On 7 December 2011, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the US Helsinki Commission of the US Congress, held a briefing entitled “Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolution” in Congress. The briefing was led by Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX), with three main experts offering their oral testimony: Tom de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, E. Wayne Merry of the American Foreign Policy Council, and Dr Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution. The US Azeris Network (USAN) submitted its written testimony for the record.
The briefing offered several interesting perspectives from the testifying experts, as well as questions and comments from embassies of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, from the Azerbaijani-American grassroots advocacy diaspora organization – USAN, from Armenian Public Television and the Armenian lobby organization ANCA – Armenian National Committee of America. The US Department of Justice FARA-registered foreign agents (lobbyists) who present themselves as the office of the Armenian community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, also asked a question.
It would require a rather long article to go through all the points and arguments heard at the briefing, which this author will not do at this time (but would refer everyone to his 2008 article in the Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA) journal for some analysis of points heard at the briefing). In this essay, I would concentrate only on one aspect – the military-security paradigm, since that was the primary focus of the briefing – conflicts in the Caucasus – and the primary focus of one of its experts, Mr Merry.
Those following the news from the Caucasus region probably remember the now infamous quote by Wayne Merry that in his opinion, “Azerbaijan has armed forces, while Armenia has an army”, which he said at a conference at Johns Hopkins’ University’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute on 25 October 2006 (which this author attended). Needless to say, the quote, which raised many eyebrows of people more familiar with the region than Mr Merry, quickly spread all over the Internet via the Armenian media and news analysts, who were happy to present this highly speculative opinion and add it to the list of similarly spurious opinions from mostly non-military experts that trashed the Azerbaijani army whilst singing accolades to the Armenian armed forces.
The 2006 speech, which he basically repeated in his May 2009 article in the Open Democracy Network, followed the same basic line – that no matter what, in Mr Merry’s opinion, Armenia’s army had, has and will retain a presumed advantage in five distinct categories: geography (ground, terrain), firepower, reserves of weaponry and munitions, military operational art, and strategic depth (i.e., Russian support). To further add credibility to his speculation and pre-empt criticism, Mr Merry, who has not fought in any wars, at that time had never been to any part of Azerbaijan (including Karabakh), and was a diplomat (despite Pentagon credentials and being posted to the Marine Corps as a civilian for a year), stated that this is supposedly something akin to a consensus among the US intelligence community, which he knows due to all kinds of security credentials and top secret clearances he has enjoyed over the years at the State Department, Pentagon and Congress. The hint Mr Merry made to his critics – do not bother unless you also have his security credentials. Was it a convenient position? Very. Fair? Perhaps. Accurate? Definitely not.
What a difference Wikileaks made – thanks to this extraordinary release of classified, confidential and secret documents, everyone in America and beyond enjoyed security credentials and top secret clearances akin to Mr Merry’s. This data dump offered plenty of evidence to lift the propaganda veil on the military situation in the region that has been promulgated by the Armenian lobby and readily consumed and taken at face value by some analysts in the US.