U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Turkey and the South Caucasus
February 6, 2013
The Burke Chair in Strategy at the CSIS has released a comprehensive report detailing the US-Iranian strategic competition in Turkey and the South Caucasus. This report describes the economic and political relationships, Iranian and US influence, energy resources, and competition in four states, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The report includes updated figures and maps displaying US and Iranian trade to these countries, energy locations, and oil and gas pipelines.
The new report is entitled, “US and Iranian Strategic Competition: Turkey and the South Caucasus” and is available at the CSIS website at: https://csis.org/files/publication/130206_turk_casp_chap9.pdf.
It discusses the current challenges to the US in its competition with Iran in relation to these states. As such, Turkey is the main arena of competition between Iran and the US in this region. While in the past the US was concerned that Turkey had moved away from the West, the Civil War in Syria and Iranian support for President Bashar al-Assad has reinforced Turkey’s connections to NATO and the US. Turkey also represents one of Iran’s few economic outlets as both a trading partner and as a way to reduce its international isolation.
Turkey has been careful to avoid provoking Iran by taking a decisive stand on its nuclear program, but does differ sharply from Iran over its support of Assad in Syria, nor does it want to see Iran increase its role in Iraq, and recognizes the potential threat a nuclear Iran would pose to the region. Turkey agrees with the US that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be detrimental to the security of the region but does not believe that military strikes or continued sanctions will prove helpful for resolving the issue.
The southern Caucasus states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - represent one of the newest fronts in US-Iranian competition and remain a relatively minor point of contention within the broader US-Iranian strategic competition. The US has three primary geopolitical objectives in the Caucasus: security and stability, democratization, and economic access, to both the region’s underutilized natural resources and the nascent infrastructure corridor for transporting Central Asian products west.
Armenia is the South Caucasus state with the deepest ties to Iran. Armenia is a weak state with an unsettled banking sector, unmet energy needs, and commerce based on gray- and black-market trade. Armenia has occasionally facilitated Iran’s entry into global markets, despite Yerevan’s protests and occasional efforts to the contrary. Iran recognizes Armenia as a critical country for its own needs and as a geographically isolated state that can benefit from growing ties to Iran.
Azerbaijan fears that political Shiism will undermine its legitimacy and underpin a viable opposition and regularly charges Tehran with backing preachers and religious extremists in Azerbaijan, claiming Tehran aims to overthrow the Aliyev regime. Iran, in turn, sees Azerbaijan’s ethnic focus as an attempt to foment secession among Iran’s ethnic minorities, and views Azerbaijan as aggressive in bringing in outside powers and claiming mineral rights in the Caspian.
The Republic of Georgia plays a smaller role in US-Iranian competition. It faces its own territorial disputes over separatist regions, focusing national politics and attention on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and reducing its role in international disputes unrelated to these territories. Georgia now sees itself caught between increasing US pressure on Iran and the commercial and strategic possibilities in an improved relationship with Iran. It is unclear what direction Prime Minister Ivanishvili will seek for Georgia, but it is unlikely either side will put much attention into this aspect of the relationship.
Table of Contents
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY II
Turkey’s Relations with the US and NATO II
Turkey and European Energy Security III
Turkey’s Relations with Iran III
Differences in the US and Turkish Approach to the Iranian Nuclear Program V
Implications for US Policy V
The South Caucasus VI
Implications for US Policy X
Turkish Relations with the US 2
US-Turkish Military Cooperation 3
NATO-Turkish Military Cooperation 4
Issues in US-Turkish and NATO-Turkish Military Relations 5
Turkey’s Role in Natural Gas and Oil Transportation and European Energy Security 14
Natural Gas 14
Turkey’s Relations With Iran 28
Turkish-Iranian Political Relations and Military Cooperation 28
Turkish-Iranian Economic Relations 29
Recent Issues in Turkish-Iranian Relations and the Civil War in Syria 32
Differences in the US and Turkish Approach to the Iranian Nuclear Program 39
Turkish vs. US Views of Iran’s Nuclear Threat 40
Turkey’s Focus on Regional Economic Integration vs. the US Focus on Sanctions 41
Turkish Efforts to Mediate a Solution to Iran’s Nuclear Program 42
Implications for US Policy 43
SOUTH CAUCASUS 46
Inter-State Dynamics 46
Status Quo 47
US Interests in the South Caucasus 51
Iran’s Activities in the Caucasus 52
US-Armenian Relations 54
Basis of Relations 56
Points of Dispute 58
US Concern over Armenian-Iran Relations 58
Iranian-Armenian Relations 64
Policy Implications 69
US-Azerbaijani Relations 70
Azerbaijan’s Territorial Objectives and Energy 71
Pipeline Politics 72
Points of Dispute 72
US Concern over Azerbaijan-Iran Relations 74
Azerbaijani-Iranian Relations 79
Ethnic Tensions 79
Trade Ties 80
Azerbaijan-Israel Relations and Religious Disputes 81
Energy Divisions in the Caspian 83
The Military Problem in the Caspian 85
Policy Implications 89
US-Georgia Relations 90
Basis of Relations 91
Points of Dispute 91
US Concern over Georgia-Iran Relations 92
Georgian-Iranian Relations 95
Implications for US Policy 99
This report is part of a comprehensive survey of US and Iranian competition, it is currently being updated, and the revised versions will appear shortly. The current version does, however, provide an analysis that is current in most respects.
Comments and suggestions would be most helpful. They should be sent to Anthony H. Cordesman at email@example.com.
This report is part of a series of chapters in an electronic book on US and Iranian competition. Other chapters include:
II. Types and Levels of Competition - This chapter looks at the various arenas in which Iran and the US compete for influence.
III. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions - This chapter looks at Iran’s military forces in detail and the balance of forces in the Gulf region.
IV. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Missile and Nuclear Dimensions - This chapter looks at Iran’s missile and nuclear forces.
V. U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Sanctions game: Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change - This chapter examines the impact of sanctions on the Iranian regime, Iran’s energy sector, and the prospects for regime change in Tehran.
VI. US and Iranian Strategic Competition in the Gulf States and the Arabian Peninsula - This chapter examines the competition between the US and Iran and how it affects Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, and Qatar.
VII. Iraq After US Withdrawal: US Policy and the Iraqi Search for Security and Stability - This chapter examines in detail the role Iran has played in Iraq since 2003 and how the US has tried to counter it.
VIII. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan - This chapter examines US and Iranian interests in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, and Syria. The military balance is also analyzed.
X. Competition in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan- This chapter examines the important role Iran plays in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and how the US and Iranian rivalry affects Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
XI. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Impact of China and Russia - This chapter examines the complex and evolving relationships between China, Russia, Iran, and the US.
XII. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: Competition Involving the EU, EU3, and non-EU European States - This chapter looks at the role the EU, and in particular the EU3, has played as the US’s closest allies in its competition with Iran.
XIII. US and Iranian Strategic Competition: Peripheral Competition Involving Latin America and Africa - This chapter examines the extent and importance of the competition between the US and Iran in the rest of the world.
XIV. Policy Implications