Home | Order Information | Contents


Chapter IV

CONTESTED BORDERS IN THE CAUCASUS

UN and CSCE Policies in Transcaucasia


Olivier Paye & Eric Remacle

Chapter IV consists of 3 parts (1,2,3) + notes

  1. Introduction (1)
  2. Since 1988, two types of conflict have erupted in Transcaucasia. The first may be described as a "struggle-for-power conflict". Here, the conflicting parties consist of a State's regular army and one or more non-governmental armed forces from the same State. These do not aim to change international borders, but rather to control state power. Such a "struggle-for-power conflict" occurred twice in Transcaucasia in recent times: in Georgia between the supporters and opponents of the first elected President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (December 1991 - late 1993), and in Azerbaijan with the coup against the democratically elected President Elcibey (June 1993). Both successors of the ousted presidents were former communist leaders: Eduard Shevardnadze and Geidar Aliyev.

    The second type of conflict which erupted in Transcaucasia can be described as a "national liberation conflict". The players involved - just as in the first case - are the regular army of a State and one or more non-governmental armies from this State, but - unlike in the first kind of conflict - their aim is either to maintain or to change existing State borders. Conflicts of this type have occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    In what follows, we will explain the differences in the kinds of intervention by the UN and the CSCE in the three conflicts characterized above as "national liberation conflicts". Both organizations have been active in the crises in Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, but with the CSCE clearly as the prime mover in the first case and the UN in the second. Only the CSCE was involved in the conflict resolution process in South Ossetia. The policies of the major world and regional powers (the USA, some Member States of the European Union, Turkey, Iran and Russia) differed in the three conflicts. Russia's policies in the areas it terms "near abroad", the use of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as an instrument for regional security, the attitudes of the warring parties towards the CSCE and the UN and the weight of national interests in these international organizations will be also taken into account.

    Intervention by the UN and CSCE must be differentiated according to the type of action involved. A distinction should be drawn between:

    • lack of action;
    • "soft actions" (especially fact-finding missions and political statements);
    • normative and operative actions. "Normative actions" refer to all resolutions adopted by the Security Council which do not imply any substantive measures. By contrast, "operative actions" refer to all UN substantive measures requested or demanded by the Security Council.(2)

    Such a clear distinction cannot be made in case of the CSCE, as this organization does not rely on an international treaty and has acted on a "case-by-case" basis. On the other hand, the universal status of the UN and the regional status of the CSCE are linked to different diplomatic and institutional traditions and to a specific division of labour. For these reasons, the respective roles of the United Nations and the CSCE will not be presented in the same way. The analysis of the UN will highlight similarities and differences in the manner in which it has managed the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, based on a direct comparison of the two cases. The analysis of the CSCE will, by contrast, focus on the specific features of each individual conflict management policy in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    In the analysis of both international organizations, other experiments in conflict management (such as in the former Yugoslavia, for example) must be taken into account. Patterns of co-operation between the two organizations will be described at the end of our analysis, in order to contribute to a typology of the relationships between the UN and regional organizations.

  3. The United Nations
    1. Lack of action

      1. Lack of Action in "Struggle-for-Power Conflicts"

        The United Nations paid no attention to the so-called "struggle-for-power conflicts", i.e., the coups against elected presidents Gamsakhurdia in Georgia and Elcibey in Azerbaijan. Different explanations may be offered for this lack of attention. A first would be that these coups were perceived as purely internal affairs in which, according to a traditionally restrictive interpretation of Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN Charter (principle of non-interference in domestic affairs), the UN is not called upon to act. According to a second interpretation, the great powers and the international community were simply not interested in intervening. Nothing in the UN Charter prohibits the Security Council from characterizing an internal conflict as a threat to international peace and security - as was done, for instance, in the cases of Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda - and from acting in these situations on the basis of Chapter VII (coercive measures). Unlike the ousting of President Aristide of Haiti, the coups against Gamsakhurdia and Elcibey were simply acceptable to the great powers, and especially to Russia.

      2. Lack of Action in National Liberation Conflicts

        The UN was not involved in the first stages of the three national liberation conflicts in Transcaucasia: these had already begun before the break-up of the USSR, so the principle of non-interference in internal affairs prevailed. At the end of 1991, the dissolution of the USSR gave the UN a real opportunity in the Transcaucasus. Yet it was still slow to intervene in the next stages of these conflicts. This could be explained by various factors:

        1. the increasing UN involvement in other internal conflicts concerned mainly older regional disputes with a substantive East-West dimension, and consisted only in peacekeeping aimed at consolidating a lasting peace agreement (Angola, El Salvador, Cambodia);
        2. financial constraints prevented the UN from confronting all the instabilities which were erupting around the world (Sudan, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Myanmar). Yugoslavia was considered by Western European States - and, to a lesser extent, by Islamic countries - as a priority task for the UN. A considerable portion of the UN security budget had been allocated to the management of this conflict, reducing the financial base for international intervention in other parts of the world;
        3. the CSCE aimed to assume a primary role in solving regional conflicts under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.(3)

        In the particular case of South Ossetia, the bilateral agreement between Russia and Georgia, signed in June 1992 by Yeltsin and Shevardnadze, managed to freeze but not solve the conflict. South Ossetia was no longer an emergency case for the UN when Georgia became a full member of the world organization on 31 July 1992. As the CSCE was already dealing with the Ossetian conflict, the UN did not consider it necessary to intervene itself.

    2. Soft Actions

      1. Fact-Finding Missions

        Fact-finding missions constitute a key element in the Secretary-General's new preventive diplomacy.(4) Their purpose is to collect detailed information about a situation and to demonstrate the concern of the international community. According to the UN Charter, the Security Council has to take the initiative for a fact-finding mission (Art. 34), but the Secretary-General (Art. 99) and the General Assembly (Art. 11) also have the right to launch such missions, on the basis of their general powers.

        Not all national liberation conflicts in the former Soviet Union attract the attention of the Secretary-General or the Security Council. These have to focus on a limited number of conflicts which they want investigated. It is still difficult to find the precise criteria used by the UN bodies in selecting one conflict rather than another. The first fact-finding missions in Nagorno-Karabakh were sent on the Secretary-General's own initiative(5), while reports on the situation in Abkhazia were requested by the Security Council.(6)

        The first fact-finding team arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh in March 1992, after an Armenian offensive. Cyrus Vance, the former US Secretary of State, was chosen as Head of Mission because of his achievements in the former Yugoslavia. He had just persuaded the warring factions in Croatia to respect a cease-fire and to accept a UN peacekeeping operation. His mission in Transcaucasia also included support for the CSCE mediatory efforts led by Jiri Dienstbier. Other similar missions arrived in May and October 1992 respectively.(7) In July 1992, a less common type of fact-finding mission was charged with investigating Azeri allegations of the use of chemical weapons by the Armenians.(8)

        In April 1993, after the Armenian assault on the district of Kelbajar and the town of Fizuli, the Secretary-General, acting at the request of the Security Council(9), asked the Chief Representatives of the new UN interim offices in Armenia and Azerbaijan to ascertain the reality on the ground. The Secretary-General's report on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh derived from this initiative.(10)

        The first fact-finding mission arrived in Abkhazia in September 1992, a month after the outbreak of war. A second mission came in October 1992.(11) A UN interim office was opened in Tbilisi in November 1992 in order to demonstrate the presence of the UN, to maintain contacts between the parties and to send reports on the situation to the UN headquarters in New York.(12) In May 1993, as the fighting intensified, the Secretary-General appointed the Swiss ambassador, Eduard Brunner, as his "Special Envoy" to Georgia. This man had previously been in charge of a similar mission in the Middle East. Although his mission in Georgia was also a fact-finding one, he negotiated both a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict and a peacekeeping operation concept, just as Cyrus Vance had done in Croatia in the autumn of 1991.(13)

      2. Political Statements

        The Security Council may either make political statements or adopt legal resolutions. The first are legally non-binding texts demonstrating the Security Council's concern at the development of a situation. They may include political proposals which aim to defuse a crisis.

        A Security Council statement on Nagorno-Karabakh was issued in May 1992, two months after the first statement by the CSCE, against the background of an Armenian assault on the Lachin Corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.(14) Members of the Security Council expressed their "serious concern" over the deterioration of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the breaches of the cease-fire agreements. They also expressed their support for the CSCE peace process. In January 1993, as a consequence of the Azeri blocade against Armenia, the UN Security Council expressed its concern over the devastating consequences of the interruption in the delivery of basic supplies to Armenia and Nakhichevan.(15)

        In April 1993, after new hostilities in Kelbajar and Fizuli (Azeri cities which are located outside of Nagorno Karabakh), the Security Council requested the Secretary-General to report on the situation.(16) According to this report, published one week later, "the intensification of fighting in and around Nagorno Karabakh, especially the recent attacks against the Kelbajar and Fizuli districts of Azerbaijan [posed] a serious threat to the maintenance of international peace and security in the entire Transcaucasus region".(17) Two weeks later, the Security Council adopted its first resolution on the conflict (see below).

        In relation to Abkhazia, the Security Council published three statements (September and October 1992; January 1993) calling for respect for the Moscow cease-fire agreement of 3 September 1992, and a fourth one (July 1993), calling for respect for the cease-fire agreement of 14 May 1993.(18)

    3. Normative Actions

      1. Designation of the Situation

        The Security Council stated in its first resolution on Nagorno Karabakh (April 1993) that the situation continued "to endanger peace and security in the region".(19) The designation of the situation in Abkhazia as a "threat to the maintenance of international peace and security" did not appear in the first Security Council resolution but in the third one, adopted in October 1993, after the first breaches of the Sochi cease-fire agreement of 27 July 1993.(20)

      2. Reaffirmation of Principles of International Law

        The Security Council resolutions refer to principles of international law which must guide any solution of the conflict, such as the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which were reaffirmed for both Georgia and Azerbaijan.(21) The resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh involve, however, two elements which are absent from the resolutions on Abkhazia:

        1. after the sentence relating to the reaffirmation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the following phrase was added: "and of all other States in the region";
        2. the affirmation of the principles of the inviolability of international borders and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory - both of which may be deduced from the two above-mentioned principles.(22) These differences - which were probably politically motivated - had no legal consequences for the affirmation of the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Azerbaijan or Georgia.(23) In both cases, these principles of international law prescribe that any solution of current disputes and any territorial change must be freely accepted by the legal representatives of these countries. Consequently, neither Nagorno-Karabakh nor Abkhazia can be recognized as independent States without the consent of the Azeri and Georgian authorities respectively.

      3. Condemnations

        The Security Council has condemned some specific events which occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Georgia. First, the Council condemned violations of cease-fire agreements.(24) Only the seizure of Kelbadjar and Zanghelan, both located outside Nagorno-Karabakh, in Azeri territory, were explicitly condemned by the Security Council(25), while no Abkhaz city was mentioned in the Councils resolutions.

        Attempts to change the demographic composition of Abkhazia, including by repopulating it with people not previously resident there, were also condemned.(26) No similar condemnation existed for Nagorno-Karabakh.(27) The Security Council expressed merely "its grave concern at the displacement of large numbers of civilians in the Azerbaijani Republic".(28) By contrast, the Council recognized "the right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict [in Abkhazia] to return, without preconditions, to their homes in secure conditions".(29) In the Abkhaz case, the Council clearly rejected any solution based on the results of the so-called "ethnic cleansing".

        Not only did the Security Council comdemn some events and not others: in addition, some actions were explicitly attributed to one or other warring faction.(30) However, only the actions of the Abkhaz side were explicitly condemned.(31) The lack of any such reference to the Armenian side in the resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh probably results from a lack of political consensus within the Security Council. The Council, nevertheless, demanded "the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces involved from the district of Agdam and all other recently occupied areas of the Azerbaijani Republic".(32)

      4. Requests and Demands Addressed to the Warring Parties

        The Security Council may address to the Member States either non-legally binding requests or legally binding demands. Only demands constitute legal obligations on the Member States. A number of requests and demands formulated by the Security Council regarding Transcaucasia consisted in calling on the parties to comply with the above-mentioned principles of international law, or to stop actions which the Security Council condemned.

        The requests and demands concerning the use of force by the warring parties were more original. In these, the Security Council:

        • demanded that all parties to the conflict in Abkhazia refrain from using force(33);
        • demanded the immediate cessation of all acts of hostility in order to achieve the establishment of a lasting cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh(34);
        • urged concerned parties to refrain from any action which could obstruct a peaceful solution to the conflict.(35)

        Although no legal stipulations prevent States from using force in internal matters (the principle of the non-use of force is valid only in international relations(36)), when State representatives sign an international cease-fire agreement, government forces have to renounce the use of arms. The Council's requests and demands were therefore addressed to all warring factions, including governmental ones.

        Another request from the Security Council concerned unimpeded access for international humanitarian aid to the conflict areas.(37) The Security Council has been expressing this request more and more frequently in recent years, starting with the famous Resolution 688 on repression in Iraq (April 1991).(38)

      5. Requests and Demands Addressed to the Non-Warring Parties

        The expression "warring parties" is used here in its narrow sense, and refers exclusively to the parties who have publicly acknowledged their involvement in a war. Consequently, other parties - even if they are suspected or accused of active participation(39) - are considered under this definition to be "non-warring parties".

        How did the Security Council react to these instances of reported foreign military involvement? Where Abkhazia is concerned, the only resolution which mentioned neighbouring States was the request to all States to prevent all forms of assistance, except humanitarian aid, to the Abkhaz side, either from their territory or from persons under their jurisdiction.(40) Although the resolution was formulated in general terms so that it would not be vetoed by Russia, it was clear that it could only be referring to Russia, which maintained military troops in Abkhazia and seemed to be doing little to prevent irregular fighters from the Northern Caucasus coming to the aid of the Abkhaz secessionists.(41)

        The Security Council did issue similar general statements regarding Armenia's involvement in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, urging all States in the region to refrain from any act of hostility and from any interference or intervention.(42) But, in July 1993, the Council explicitly urged "the Government of the Republic of Armenia to continue to exert its influence to achieve compliance by the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Azerbaijani Republic with [UNSC Resolutions and] the acceptance by this party of the proposals of the Minsk Group of the CSCE".(43) The Council repeated this request in November 1993, adding that the Government of Armenia must ensure that the "forces involved" did not receive the means to extend their military campaign.(44)

        A parallel may be drawn between the way the Security Council reacted to the help the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh received from Armenia, and how it reacted to the help received by Bosnian Serbs or Bosnian Croatians from their motherlands. Unlike the resolutions on the former Yugoslavia, the UNSC resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh did not mention illegal intervention by Armenia in Azeri internal affairs.(45) No sanctions were agreed against Armenia.(46) There was not even a simple request for it to withdraw its troops from Azerbaijan, in contrast to the Bosnian case, where such calls were made on Croatia.(47)

      6. Support for Other Peace Initiatives

        Since 1991, in its resolutions the Security Council has increasingly mentioned peace efforts by individual states or regional organizations(48), stressing the value of efforts made in co-operation with and/or at the initiative of the UN. Only the CSCE and Russia's peacemaking efforts in Transcaucasia were mentioned by the Security Council. Mediation attempts by other States - such as Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan - were ignored.

        Regarding Abkhazia, the Council welcomed the continuing co-operation between the UN and the CSCE(49), but also the Russian peace efforts. In particular, the Council:

        • presented the Russian Federation as a facilitator of the UN peace efforts(50),
        • welcomed the planned deployment of joint monitoring groups consisting of Georgian, Abkhaz and Russian units, in order to consolidate the cease-fire of 27 July 1993(51),
        • welcomed the readiness of the Russian Federation to assist the parties to take all steps necessary to ensure the security of UNOMiG personnel.(52)

        Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, the Security Council constantly supported the efforts of the CSCE (see below)(53), but also mentioned the Russian mediation actions in support of the Minsk Group of the CSCE.(54)

    4. Operative Actions

      1. Humanitarian Measures

        The activities of the UN and its specialized agencies (UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO and the World Food Program) were especially important in the humanitarian field.(55) In addition to the convoying of humanitarian assistance on the ground, the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs called international meetings of donors.(56) But no humanitarian armed intervention was launched, even though the emergency situation in the Caucasus could not be considered to be any better than that in Bosnia, for instance.(57)

      2. Diplomatic Measures

        Neither in Nagorno-Karabakh nor in Abkhazia did the Security Council decide to impose diplomatic sanctions on any of the warring parties. There was no recommendation to reduce consular or other diplomatic missions - as was done in 1992 against Libya(58) - or to refuse the admission of newly independent States to the UN, as was done in the same year for the "new Yugoslavia".(59) In spite of Art. 4 of the UN Charter - which stipulates, for example, that "membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving States" - both Armenia and Azerbaijan became members of the UN on 2 March 1992, in the context of an open war in Nagorno-Karabakh.(60) Georgia, for its part, was admitted on 31 July 1992, in a context of unresolved civil war.(61)

      3. Economic Measures

        Economic sanctions were seldom used before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait(62), but have increasingly been adopted since then. Not only States (Iraq, Libya, Serbia and Haiti(63)) but also non-governmental groups (the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and UNITA in Angola(64)) have been subjected to UN economic sanctions. Such sanctions were also used in the Caucasus, but in different ways in Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

        The Security Council requested all States to prevent all forms of assistance and, in particular, to refrain from the supply of any weapons or munitions to Abkhazia, from their territory or from persons under their jurisdiction.(65) This embargo, directed exclusively at the Abkhaz side, was complete: only humanitarian aid was excluded from this measure, which can be compared with those taken against Iraq and Serbia.

        As regards Nagorno-Karabakh, the Security Council urged the international community to refrain from the supply of weapons and munitions which might lead to an intensification of the conflict or to a further occupation of territory.(66) Unlike the resolutions on Abkhazia, the embargo was couched in general terms and concerned only weapons and munitions. Moreover, the Security Council did not impose a total ban on arms transfers, but only a ban on arms which might lead to an intensification of the conflict or the continued occupation of territory. This request did not make clear which parties in the conflict were being targeted (only the warring parties, or also Armenia?). Such an interpretation was left to the political appreciation of each State, as in the 1960s with the ambiguous formulation of the arms embargo against Portugal, because of its pursuance of its colonial policies.(67)

        Another problem with the Security Council's recommendation concerned the compatibility between a general arms embargo vis-a-vis Nagorno-Karabakh and the "natural right to self-defence" each State retains "until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security" (Art. 51 of the UN Charter). As long as Armenia participates militarily (albeit not officially) in the national liberation conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan is entitled to request all the foreign military aid needed for repelling a foreign attack, unless the Security Council is considered effectively to have taken "the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security". The problem is more or less the same for the Bosnians, who are facing illegal intervention by Serbia as well as a UN arms embargo.

        Neither in Abkhazia nor in Nagorno-Karabakh were the embargoes coupled with enforcement measures or sanctions assistance missions (SAMs), unlike in the former Yugoslavia.(68) Not even the usual Sanctions Committee (responsible for monitoring the implementation of sanctions) was established, in either case.(69)

      4. Military Measures

        A proposal for a peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia was discussed but never implemented by the UN. At the request of the new Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, the UN Secretary-General proposed an immediate deployment of 50 military observers to monitor the cease-fire agreement of 3 September 1992 and a comprehensive peace plan for the longer term. This peace proposal included the following elements: - the consolidation of the cease-fire, if necessary under international control; - negotiations under the auspices of the UN; - support from neighbouring States, and in particular from Russia, for the above-mentioned activities.(70)

        The sending of the first team of ten military observers and the creation of an 88-strong UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMiG) were approved by the Security Council in August 1993.(71) Originally, only Georgia agreed with the three-step approach of the UN Secretary-General. The Abkhaz side expressed reservations about a peacekeeping operation, while Russia did not support the idea of an international peace conference.(72)

        The possibility of a UN mission changed dramatically after the violation of the Sochi Agreement in September 1993. The UNOMiG was immediately reduced to only 5 people.(73) The Secretary-General proposed to choose either a UN peacekeeping operation or a Russian one. The first option seemed to have UN support until spring 1994. Under this option(74), a UN operation would have included a large contingent of Russian soldiers (not exceeding one third of its total strength(75)) and would have had the following aims:

        • its deployment in all of Abkhazia and not in a "buffer zone" between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia(76);
        • a strong UN civil police in order to help local police to maintain public order throughout the Abkhaz territory;
        • the return of displaced persons and refugees to Abkhazia;
        • respect for Georgian territorial integrity, coupled with broad political autonomy for Abkhazia.

        This peace plan was accepted by Georgia but raised some Abkhaz objections (77):

        1. on the subject of deployment: the Abkhaz were promoting the idea of a buffer zone along the current front line on the Inguri River;
        2. regarding the presence of UN unarmed police: the Abkhaz wished to maintain public order themselves on "their" territory;
        3. concerning Georgian territorial integrity: the Abkhaz wanted complete independence.

        The option of a Russian peacekeeping force was formulated in more general terms (without any explicit reference to Russia) in a Security Council resolution of January 1994.(78) This mentioned the possibility of a multinational force which would not be put under UN command but whose operations would be monitored by UNOMiG.(79) The agreement signed by each warring party on 14 May 1994, under the auspices of Russia(80), gave the necessary legal basis for the deployment of CIS troops under Russian command. Because of the consent of the Georgian authorities, the CIS military presence in Abkhazia was to be considered as an element of a normal co-operation relationship between two sovereign states, Russia and Georgia. As it was not an illegal intervention, this operation did not require any formal acceptance from the Security Council.

        The May 1994 agreement revealed a certain division of labour between the United Nations and Russia. This development may be seen as a result of the UN's failure to manage the conflict using traditional methods, and also as a consequence of the Russian approach to the "near abroad". In what follows, we will see how a similar division of labour between Russia and the CSCE emerged from the CSCE's unsuccessful initiatives in Nagorno-Karabakh.


Continue or go back to the contents page.

Contested Borders in the Caucasus, by Bruno Coppieters (ed.)
© 1996, VUB University Press