[08:17 pm] 30 October, 2008

Azerbaijan: Defence Sector Management and Reform, the latest
policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the
difficulties the country faces in upgrading its military. Oil wealth
has been poured into a defence budget that has increased more than
ten-fold in five years, raising concerns President Ilham Aliyev might
eventually choose war with Armenia to recover Nagorno-Karabakh. But
reforms could also make the army more accountable, less corrupt and
a contributor to democratisation.

Unwillingness to take tough decisions, including how far to cooperate
with and accept advice from NATO while balancing relations with
Russia and Iran, has led to stalemate in efforts to reduce widespread
inefficiency, corruption and mistreatment in the army. For now at
least, the delicate military balance with Armenia probably still holds.

Azerbaijan: Defence Sector Management and Reform

Azerbaijan wants to create a strong army to regain Nagorno-Karabakh
and seven adjacent districts, either by improving its negotiating
leverage with Armenia or going back to war. It has exponentially
increased its military budget, though it has not so far gained clear
superiority over Armenian forces. If the new military is to be not
only stronger but also better governed, however, it needs deep reforms
to make it less corrupt and personality driven, more transparent and
better directed. So far there has been insufficient political will
either to do the part that should involve increasing democratic and
civilian control or to break the habit of treating the army as above
all an instrument with which to protect elite interests.

A war in Nagorno-Karabakh is unlikely in the immediate
term. But in the longer term fragmented, divided,
accountable-to-no-one-but-the-president, un-trans¬par¬ent,
corrupt and internally feuding armed forces could all too easily be
sent off to fight to satisfy internal power struggles. A modern and
efficient army, even if subject to democratic, civilian control, is
not unproblematic while the Nagorno-Karabakh situation remains deeply
resented in the polity. However, the ability to hold the leadership
responsible for expenditures and policy priorities at least has the
potential to make the system more responsible and predictable. NATO,
which is helping with military reform, should enhance Azerbaijani
knowledge of peacekeeping and laws of war, and when possible facilitate
dialogue and contacts between the militaries of the two sides. The EU,
U.S. and Russia should also reinvigorate efforts to push the parties
to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The government's pledge to significantly reform the military is part of
a stated goal of national modernisation and democratisation. Though the
presidential election on 15 October 2008 was technically improved, it
offered no genuine alternative to the incumbent. As democratisation has
stalled, so too have crucial parts of military reform. Thus, parliament
has failed to oversee military expenditure and has no authority to
summon power ministers, including the defence minister, to report on
their activities, but it is itself the product of flawed elections and
far from a truly democratic institution. Democratic improvements in
the military can contribute to national democratisation, but they are
unlikely to drive that process or advance in isolation. If Azerbaijan
is committed to thorough reform of the military, it will need to change
substantially in many other areas of government and society as well.

The defence reforms that have occurred have often been stimulated
by cooperation with NATO. Azerbaijan was one of the first former
Soviet countries to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program
in 1994. Especially the 2005 and 2008 Individual Partnership Action
Plans (IPAP) provide a blueprint for democratic control of the armed
forces, defence planning and budgeting, interoperability with NATO and
structural reorganisation according to NATO standards. Baku has often
dragged its feet in implementing IPAP-recommended reforms, however,
in part at least because it has no clear membership aspirations,
due to a foreign policy which seeks to balance interests with the
U.S., EU, Russia and Iran. Moscow's August military intervention in
Georgia has further convinced it of the advantages of an ambiguous
policy and made it less ready to push forward with NATO integration.

Defence sector reform in Azerbaijan is an understudied subject, about
which little comprehensive analysis has been attempted. The bulk of
research has been carried out by a handful of journalists. The defence
sector remains one of the most secretive and non-transparent segments
of the government. Crisis Group was restricted in its own field work
by limited access to government sources, military personnel and
installations. By improving the dissemination of information, the
government could do more to dispel the doubts that arise regarding
the impact of its increased military spending.

If it indeed wishes to pursue a more efficient, NATO-standard military,
subject to more democratic civilian control and greater transparency
and accountability, the government should:

enhance the oversight capacities of the parliament, especially its
standing committee for defence and security and the audit chamber and
encourage parliamentarians to increase their knowledge about military
reform by organising regular training, work¬shops and conferences;

improve public information on and participation in security sector
management by publishing the NATO IPAP documents, making it easier
to access information on military matters, and setting up a regularly
updated defence ministry website;

increase civilian control in the defence ministry;

complete elaboration of a military doctrine and conduct a strategic
defence review;

amend legislation and military regulations in line with its
international human rights commitments, in particular by disallowing
detention of service personnel without proper trial, adopting a new
law on alternative service and creating a military ombudsman; and

improve personnel management and training by establishing efficient
systems for payment and compensation, officer rotation, reservist
training and call-up systems, military education and merit-based

In the meantime, NATO should carefully review its strategic purpose
in working with the militaries of Caucasus states, particularly
with respect to unresolved conflicts. It should focus its military
cooperation with Azerbaijan strictly on efforts to improve democratic,
civilian control of the armed forces and not move beyond the IPAP
while Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved. Especially the U.S. and the
EU should at the same time move resolution of that simmering conflict
much higher up their agendas and seek, in cooperation with Russia, to
put pressure on both Azer¬baijan and Armenia to compromise in line
with the principles proposed by the Minsk Group of the Organization
for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).