The Armenian nation is living through yet another period of calamity. Just as Armenian society was recovering from the 2020 war and subsequent aggressions by Azerbaijan, a carefully-planned, 24-hour coordinated attack by Azerbaijan and its Russian and Turkish allies resulted in the subjugation of the Artsakh Republic. While we are yet to witness the full scope of degradation, humiliation, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and gross violation of international law already perpetrated and likely to be perpetrated by the genocidal regime of Ilham Aliyev and his partners in crime, the collective effect on the Armenian psyche is clear: resignation, despair, and anger are competing emotions running deep and wide through Armenians in Artsakh, Armenia and beyond. The natural reaction is to: 1) blame ourselves; 2) blame others, and 3) find and “punish” those who failed the Armenian state. The simple truth, however, is that none of these actions will take us one step closer to securing the future of our people in our homeland.
At this point, there needs to be a collective and wholesome endeavor of establishing, organizing, and implementing a crucial set of achievable objectives. Trading one foreign “protector” for another, waiting in vain for a knight in shining armor to rescue us, pleading for help internationally, or forcing regime change with no clear plan on what happens after, will leave us as helpless and lost as many feel today. In political scientists’ lexicon, the Armenian people are looking for some type of agency in determining their own fate, and there can be no agency with dependency. And the oft-heard but seldom followed rallying cry of “Armenians, Unite” rings as hollow today as it has for years, decades, even centuries.
Considering the complex web of regional, geopolitical and international developments, the seeming imbalance in military positioning and capabilities, and a deeply divided society, finding a resolute path forward seems nearly insurmountable. However, the answer is astonishingly simple: we have one overriding objective, which is to become our own security guarantors. How do we do that? By each of us, every day, working on one common goal: building Fortress Armenia. What is Fortress Armenia? A national, collective effort to safeguard the independence, democratic principles and complete territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia. Every square cm is protected, with no compromises or territorial concessions of any kind to any external threats or demands. It is a security architecture based on: 1) a comprehensive security doctrine, which incorporates strong military, civilian and total society defense capabilities; 2) growing web of multilateral diplomatic alliances and partnerships to complement, but not replace, our own comprehensive security responsibilities; and 3) a rapidly growing and diversified economic engine, to reduce dependence on the limited number of existing export markets and trading partners, and to finance the development of Fortress Armenia. These three fundamental elements of Fortress Armenia will be supported by enhancing Armenia’s political culture when it comes to thinking about security; reforming the education system to be commensurate with a whole-of-society approach; and having an inclusive political elite that prioritizes Fortress Armenia over all other political goals – in short, a collective feeling among each and every member of society, including members of government, that they have their specific role and responsibility to play in building and maintaining Fortress Armenia.
While events in Artsakh continue to unfold, Armenian society is already diving deep into the blame game: Russians, Americans, Levon, Robert, Serzh, Nikol, etc. What’s clear, however, is that blame and retribution will not bring back lost lands or guarantee security. In fact, only what we do starting now, and in the days, weeks and months to come, can either pull us out of this catastrophic predicament, or push us further in. As a result, all political actors, civil society, the private sector and every Armenian should be judged on one dimension: are their actions and words helping to build Fortress Armenia, or obstructing this singular objective. Each one of us, every day and in every thought and action, should ask ourselves, and those around us: am I adding a stone to the fortress, or loosening its foundation. All other discourse and action is secondary, distractive or, worse yet, destructive.
Comprehensive Security: The Foundation of Fortress Armenia
There are many examples of small(er) states developing their own comprehensive security capabilities to develop defense and deterrence capabilities against larger aggressors: Finland, Israel, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland, to name a few. A comparative study of these individual programs underscores the primary thesis that a clearly-articulated political will, societal acceptance and active involvement, and a well-developed and executed action plan, made clear to every member of society, is more important than material superiority. The faster a Comprehensive Security Strategy is developed and adopted as official policy, and urgent, short- and medium-term assignments are given to the relevant government and non-government bodies, the sooner concerned members of society will find their place in supporting the development of these capabilities. It is critical to note that a comprehensive society doctrine doesn’t mean that every able citizen must take arms and rush to take their place in trenches at the front line (although that will also be required of some). In a modern world replete with digitized weapons systems, growing elements of hybrid warfare, and an expanding range of soft and hard targets, there are multiple skills and expertise that are required to ensure the physical and digital security of the country.
There are specific actions that need to be taken immediately, such as: a significant scaling up and modernization of the government’s reserve training program, whose legal structure was overhauled in the fall of 2022; a wider implementation of a territorial defense structure; acceleration and diversification of the procurement and deployment of domestically-produced and imported military technology; and a comprehensive program to educate and train the public on various elements of civil defense, first aid, and response to different types of emergencies. More specifically, we need to move from the current pace of 4000-5000 reservists called up for 25 days of training and active duty per year, to ten battalions per month, which will yield close to 40,000 trained reservists per year, in addition to the existing standing army. Equally critical to note is that it’s not just about the numbers: training must take place using modern, technology-enabled strategy and tactics, and reserve units must not only train together on a regular basis, but be deployed together as needed. A pilot program based on these principles will be launched next month.
Regarding territorial defense, private sector efforts starting in 2016 aimed to engage and prepare citizens, especially in border communities, in self-defense capabilities. These need to be scaled up urgently, and complemented by vastly-improved communications, logistics and multi-layered defensive infrastructure in strategic border communities and terrain. Similarly, procurement of local and diversified international military technology finally took off following the September 2022 incursions into Armenian territory by Azerbaijan, These need to be accelerated and streamlined to continuously improve defensive and deterrence capabilities.
Underlying all of this is a concerted and collective transformation of government’s and society’s expectations of each others’ roles in a collective security architecture. Under a centrally-controlled Soviet system, ordinary citizens could not be trusted to have even government-controlled access to weapons and defense infrastructure, and the public abdicated its security to various state organs. In a comprehensive security model, there is strong trust and cooperation between the public and private sectors [and society at large] to quickly mobilize large portions of society to act against external threats. We must all actively adopt this fundamental shift of perspective and approach to build an effective Fortress Armenia.
Multilateral Diplomatic Alliances and International Partnerships
One of the notable achievements of the post-2020 war period has been the maturing of Armenia’s diplomatic capabilities and growing relationships with a wide variety of countries and multi-state entities, culminated by Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan’s strong performance at the recent emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Armenia’s diplomatic corps and senior officials have demonstrated Armenia’s willingness and ability to broaden its web of relationships and alliances, and become an active player in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment. It’s now time to capitalize on these early wins to develop a proactive, coordinated and strategic foreign policy that contributes to the reinforcement of Fortress Armenia.
Of critical importance is the active development of policy, messaging and positioning, and a fundamental acceptance of the reality that in today’s interconnected and digitized world, very little differentiation exists between domestic and international politics, and one cannot sacrifice positional advantage in the latter for short-term wins in the former. Once the government fulfills its responsibility to develop and execute a foreign policy to achieve Fortress Armenia, responsible members of society should support and amplify these messages and policies on relevant social platforms and in everyday life. Again, the central tenet is that government and society at large (and not just elites) are “on the same page” when it comes to achieving Fortress Armenia’s objectives.
Rapidly-Growing Economic Engine to Finance Fortress Armenia
Economic growth is at the heart of every effort to build strong nation-states. In Armenia’s case, being land-locked and facing hostile neighbors to the east and west, achieving economic growth and diversification is that much more important, and at the same time difficult to achieve. Inadequate road infrastructure, the absence of modern rail systems, limited air connectivity and complications arising from sanctions and competing interests in the region make the import of raw materials and export of physical finished goods more expensive. Armenia has made significant strides in growing the tech economy, which is principally unaffected by physical communications routes, and recent years have seen a rapidly-growing number of flights increasing geographic diversity. However, the fundamental challenge continues to be a heavily-concentrated import and export architecture which, in addition to creating geopolitical challenges, has prevented Armenian producers from developing products for more complex and demanding markets. However, the astonishing growth in size and ability to compete globally of the domestic tech industry, and recent advances in areas such as AI and dual-use technologies, show that transformation is attainable. Responsible economic actors in Fortress Armenia will wholeheartedly pursue economic growth and diversification – starting with more robust sources and types of financing, to better professional and vocational training, to deliberate government policies to encourage import/export diversification and improvements in quality and regionally/globally competitive products and services. The elimination of large parts of the shadow economy as a result of the Velvet Revolution has already resulted in much greater customs and tax revenues flowing to the state budget – now that the state has removed these artificial barriers between economic activity and state revenue collection, it’s time to crank up the economy across sectors, and every person has their role to play in this third critical building-block of Fortress Armenia.
Each Armenian today has a choice: resign themselves to accepting their fate, whatever that may be; aim blame and vitriol at their scapegoat of choice, achieving nothing of note; or steadfastly work individually and collectively to build Fortress Armenia. Which will you choose?
EVN News Watch
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