On July 10, Armenia’s Security Council approved a new National Security Strategy. It is considerably longer than the previous version of this document, adopted in 2007 (Armenia’s first strategy planning document since the country regained its independence in 1991), and the updated strategy appears more ambitious. It is also structured in a different way and is subject to review no later than in five years; the old strategy did not stipulate a future deadline for review.
Some aspects that were covered in the preamble of the 2007 document have, this time, been included in an address delivered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and published in parallel with the new strategy—akin to a preface. However, while the former preamble laid out five “fundamental values” of national security—independence, safety of the state and its people, peace and international cooperation, the protection of identity, and national well-being (2017 National Security Strategy at Mfa.am, January 26, 2007)—Pashinyan’s address includes extended references to the historical and cultural heritage that he asserts make up Armenia’s national values. Specifically, he refers to the ancient Armenian kingdoms as well as the first Republic of Armenia (1918–1920) as the antecedents of the modern republic, while acknowledging Soviet Armenia’s “exceptional contribution” to education, science, culture and industry. The appended address also formulates “rules for [intra-]Armenian coexistence”: a rejection of violence and voter fraud as political tools as well as the elimination of corruption and repairing the damage it previously caused (2020 National Security Strategy at Sns.am, July 10, 2020). Additionally, the 2020 document’s newly drafted preamble states three basic national security principles: self-reliance, the perpetuation of statehood (closely related to an avoidance of involvement in various geopolitical disputes), and resilience—a relatively new concept in Armenian politics. Another novel component is the mention of the deterioration of the international order as well as the decay of familiar alliances and mutual trust between states.
The 2007 strategy included a list of both external and internal threats to Armenia’s national security. The former included the possible use of military force by Azerbaijan, which, under some circumstances, might be supported by Turkey; internal conflicts in neighboring countries; the sabotage of transit routes in neighboring countries; terrorism and trans-border crime, including the illicit drug trade, money laundering and human trafficking; energy dependence; regional isolation, including impediments to Armenia’s participation in the Transport Corridor Europe–Caucasus–Asia (TRACECA—an international transport program involving the European Union, Iran, and 11 former Soviet republics) and INOGATE, a former international energy cooperation program between the EU and countries of the Black and Caspian sea region, operational before 2016; the weakening of national and cultural identity in the Armenian diaspora; as well as epidemics and natural or technological disasters. The list of internal threats included the deterioration of governance efficiency and lack of public trust toward the judiciary; a deficient political system; lack of democracy; social polarization; urbanization, specifically the abandonment of rural settlements (particularly in border areas) and high concentration of population in seismic areas; insufficient fiscal management; infrastructure deficiencies; inefficiencies in the education system; low morals and lack of “patriotic education”; negative demographic trends, including a low birth rate, high mortality, and brain drain; as well as environmental problems and the inefficient management of natural resources. The 2007 document indicated the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as the main guarantor of security, with Russia being Armenia’s main partner in bilateral relations. A secondary level of international security cooperation involved the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the bilateral level, the most significant regional partners (aside from Russia) were Georgia and Iran.
In turn, the 2020 strategy does not distinguish between external and internal threats but rather assesses a general “security environment.” Some of the new document’s explicitly identified threats include the emergence of new regional powers; arms races; impediments to access to regional infrastructure; hybrid threats, including cyber threats and disinformation; declines in democracy and human rights, both regionally and globally; Azerbaijan’s threats of force to resolve the Karabakh conflict; Turkey’s military and political support to Azerbaijan; the growth of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East; terrorism and trans-border crime; demographic decline; corruption; and poverty. The document additionally includes a rather long clause referring to the possibility of a growing rivalry between military-political blocs influencing the South Caucasus region and between the members of such blocs. Most significantly, concerning the latter, the passage mentions the “blocs’ members’ actions against other members’ interests, particularly the sales of arms to Azerbaijan”—a clear swipe at fellow CSTO members Russia and Belarus (see EDM, March 28, 2018, June 14, 2018, December 13, 2019).
Some instructive textual changes between the two strategy documents regard Karabakh. The 2007 version stated that Armenia would be the security guarantor for the population of Karabakh, whereas the new strategy mentions security guarantees for the un-recognized “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” Moreover, the new document reminds that the 1994 ceasefire agreement was signed by representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the de facto government of Karabakh, thus implying that any conflict-resolution negotiations will also need to be conducted trilaterally.
Considering international cooperation, the 2020 strategy again prioritizes Russia, both bilaterally and within the CSTO framework, as well as regional cooperation with Georgia and Iran, underlining the imperative of keeping such cooperation free from geopolitical influences. The clauses on cooperation with the United States and NATO are rather general and unambitious, similar to the 2007 strategy. The importance of cooperation with the EU is more strongly stressed, including a readiness to implement the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, as well as prioritizing bilateral relations with France and Germany. Compared to 2007, trilateral cooperation with Greece and Cyprus is a newly articulated priority. Finally, while the 2007 document generally referred to cooperation with countries of the Asia-Pacific region, the new strategy specifically mentions cooperation with China and India, albeit briefly.
One of the most important features of the new strategy, and where it diverges from the old one, is the addition of a chapter on civilian security, citizens’ well-being and economic development—in fact, the longest chapter of the just-released planning document. The chapter specifically mentions the need to reform the police and security service, and to improve the level of parliamentary and civil society oversight; to develop the IT sector and information society while countering cyber threats; and so forth. While the economic development plans are rather ambitious, it remains to be seen how the lack of investment, currently exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, may affect those goals.