Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 8

The Bush administration’s move, at the end of 2001, to suspend Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act has enabled the United States to enter into military assistance agreements with Azerbaijan and Armenia. The decade-old Section 907, originally passed by the U.S. Congress to show support for Armenia, prohibited almost all forms of U.S. government aid–including military and security assistance–to Azerbaijan. Under the circumstances, however, the United States could not possibly have delivered military and security assistance to Armenia either. Section 907 lost any raison d’etre as early as 1993, when Armenia occupied and ethnically cleansed six districts in Azerbaijan proper, beyond Karabakh, creating some 800,000 Azeri refugees. Thus, Section 907 punished a defeated pro-Western country, indirectly rewarding Russia’s victorious military ally. It ensured that Azerbaijan remained helplessly vulnerable to Iran. Further, it solidified Armenia’s exclusive dependence on Russia, by making U.S. military and security assistance politically impossible, thus shoring up Moscow’s strategic position in the South Caucasus.

Until last year, Armenian lobbies in the U.S. Congress fought successfully to preserve this absurd amendment, which hamstrung U.S. policy in the entire region. The Clinton administration challenged Section 907 in Congress each year, but did so halfheartedly and lost narrowly each time. In the post-September 11 atmosphere, however, the Bush administration succeeded in assembling a Congressional majority in favor of waving Section 907. It prevailed with partial support from the mainstream Armenian Assembly of America, and against last-ditch resistance by the equally influential Armenian National Committee of America. The latter is an affiliate of the ultranationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun, which generally opposes U.S. policy and U.S. allies in the region, and seems comfortable with Armenia’s full dependence on Russia. The Bush administration is currently moving to offer security assistance to both Azerbaijan and Armenia in a balanced way.

On March 29, the State Department announced that the U.S. government has removed Armenia and Azerbaijan from the list of countries barred from receiving American military and security assistance under the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). According to the announcement, Washington “intends to deepen military cooperation with both countries,” in the common interests of promoting security and stability in the region. The change means that both Armenia and Azerbaijan would be able to receive various types of combat and noncombat equipment, training, and technical assistance from the United States. The move promises to fill a dangerous vacuum in Azerbaijan and to provide Russian-armed Armenia with an alternative in terms of assistance.

In Baku, Foreign Affairs Minister Vilayet Guliev predicted that neither country would or could acquire combat hardware from the United States. The program’s intent is to focus on security assistance to both countries. The respected pundit, former presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade in turn predicted that Washington’s waiver of Section 907 and decision on ITAR could “accelerate the entry of the United States in the region,” ease Russia out in military terms, and “help Armenia along the difficult road [of] renouncing the strategic partnership with Russia.”