Azerbaijan, a small but important country located in the South Caucasus on the Caspian Sea, remains an important partner for the United States and deserves more attention from U.S. policymakers, says Luke Coffey, the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.
In his article published in The National Interest, Coffey reminds that U.S.-Azerbaijani relations date back to the Paris Peace Conference after World War I, during the early and short-lived days of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
“A few years after meeting with the Azerbaijani delegation at the peace conference, President Woodrow Wilson recounted the event during a speech delivered in San Francisco: Well, one day there came in a very dignified and interesting group of gentlemen who were from Azerbaijan . . . I was talking to men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideas, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in respect of conceptions of right and justice,” writes the author.
Coffey emphasizes that much has changed in the world since then, but Azerbaijan remains an important partner for the United States for a number of reasons.
“On the security front, Azerbaijan is making a meaningful contribution to the war on terrorism. It recently increased its troop presence in Afghanistan to 120 soldiers. While this might not sound like much, it exceeds the troop contributions of twenty-six other countries including NATO members like Spain, the Netherlands and Norway,” reminds the author.
“Azerbaijan is helpful on the diplomatic front, too. It will soon host the third high-level meeting between U.S. and Russian military leaders. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander of NATO, who also serves as the top U.S. military commander for Europe, will meet in Baku with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces.”
America, too, has strong economic and energy ties to Azerbaijan, according to the author.
“The largest port on the Caspian Sea, Baku is the transportation hub for goods shipped between Europe and Central Asia. And since the first oil well was drilled just outside Baku in 1846, the city has been vital to the region’s oil and gas industry. American energy companies have been involved with oil and gas exploration and extraction in Azerbaijan since the 1990s. For Europe, Azerbaijan serves as a significant alternative to Russia for oil and gas supplies,” he writes, adding that this improves Europe’s security and, by association, the security of the United States.
Coffey emphasizes that though more can be done, Azerbaijan has made meaningful progress in liberalizing its economy over the past two decades, even with the significant drop oil prices. In 1996, the first year that The Heritage Foundation included the country in its Index of Economic Freedom, Azerbaijan ranked 134th in the world in terms of economic freedom. Last year, the Index ranked Azerbaijan 68th, placing it ahead of Spain, Italy and France.
“Globally, Azerbaijan is trying to keep a balance between its relations with the West and Russia. Regionally, Azerbaijan has sought to keep a balance between Russia and Iran while striving to preserve its autonomy or independence as much as possible,” he says.
The author is sure that economically—and in the energy sector especially—Azerbaijan will continue to be an important regional player. “As seen with the recent U.S.-Russian military meetings, it also plays an important role as an honest broker between West and East. America needs partners like Azerbaijan. If correct policies are pursued, U.S.- Azerbaijan relations can serve both countries equally and for the better,” he concludes.