US Aid to Nagorno Karabagh is once again a major topic

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As every other year, the Armenian lobby has once again raised the topic of aid to Nagorno Karabagh in the US budget process. In his budget plan for 2013, Obama has called for a 19 percent reduction in foreign aid to Armenia. Along with other programs, he has allocated a total of 32.5 million dollars to Armenia. Nagorno Karabagh, however, has not been considered in his budget plan.

Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the U.S. Congress Appropriations Committee, however, has proposed at least $5 million of foreign aid to Nagorno Karabagh (This figure has grown by 3 million since last year).  Concurrently, it has considered it unacceptable to reduce the aid to Armenia by $7.5 million. The subcommittee has called for aid of at least $40 million to Armenia, and $16 million for Azerbaijan. It also deems it necessary to expect parity in military aid towards Azerbaijan and Armenia ($2.7 million foreign military aid and $600 thousand for military education and a teaching curriculum). The Armenian lobby and Congressman Adam Schiff are the leading influences on the decision.

Without major changes, the Appropriations Committee has already accepted the subcommittee’s plan. It now needs to pass the House. The following is an overview of the US Budgeting process: Once the president submits a budget request to Congress, The United States House Committee on the Budget and the United States Senate Committee on the Budget draft budget resolutions. Selected committees negotiate a conference report to reconcile differences between the House and the Senate versions and the bill is finally passed by Congress and presented to the President to sign.

Experience in Congress shows that regarding aid to Azerbaijan, Armenia and the separatist “Nagorno Karabagh Regime,” Senate resolutions are more similar to the President’s plan. Efforts of the Armenian lobby in the House have led to increases in aid to Armenia and earmarks regarding humanitarian aid to Nagorno Karabagh. As a result, the two houses come to an agreement about all issues, while aid to Nagorno Karabagh is left in the final plan with considerable cuts. If this holds true, allocated aid to Nagorno Karabagh in the 2013 Budget will not differ much from the $2 million of this year.

The US is reducing several spending projects due to complications caused by the recession. The Committee on Appropriations notes on their official website that by “reducing funding of less vital foreign programs, it seeks to support more critical international issues such as security and diplomatic relations in foreign countries.” Apparently, monetary aid to the Nagorno Karabagh regime plays a critical role in U.S. efforts for security and diplomacy.

Clearly, is not the amount of foreign aid that draws this much attention, but the fact that a nation like the United States is allocating funds to a separatist regime not recognized by international law. The White House can rightfully argue that Nagorno Karabagh did not appear in the President’s plan and that it is difficult to influence decisions of Congress. However, the main issue is not Congress, but a budget that goes into effect with the President’s signature.  The executive branch holds responsibility for this budget. In principle, the President’s veto would send the proposal back to Congress for resolution. However, it is highly unlikely that Obama would veto a resolution just for Nagorno Karabagh, for the country has other priorities.

This decision however, negatively affects any potential resolution to the conflict. Nagorno Karabagh is a part of the sovereign Azerbaijan and this decision does not promote friendly US-Azerbaijan strategic relations.

In addition, these moves weaken US role in the international arena and reduces the prominence of International law for the US. Territorial integrity is a vital matter in US foreign policy. International law and the Helsinki accords are usually obeyed when the US provides aid to foreign countries, especially to the Post-Soviet successor states. Direct aid to Nagorno Karabagh, however, is an antithesis to these concepts: it violates Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and weakens all efforts aimed at restoring it.

The United States is the only country that gives direct foreign aid to separatist Nagorno Karabagh. It draws special attention to the fact that of separatist regimes such as Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the US is only providing humanitarian aid to Nagorno Karabagh. This can mean that the United States is treating Nagorno Karabagh differently from the other named conflicts.

A separatist regime that has insured itself economically and is receiving funds for development in principle can no longer be interested in Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity or being redrawn into its internationally recognized borders. Therefore, this can be interpreted as US efforts to violate the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Spending of that foreign aid makes us question the humanitarian motives of the funds. Although the US claims that these funds help development, monitoring is difficult and it becomes more plausible that the funds go towards military improvement, promoting terrorist operations in the region and weapon trade. 

The US chairmanship of the Minsk Group conflicts with the foreign aid.  US participation in talks and support of Azerbaijani territorial integrity on one hand and its funding of separatist Nagorno Karabagh on the other hand evokes distrust of its objectivity and weakens its involvement.

If the US insists that the funds are aimed towards humanitarian aid, then it must also recognize the following: the population of Nagorno Karabagh does not consist only of Armenians; as a result of ethnic cleansing, Azerbaijanis are forced to live in difficult conditions; and that they are deprived of the opportunity to receive US aid. If the US had included the aid for Nagorno Karabagh in the aid for Azerbaijan, it would have once more assured its support of Azerbaijani territorial integrity.

Another decision of the subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs draws attention. The subcommittee has suggested to the State Department to report on the effectiveness of programs in Javakheti, prepare strategies for developments and -in light of recent events in the Near East- continue to give aid to Armenians and other Christian communities living in the region and other risky areas. If we take into account the situation in Javakheti, we can see that this decision also supports separatism. It becomes clear that the US Congress and US foreign policy has become a tool to serve Armenian interests.

Elmar Huseynov

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