Azerbaijan: Player punching above its weight

23 October 2021 10:16 (UTC+04:00)

By Orkhan Amashov

In a modern world, a nation’s international clout and global reach are no longer exclusively determined by its territorial size or population, but by an array of complex circumstances, ranging from the advantages emanating from its geographic location to its representation in different international organisations and its ability to shape and influence the agenda of world affairs.

A modern Azerbaijan is a case in point: it is a regional powerhouse leading the South Caucasus and occupying a strategic place in its wider neighbourhood. As of November 2021, it is also a victorious country with undisputed and widely recognised military capabilities.

Azerbaijan’s membership within the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the second biggest forum of sovereign states after the United Nations, entitles it to the support of a great number of countries with which it shares common values and objectives.

Its chairmanship of the NAM enables official Baku to be a bigger voice internationally, as whilst defending and promoting the shared vision of the Movement at the UN and other forums, Azerbaijan finds itself as a player equipped with resources to influence the global agenda and ultimately be a source for a change worldwide.

This role is of particular relevance at the time when the UN is in a state in which it risks losing its relevance due to a set of various factors, most of which centre upon its perceived inability to safeguard world peace.

UN: Frozen in past

In a rapidly changing and evolving world, the UN, which was born from the wreckage of the most catastrophic war in human history, has long ceased to correspond to the dynamism of global affairs.

In fact, the post-1945 architecture of the system of international relations has been bedevilled with a litany of issues since its very inception. That the UN is in dire need of deep-entrenched reform is acknowledged by its perceptive observers, together with those privy to the organisation’s inner workings.

As incumbent UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the current system is old, outdated and to a certain extent irrelevant, as the world’s geopolitical order has been subject to a myriad of influences over the past seven decades, yet the UN itself has largely remained the same.

The power structures at the heart of its institutional core, the most visible manifestation of which is the Security Council and the norms underpinning its decision-making process, are very much contingent upon what the world was in 1945.

NAM: Voice for change

The NAM and the possibilities offered through its resources provide a specific angle for the examination of the UN’s stagnated state. The NAM, at first glance, may appear to suffer from the same predicament as the UN, since it was also established in the light of the political-economical conditions prevailing in the post-Second World War age.

When the idea of the movement was first conceived in the 1950s, the importance of distancing from the major blocs of the Cold War and adherence to a third way, in conjunction with the “struggle against colonialism and imperialism” was pivotal to the thinking of its founders. But the NAM is more than that and has always been.

First of all, the Bandung Principles, the foundational tenets of the organisation, amongst which mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression and peaceful co-existence feature prominently, are still relevant and perfectly in line with the UN Charter.

In addition, the movement has been successful in redefining and reinventing itself over the subsequent decades. The NAM’s unwavering commitment to “multilateralism” and “multilateral diplomacy” enables it to be a powerful voice for more balanced and fair relations between developed and developing countries.  

Thirdly, although the NAM cannot be viewed as an alternative to the UN or a panacea to all the pitfalls associated with the latter, the movement’s potential is not be underestimated. The NAM, comprised of 120 members, is a legitimate voice for fundamental reform.

The NAM has long been outspoken in its criticism of the current UN structures and power dynamics, stating that a restricted group of member states has a disproportionately prominent voice on world affairs. It is not surprising that quite a number of recommendations to the effect of strengthening the representation of the "non-aligned”, together with improving the transparency and democracy of the UN’s decision-making mechanisms, have been made over the years.

Fourthly, apart from being a source of legitimate and constructive criticism, the NAM’s extensive membership enables it to influence the UN’s presently unreformed decision-making structures.

Beyond prestige

Azerbaijan was accepted to the NAM in 2011 and became its Chair in 2019. Its chairmanship was later extended till 2023, which is a confidence vote in Baku’s credentials as a leading country. It is vital to acknowledge that Azerbaijan’s chairmanship in the world’s second-biggest international forum is not a mere issue of prestige. The NAM provides official Baku with tangible political-legal support globally. In relation to the former Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Movement has been an outspoken supporter of Azerbaijan, adopting numerous documents espousing its territorial integrity.

The consolidated position of the NAM manifested itself in the clearest possible manner during the Second Karabakh War, when the three Security Council members that are also the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, sought to adopt a statement regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without making a reference to the famous four resolutions of the Security Council itself passed in 1993.

The attempt failed, due to the intervention of the seven NAM members (also the non-permanent members of the UNSC), which insisted on the inclusion of the resolutions in question, which have long been the cornerstone of the international legal position as to the protracted conflict.

The episode in question was the moment of diplomatic reality-check for Baku; it behoves any fair-minded observer to accept that Azerbaijan has risen to the occasion at the time of need.

Azerbaijan: Player punching above its weight

Azerbaijan’s chairmanship has enabled the NAM to be proactive in tackling global problems. On 4 May 2020, on the initiative of Azerbaijan as a chair of the NAM, a High Meeting within the format of a contact group in response to COVID-19 took place and, as its continuation, a further proposal to the effect of having a larger debate at UN level was suggested by President Ilham Aliyev, which eventually received the support of 150 UN members.

A special session of the UN Generally Assembly, which took place later in December 2020, was the result of the initiative mentioned and it firmly put Azerbaijan at the forefront of the fight against the global pandemic. The special session was also noteworthy, due to the fact that when it was proposed, the sovereign state that opposed it was Armenia, the recalcitrant approach of which amounted to nothing, reasserting Azerbaijan’s moral footing. 

As a chair of the NAM, Azerbaijan has also raised the troubling issue of the “vaccine nationalism” expressed through the unfair distribution of vaccines between developed and developing countries. As 53 percent of vaccines in the world are ordered by about 30 rich countries, it militates against fair access to vaccines globally.

On the whole, the active leadership within the NAM has ascribed to Baku "medium power" attributes. Azerbaijan’s central role is a testament to the ability of a nation with a relatively small size to be capable of influencing the international response far beyond its presumed reach.

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