Armenia: a Small State in Four Points

by Béatrice Chahine

The first blog in the series of the small states introduced the concept and mapped the theoretical discussions around it. This blog discusses Armenia as a small state.

Armenia is situated in a unique multipolar, multicultural, geopolitical and geostrategic location. It has a homogenous population and a diaspora, which extends itself worldwide. It aspires to have a balanced foreign policy, but there are frequent misgivings as to how dependent Armenia’s foreign policy is. How unique is the Armenian small state compared to mainstream international relations?

Here’s how:

  1. Location and border diplomacy: Armenia is landlocked and diplomatically boxed in, all of its 29 743 km2. Turkey and Azerbaijan have closed their borders in part due to the conflict in Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh. This leaves Georgia to the north and Iran in the south: the former is the gateway to Russia while the latter is an important trade partner and a security ally. Russia remains Armenia’s most important ally, both a blessing and a disadvantage in disguise: there are grumblings that the country depends too much on its ally and not enough on a balanced diversification of allies.
  2. Population: According to the UNDP’s case file on Armenia, the country has a population of 3 285 767[i]. Its diaspora amounts to approximately 6 to 8 million according to the World Bank[ii]. The 43.5% of the Armenian population lived under the poverty line in 2017, while unemployment was extremely high at 18.9%[iii]. The Armenian Diaspora is unique to Armenia. Not only is its size instrumental, but its actions for and in Armenia are also noteworthy. There are investments in all sectors, humanitarian aid, support of the economy, contributions in education, tourism, and social sectors[iv]. However, depending on the generation and diaspora location, there are varying degrees in its relationship with Armenia.
  3. Trade: Generally, there are more imports than exports. Trade relations are both constrained and flexible. The EU is the biggest trade partner. Russia is a major trade partner, not only through bilateral agreements but also through the numerous trade organizations it has created, including the CTSO and EAEU. Iran is the main trading partner for oil, while China counts for imports of textile, other consumer goods, and tech goods[v]. Domestic trade revolves around small-scale agriculture and the mining industry.
  4. Defense policy: Armenia’s defense strategy is not conventional by any small state indicator. In 2017, military spending amounted to 3.968% of the country’s GDP[vi]. It is, as one EU official mentioned, over the roof[vii]. First, the Artsakh conflict, though frozen, still creates tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Second, there is the matter of closed borders: Armenia is not just surrounded by allies.

By all indicators, Armenia is capable of holding its own as a small state; it falls in the same category of states like Lebanon, Denmark, or Fiji. Due also to the recent events in 2018, it is capable of creating its own destiny if the mentalities continue to change. By all accounts, it is already working towards more visibility in the international community. First, by being a member of various different international organizations: UN, IOF (Francophonie), Council of Europe, Eurasian Economic Union, CTSO. Second, Armenia participates in operations with NATO and has signed the Paris Climate Accords, Geneva Convention, Genocide Convention, the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the 2017 trade agreement with the EU (CEPA), amongst others. Armenia understands that its’ international role is collaborating with different other states, either in influence, investments, or bilateral efforts.

It is only a question of how.

Footnotes

[i] UNDP. URL: http://www.am.undp.org/content/armenia/en/home/countryinfo.html

[ii] World Bank. 2017. Future Armenia: connect, compete, prosper (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group; 98p; p. 21. URL: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/716961524493794871/Future-Armenia-connect-compete-prosper

[iii] Central Intelligence Agency; “Armenia Country Factsheet: World Factbook”; CIA Library; date unknown. URL: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/am.html

[iv] Both a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the World Bank report discuss the Armenian diaspora’s influence and actions. See: Kuchins, Andrew C.; Mankoff, Jeffrey; Backes, Oliver; Armenia in a Reconnecting Eurasia: Foreign Economic and Security Interests; Report of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program; CSIS (online); Rowman and Littlefield; June 2016; 56p. and World Bank. 2017. Future Armenia: connect, compete, prosper (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group; 98p; p. 21. URL: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/716961524493794871/Future-Armenia-connect-compete-prosper

[v] See Kuchins, Andrew C.; Mankoff, Jeffrey; Backes, Oliver; Armenia in a Reconnecting Eurasia: Foreign Economic and Security Interests; Report of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program; CSIS (online); Rowman and Littlefield; June 2016; 56p.

[vi] World Bank “Military expenditure (% of GDP)”; World Bank (online). URL: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=AM

[vii] See German, Tracey (2012), “The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia: Security Issues in the Caucasus”; Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs; 32:2; pp.216-229.

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