With the region’s Western-led geopolitical pluralism mitigating the Aliyev regime’s bellicose grand strategy towards Armenia, Baku’s ambitions have produced two important developments: the puncturing of Azerbaijan’s privileged relationship with the West and the enhancement of Armenia’s political and security engagements with Europe and the United States. In the month of December these developments were further consolidated, as Baku continued its performative, albeit rhetorical, antagonism against the United States and the European Union, while Armenia proceeded to entrench its growing-yet-nascent security arrangements with the West. Concomitantly, the declining political capital of Baku coincided with Armenia’s growing international political capital, one of the important dividends of the region’s geopolitical pluralism and Armenia’s pivot towards security diversification and foreign policy segmentation. Within the confluence of these factors, an important element has been the growing institutionalization of Armenia’s security sector, both the diversification process as well the deepening engagement with the West.
At the structural level, these developments have led to the relative marginalization of Russia from the region, and within the context of Armenia’s security considerations, the scope of Russia’s negative and punitive response remains a serious matter requiring mitigation. Intrinsically, Armenia’s decoupling from Russia had not been sufficiently understood by Moscow, but with the intensification of Armenia’s pivot, and Russia’s subsequent proxyization of Azerbaijan, the severity of the rift is being more seriously comprehended by the Kremlin. Consequently, Armenia’s preference for the U.S.-led negotiation track, Washington’s dominance of the negotiating platform, and the bilateral statement between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the release of 32 Armenian POWs, are all high-level political developments that completely excluded Russian involvement. Yerevan’s preference for the U.S.-led track has angered Moscow, as has Armenia’s security diversification, yet more than these points, Moscow remains perplexed by Armenia’s new strategy of segmentation: Yerevan’s separation of military, political, and economic relations from one another. This has elicited a confused response from Moscow, where on the one hand it qualifies Armenia as an important strategic partner, but on the other blames the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh on Yerevan, while on both instances consistently threatening Yerevan with detrimental consequences.
Yerevan’s approach has been one of asymmetrical aggressive bargaining, as it has reaffirmed its security decoupling from Russia, vehemently rejected Kremlin’s claims on the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, directly accused Russia of abdicating its responsibilities, while pushing back against the Kremlin’s information warfare by suspending Russian radio broadcasts in the country. The entirety of this stratagem is defined by issue-splitting and co-alignment: Armenia will align with Russia on issue-areas that are in Armenia’s strategic interests, while diversifying and segmenting issue-areas with other partners without Russian involvement or engagement. In this context, security diversification and segmentation has excluded Russia, while economic, trade, and energy issue-areas have continued through the Eurasian Economic Union. Armenia’s new strategy of segmentation and issue-splitting has not only ruptured its previous structure of dependence on Russia, but more so, it has created a shift in the region’s geopolitical culture.
Whereas for Moscow everything is political, from economics to energy to culture to defense, Armenia took the bold posture by claiming that each sphere must be separated from the other, and in this context, Prime Minister Pashinyan’s speech at the Eurasian Economic Union Council summit was a direct challenge to Russia’s reigning geopolitical culture: “EAEU is an economic union that should not have a political and, even more so, a geopolitical agenda” and for this reason, “attempts to politicize Eurasian integration” should be rejected. Yerevan’s call for the depoliticization of the EEU, and by extension, rejecting Russia’s weaponization of economics and energy, is a crucial indicator of how cognizant Yerevan remains in maintaining a manageable parity between foreign and security policy diversification on one hand, and sustainable and pragmatic economic relations on the other.
Securitization and Institutionalization
In the last two years the discourse in Armenia’s policy-making circles on security has undergone an important shift, where security is no longer conceptually qualified as a simplified hard-power reliance on Russia, but rather a complex, multi-layered phenomenon that absorbs every facet of Armenian society. While a comprehensive conceptualization of security demonstrates the evolution of security thinking in Armenia, conceptual thinking has not yet evolved to institutional thinking. In more concrete terms, the abstract collection of ideas that inform the latest cutting-edge research on security is now part of the security thinking that informs Armenia’s nascent policy-making. However, this thinking remains at the conceptual stage, not at the full operationalization and implementation stage. For the latter to be possible, Armenia needs an institutional theory of security to complement its forthcoming comprehensive security doctrine. This month’s security report introduces an institutionalist theory of security that is commensurate with the enhanced security thinking shaping Armenia’s policy-making discourse.
The chronic problem of weak institutions and institutional underdevelopment is not unique to Armenia, but rather, it is a persistent phenomenon throughout the post-Soviet space, where politicization, de-professionalization, and structural corruption initially stunted and then eroded the process of institutionalization. In the realm of security, this had a multiplying effect, where security institutions were not designed to protect the people, the state, or the institutions of the state, but rather, to protect and preserve the illiberal regime in power. In essence, a parallel security architecture was designed: a simple, singular notion of security defined by the armed forces, and the internal security apparatus defined by its subservience to the political elite. In the case of Armenia, security was privatized within the person of the president and his oligarchic elite, while any substantive or potentially institutionalized considerations of security were simply farmed out to Russia. In this context, Armenia, realistically, did not have a security architecture, because it did not have an institutionalized system of security. In truth, Armenia’s notion of securitization was actually an inverse act of de-securitization.
Institutionalism, which is the systematic study of institutions and the very process of institutionalization, posits that the main objective of institutions is to self-reproduce and maintain legitimacy, and in this context, institutions set rules, norms, and parameters that affect the functionality of the state. In an institutional theory of security, three elements are crucial to the process of institutionalization: expertise, trust, and symbolic power. As the last 30 years have demonstrated, Armenia’s security experts actually lacked sufficient expertise; trust was not only absent, but institutional trust was a nonexistent concept; and symbolic power was not one of institutional power or legitimacy, but rather the individuals that personalized such powers by abusing offices of the state. A new institutional theory of security, for these reasons, must not only rearticulate these three elements, but more so, allow for the securitization of Armenian society to be an institutionalized process, and not the ideological, politicized, or elite-serving process of the past. Further, since institutions confer specific identity, such as identity of expertise or legitimate authority, they shape the interrelationship between citizens and social power.
In the case of Armenia, an important question presents itself: is it the institutions that label issues and developments as “security problems,” or is it the political elite? This question gets to the very heart of the matter when addressing an institutionalist theory of security for Armenia. Namely, if it is the case of the former, then securitization has legitimacy, because it is an institutional process that is defined by expertise, trust, and symbolic power. But if it is the case of the latter, then securitization suffers from a crisis of legitimacy, because citizens cannot trust the process by which an issue or a development is labeled a “security problem.”
Security is something that is produced as a distinct realm of practice and from a particular institutional position that has a specific institutional locus. For this reason, security institutions are vital sources of social capital and symbolic power. Without the functional legitimacy of such institutions, Armenia cannot implement and operationalize whatever well-developed, expert-driven security doctrine it produces. Namely, for the country’s security architecture to be substantiated, it must undergo a process of institutionalization; absent an institutional implementation of strategy, Armenia cannot have a security architecture—it will only have a document and bureaucratic dysfunction in attempting to make sense of such a document.
Security thinking in Armenia is led by the National Security Council, with oversight and policy-making guidance from the Office of the Prime Minister, while implementation is compartmentalized through a division of labor within the various security institutions: Ministry of Defense, National Security Services, and Ministry of Internal Affairs. The inter-relational structure of these institutions, the collection of expertise, trust, and symbolic power that each, and collectively all, possess, are foundational to an institutional theory of power for Armenia. Within this context, the collective institutional structure of security in Armenia, and the process of institutionalization and operationalization, must be guided by the following precepts:
- The necessity to conceptualize the interaction between institutions and individual behavior and how this affects citizen and collective public behavior;
- Emphasis on asymmetries and distribution of power as intrinsic to the operationalization of security institutions;
- The structural role of security institutions as being part of a causal chain that affects socioeconomic factors, foreign influences, and collective security thinking.
- Capacity of security institutions to self-reproduce by evolving, adapting, and interacting with the broader process of institutionalization necessary for democratic growth.
- Security institutions must be methodical with the preferences they make, engaging in highly strategic maximization
- Formation of institutional arrangements to enhance coordinating mechanisms and inter-institutional functionality.
An institutional theory of security is necessary for Armenia not simply because that is what the latest research, or the broader expert community, or the international security scholars advocate, but more than that, it is for Armenia to be able to escape institutional underdevelopment and the culture of inchoate security thinking inherited from the Soviet legacy. The chronic de-institutionalization and de-professionalization that Armenia witnessed after independence further eroded its capacity to develop a functional, institutionalized system of security. In the 1990s, security was personalized and monopolized under Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Siradeghyan; in the 2000s it was abused and exploited by Robert Kocharyan’s Head of Security Grisha Sarkisyan; and until the Velvet Revolution, a coterie of Serzh Sargsyan acolytes, under the tutelage of Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan, created individual fiefdoms through the abuse of security institutions. Collectively, not only does Armenia not have a legacy of cogent security institutions, less than that, whatever institutions that it had were distrusted and despised by Armenian society.
In essence, de-institutionalization goes hand in hand with collapse of legitimacy, and coupled with the systemic distrust that citizens have developed against the state’s security institutions, an institutionalist theory of security is an undebatable necessity for Armenia in order to establish institutional trust among the citizenry. An institutional theory of security will not only consolidate the expertise, trust, and symbolic power that is necessary of security institutions, it will also allow for two important developments: functional sustainability (once security institutions are institutionalized, actors adapt their strategies in ways that reflect and reinforce the logic of the institutional system); and distributional coherence (institutions are not simply neutral coordinating mechanisms, rather, they reflect, reproduce, and magnify particular patterns of power distribution in politics). To this end, if there is to be a fortress Armenia, or a porcupine Armenia, or an Armenia with basic deterrence capabilities, then this Armenia must have an institutional theory of security.
Examining the Context
EVN Report's Editor-in-Chief Maria Titizian speaks with Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, author of the monthly series "EVN Security Report" about regional dynamics in November that demonstrated acute developments on track to produce unanticipated realignments, altering Armenia’s security environment and enhancing its security and foreign policy diversification.Read more
EVN Report's Editor-in-Chief Maria Titizian speaks with Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, author of the monthly series "EVN Security Report" about the objective of Armenia's Western pivot, which is neither ideational nor conceptually geopolitical but rather the need to rupture the entire logic of dependency and establish sustainable security independence for the Republic of Armenia.Read more
EVN Report's Editor-in-Chief Maria Titizian speaks with Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, author of the monthly series "EVN Security Report" about how the status quo established by the Russo-Azerbaijani tandem in Nagorno-Karabakh completely broke down after Baku, coordinating operations with Russian forces, launched a massive invasion, culminating in the collapse of the Artsakh Republic.Read more
EVN Security Report
Armenia’s Western pivot is neither ideational nor conceptually geopolitical, it’s a matter of survival. The objective of the Western pivot is not about replacing one dependency structure with another, but rather, rupturing the entire logic of dependency and establishing sustainable security independence.Read more