Trend News Agency cited Azerbaijani member of parliament Vugar Iskenderov celebrating military cooperation and integration between his nation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The basis for current high-level cooperation – his words – between the Caspian Sea country and the thirty-nation global military bloc was laid in 1994 with Baku’s joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. That program was employed to groom the fourteen countries that have joined the alliance since 1999: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
According to the Azeri deputy, his nation is “conducting a political dialogue with NATO on a wide range of issues of mutual interest.” He also highlighted the fact that over the past twenty-seven years Azerbaijan has provided NATO with troops for wars and post-war “peacekeeping” missions.
From 1999, the year NATO bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and drove it out of Kosovo, until 2008 Azerbaijan provided troops for the bloc’s Kosovo Force (KFOR). From 2002 to 2014 it provided troops for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to create a NATO-interoperable Afghan army (since 2012 Afghanistan has belonged to NATO’s Partners Across the Globe), and since then for ISAF’s successor, Operation Resolute Support.
The North Atlantic alliance also commended Azerbaijan for providing transit for troops and equipment during the twenty-year war in Afghanistan.
As Azerbaijan provides the main transit corridor for Caspian Sea oil and natural gas moving westward, NATO strongly values its “long-standing interest in the protection of critical energy infrastructure….”
American officials acknowledged several years ago that transporation infrastructure developed to move oil and gas westward from the Caspian Sea Basin through the South Caucasus, was “reverse flowed” after 2001 to move troops and military equipment eastward.
As with Ukraine and Georgia, fellow NATO aspirants, there are two obstacles that will have to be removed before Azerbaijan can be considered for full NATO membership. There is the vestige of a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and what’s left of ethnic Armenian communities in Nagorno-Karabakh after last year’s Turkish-supported Azerbaijani invasion of that area. And what remaining armed forces maintained by Nagorno-Karabakh would be considered a foreign military presence according to NATO criteria. Both issues would have to be eliminated. Baku as well as NATO is eager to do just that.
Much as with Georgia, its neighbor in the Caucasus, Azerbaijani armed forces have been provided military, including combat, experience by NATO in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
When Georgia invaded South Ossetia in 2008 and triggered a five-day war with Russia, it had the third-largest contingent of troops in Iraq, with only the U.S. and Britain ahead of it. Those more than 2,000 troops were transported back to Georgia by the U.S. military to participate in the war. Georgia later became the largest non-NATO troop contributing nation in Afghanistan as well.
MP Iskenderov was quoted by Trend saying that President Ilham Aliyev, in a recent phone conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “emphasized the importance of Azerbaijan’s participation in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan since its inception.” And that that contribution “confirms the role of Azerbaijan in maintaining peace and security on an international scale, as well as the fact that the United States attaches particular importance to the activities of Azerbaijan in this direction.”
For twenty-seven years NATO has been preparing the armed forces of Azerbaijan for just such a war as it waged last year; and for any future war in the South Caucasus it may be contemplating now.
Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.