over power. Recognising the broader issues behind the conflicts helps to understand the failure to resolve them to date as well as the fact that democracy and development in the region are as yet but a weak insurance against further conflict. Cease-fires have now held for several years in these conflicts, but unstable stalemates persist with only limited progress in attempts to negotiate political settlements. None of the parties to these conflicts seem inclined towards a renewal of outright war but it would be premature to say that all have categorically ruled out the prospect of resolution through military engagement. Constituencies exist, particularly within the countries more disaffected with the status quo (Azerbaijan and Georgia), advocating recourse to military options, but it is hard to envisage that these could be decisive.

  14.  The role of the Russian Federation remains critical. Russia's role in the generation and evolution of the conflicts was complex. Multiple actors and centres of power within the Russian Federation ensured that Russia frequently managed to support both protagonists in conflicts. Since brokering cease-fires in all three conflicts there has been a decline in Russia's capacity to influence events as the states assert their independence and become involved in an ever more complex web of bilateral and multilateral international relations. Furthermore, the resource base for Russia's own policy is diminishing and the political and economic perils of Russia's transition experience appear further to limit Russia's scope for engagement. The distrust which Russia's roles have generated over time will in itself be an important legacy for how the Transcaucasian states choose to engage with Russia in the future. Nevertheless, Russia remains the regional hegemon and will continue to be a key player with an ability to sabotage if not to resolve the peace processes, its multiple actors pursuing agendas that are not always clear or consistent but at times constructive and at times not. British policy must recognise this contradictory role. Furthermore, it is critical not to look at the Transcaucasus in isolation from the North Caucasus, located in the Russian Federation. Chechnia has been the most significant beacon of instability there, but it is not alone. Regional stability will require all stakeholders to be engaged, not leaving some languishing in isolation.

  15.  Mediating the conflicts has not been the domain of the Russian Federation alone, and frequently the lack of co-ordination if not competition between mediators has been destructive. Despite the attempts of the OSCE to mediate over Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia; the UN in Abkhazia; considerable bilateral contact at high levels in the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts; and the role of second track initiatives by a range of international NGOs (sometime collaborating with local NGOs), there has not been substantive progress towards political settlements. Exchanges of draft proposals and counter-proposals have rarely been able to address the fundamentals separating parties. There has been little meaningful trading of benefits and concessions and as a result the irreconcilability in the public positions of the parties has not been dented. A question that has to be addressed is the extent to which the variety of interventions, or initiatives from internal actors, have engaged with a sufficient breadth of social constituencies. The societies themselves are fragmented and therefore bringing the diversity of interests to the table is both difficult (and maybe not always desireable). But this makes it necessary for political and civil society actors (within and outside the societies) to consider the relationships between negotiations processes and the interests of the communities that those at the negotiating tables purport to represent, otherwise any settlement will have a limited duration. the existence of vested interests (political and economic actors that have benefited from the conflicts), the lack of trust, the psychological heritage of separation that is accumulating, and the lack of sufficiently strong or motivated peace constituencies within societies, make it difficult to turn war fatigue into peace hunger.

  16.  The lack of progress on the path towards settlement leaves the current situation unstable. In addition to this political uncertainty socio-economic ramifications of the conflicts that will afflict Caucasian societies for many years to come, even if political accords can be reached. Throughout the Transcaucasus over a million people have been displaced as a result of the conflicts, out of a total population of about 16 million. A cycle of alienation, isolation and marginalisation scars the lives of whole generations, not just those displaced, but those living in areas where the social infrastructure has been unable to cope with the influx of displaced and those living in areas that are politically isolated. This blight comes not only at a time in which violence has devastated societies, but the social fabric has been overwhelmed by the ongoing transition from communism to democracy and free market capitalism. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people, far from being integrated into society are being excluded from progress and displaced people are prime (though not exclusive) victims of delinquency, unemployment, criminality, alcoholism and drug related problems.

  17.  The mass return of displaced people is not feasible at present due to security concerns and economic factors and the absence of political agreements. Demands for repatriation are inextricably linked to prospects for conflict resolution, but the reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-affected areas can only be limited without political normalisation. Integrating displaced within Azerbaijan and Georgia is highly political since it could intimate that these people will not be returning to their homes from whence they were displaced. Yet not integrating them risks their marginalisation in refugee camps and often their exclusion from elementary social provision in terms of health care and educational opportunities, as well as from political life. International humanitarian assistance has been essential in providing a safety net. Agencies have had to negotiate the dilemma posed by encouraging development but not advocating integration in a way that could be intepreted as hindering any prospective return. But such assistance will not continue in perpetuity. Furthermore, humanitarian assistance in the isolated separatist entities has been proportionately less than in the areas receiving displaced despite the fact that the zones of conflict themselves suffer from extensive social problems. This isolation also has an impact upon the preparedness of leaders to engage politically.

  18.  Resolving conflicts in the Transcaucasus is not only about mediation or negotiation processes. To talk in terms of long-term sustainable peace it is necessary to think about economic development, social justice and democratisation. If and when peace treaties are signed, with concomitant reconfigurations of political structures and relationships, the extent to which populations, which in turn have been mobilised and rendered passive, will be receptive to likely compromises will be questionable. Undoubtedly, the political climate throughout the region, including within the unrecognised entities, has been sobered by the experience of the past decade, but there have been few signs of statesmanship or the promotion of reconciliation within societies, let alone with regard to the so-called enemies. Each region has changed since the inception of the conflicts, yet none is democracy sufficiently entrenched to allow the creativity of leadership that might overcome the ongoing political impasse.

  19.  A number of challenges will have to be addressed and preconceptions confronted if the Transcaucasus is to experience the evolution of coherent political communities, not characterised by cycles of violent conflict. The reframing will have to commence with a recognition that resolution is complicated by conflicting perceptions of political principles, above all territorial integrity and self-determination. The international community's predilection for territorial integrity presents the prospect that the parties that effectively won the wars (particularly Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh) will lose the peace. Either the international community will have to change its position in regard to the inviolability of borders, (at present it is regarded that these can be changed only through non-violent processes or with mutual consent), or Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia will persist in their current unrecognised limbo disinclined to compromises that will circumvent this dilemma, but perpetuating instability. Whether it is possible to reconceptualise and reinvigorate perceptions of political relationships in such a way that parties can be convinced that they have not lost what they fought for or that security priorities are not compromised, is questionable. But this will be critical to the achievement of non-violent settlements that are neither fragile nor short-lived.

  20.  There is deep fear of federal-type solutions to the conflicts and yet, with different approaches and commitment, both Georgia and Azerbaijan have begun to reflect on these as possible solutions. To an extent this is a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted—federal solutions that might have interested the "separatist" parties prior to the outbreak of violent conflicts are now less attractive. Nor do such proposals address the psychological inheritance of the wars: generations are coming of age without having known Georgian or Azeri rule (despite the fact that this was a very different type of rule, more Soviet than anything else, prior to the conflicts) and therefore with little inclination to affect compromises that could reintroduce such political relationships. Indeed the knowledge of what this rule might constitute is sparse and characterised by perceptions of undemocratic practices (particularly acute regarding Azerbaijan) and a continuation of ethnically prejudicial approaches. In order to overcome this conumdrum a great deal of debate will be needed—among political elites but also among the broad populace—about what is really meant by confederal, federal or autonomous relations, and concerning the political communities that people aspire to compose. This will have to assume very functional if not technical aspects about the content of new relationships in terms of taxation, representation, accountability, economic activity and development, policing and many other areas. There is a tremendous need to rethink structures of governance at central and local levels (and this applies to all states in the region, regardless of unresolved conflicts). Given the incompetence and corruption—sometimes perceived and sometimes real—of so much of the governance in the region this will be no easy task. Assurances that more nebulous issues, such as identity, and fragile issues such as security, can be guaranteed, will also prove arduous.

  21.  The application of power-sharing mechanisms needs to be tied into the negotiations process so that the parties are able to become confident that such mechanisms can be used in their interests, providing guarantees that make them feel secure rather than threatened. This is of particular importance because the geography of demographic composition in Georgia and Azerbaijan, where the existance of compact ethnic communities contiguous with borders in Javakheti and the Lezgin and Talysh regions, (let alone Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh) presents potential threats to territorial integrity and any steps to devolve power could precipitate this.

  22.  Guarantees also need to be found in regard to issues of human and minority rights, indeed a comprehensive human rights framework could give parties the confidence to move towards settlements. These are areas, which in theory tie the newly emerging states of the Caucasus into a closer web of relations within Western states, particularly through the OSCE and prospectively the Council of Europe. To date, however, international standards have been observed as much in their breach as their application. If progess towards peace is to be attained the international community has to ensure that standards do not slip. This is linked to the question of reinvigorating notions of multi-ethnic and culturally diverse societies, although it is hard to envisage this ideal being realised in Nagorno-Karabakh or parts of Abkhazia (particularly the Ochamchira region), where one can not envisage a comfortable political cohabitation of Armenians and Azeris or Abkhazians and Georgians in the near future. Nevertheless, promoting a policy orientation of inclusiveness as opposed to ethnic exclusivity (with attendant discrimination) will be an important means to foster long-term stability and security and convince minorities of the credibility of new approaches and guarantees. The dilemma is that States in the region are not being consolidated from an inclusive perspective that could enable minorities to feel that their own cultural identity is not being jeopardised while at the same time promoting the notion of citizenship and national identity as something distinct from the ethnic identity of the titular nation.

  23.  Such a recognition, and the fact that many communities live completely beyond one another's orbit, poses difficult questions about prospects for reconciliation, which will be a component of political settlement in the long run. This relates to attitudes to justice and the extent to which justice and reconciliation are requirements for the achievement of political settlements. Reconciliation is a process comprising activities, attitudes, mechanisms and the search for new horizons in terms of interaction between communities and their mutual understanding: it is a political and a personal process. Politicians assume a great deal of responsibility in this context: they can choose to hide behind "public opinion" or they can seek to influence it. Equally, the media can be instrumental in how it chooses to depict the "other". It is noticeable that in the Transcaucasus political leaders have not been inclined to promote political reconciliation in a sustained way: whether this is a question of conviction or because they are attempting to balance competing internal constituencies is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, this means that political discourse is not receptive to reconciliation, and this will have an impact on the way in which societies are able to accept settlements if and when they are negotiated. Undoubtedly, this impedes the search for durable resolutions. Part of the reason for this lies in the relationship of reconciliation to justice and vengeance. The interest of victims is often in vengeance rather than justice. Justice can best come within a coherent framework concerning legal procedures and the exercise of authority. The societies do not deliver this prospect at present. Attention to justice also promotes the question as to whether the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and there were plenty in the Caucasian wars of the 1990s, will be held to account. If so who will foot the bill and will justice not threaten the possibility of peaceful resolutions given that many people who remain important to the resolutions could easily be implicated? Political debates in the region rarely address such issues.

  24.  The above reflections indicate how difficult the search for sustainable peace will be and the likelihood that it will be a long-term process. Those few civil actors striving for peaceful solutions require more support and the majority of the regions' population is grappling with economic hardship rather than political change. Political debate is often influenced by expectations that peace and development can be delivered by external factors—by NATO, Russia, the United States or oil. Undoubtedly oil is one factor that will lubricate change: inevitably it will bring more benefits to some than to others. The economic development that it brings in its wake could be used to mesh together a regional interdependence that makes conflict resolution worthwhile for enough actors. But oil and the attendant development and wealth could also bring as much conflict as harmony. Furthermore, while it gives the Caucasus a new strategic relevance, this is not as great as many in the region might think, especially at current oil prices. The West will continue to be preoccupied with the Balkans and the Middle East, among other regions, above the Caucasus. It seems that a future that will encompass settlements to the unresolved conflicts will therefore require actors in the region to assume greater responsibility, encouraging the West to play a role, but not expecting this to be decisive or equitable.

  25.  Politicians and people need to engage more thoroughly with: the democratisation of their own societies (as a real incentive to neighbours and minorities to believe that they can live together); economic co-operation as an area of dialogue as well as development; and a reconceptualisation of fundamental political relationships. Such processes will require time—one of the factors that has most undermined progress in the past six years has been the expectation (whether believed or simply used as political rhetoric) that problems can be resolved quickly. Turning aside from this might mean that painful realities have to be faced, especially by displaced populations, but it also might give political leaders and peace activists the space to address the issues underlying the conflicts and thus look to the challenges of the future more creatively. International support—political and financial, governmental and non-governmental—will be imperative to sustain regional actors in this process.

March 1999

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