28 February Tuesday, 2012
The strong relations between Azerbaijan and the United States are very important for both countries’ national and energy security. Both countries need to understand the importance of the cooperation and need to take action to reinforce relations with each other.
Azerbaijan is a country that is home to hundreds of ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have been living in Azerbaijani lands in harmony for hundreds of years. It is a country in which mosques, churches and synagogues are in peaceful co-existence and people representing diverse religions live without any conflict. After 1996, the Azerbaijani government restored two synagogues which were devastated during Soviet rule. The U.S. is considered one of the most tolerant countries in the world of different religions and ethnic groups. Azerbaijani and U.S. religious and ethnic tolerance can be an example for many countries. The United States and Azerbaijan share the same values in terms of tolerance which makes collaboration at the governmental and civilian level easier.
The close relations between the U.S. and Azerbaijan were established with the signing of the “Contract of the Century,” which requires the member companies to develop the Azerbaijani oil fields. The American oil companies got one of the biggest shares from the contract. The shares of American companies were as follows: AMOCO 17 percent, Pennzoil 9.8 percent, and McDermott 2.4 percent.
Azerbaijan experienced a fast GDP growth after receiving tremendous amounts of investment from the U.S. and other Western countries. Between the years of 2002-2006, the per capita GDP growth rate per year increased from 7.3% to 30.6%. However, the country experienced a fall of GDP between 2006 and 2008 by 15.7%. Anyway, if we look at the difference between 2002 and 2008, we see a two-fold increase. The imports in euro terms for 2006 were higher in Azerbaijan than in countries like Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. The rate of poverty declined from 49% to 11 % between 2001 and 2009. We also saw progress in the inflation rate as it decreased from 20.8% to 1.5 % between 2008 and 2009.
It is important to mention that investments by U.S. corporations in the Azerbaijani oil sector played a pivotal role in the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries, and thus during the Bill Clinton administration American interest in the region began to grow, especially in Azerbaijan because of its energy. Azerbaijan became a key point of interest in the Clinton administration as the United States officially signed a ten billion dollar investment contract with Azerbaijan to develop its oil fields and production.
The September 11 attacks brought the collaboration between two countries to a higher level. Azerbaijan was amongst the first countries to offer the United States unconditional support in the war against terrorism, providing its airspace to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan was also the first Muslim nation to send its troops to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. forces in Iraq. Azerbaijan joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program in 1994, which helped deepen U.S.-Azerbaijani military cooperation. During the George W. Bush administration, the United States and Azerbaijan signed an agreement in 2002 regarding military cooperation.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. interest in Azerbaijan began to decrease. For example, the United States did not invite the Azerbaijani president to the April 2010 Nuclear Summit held in Washington while Armenian and the Georgian officials were among the participants. Another indicator of the regression in bilateral relations is the fact that the U.S. did not appoint an ambassador to Azerbaijan for one year, and still the U.S. has no ambassador in the country.
Azerbaijan’s geopolitical location (located between countries like Russia and Iran) makes it important for U.S. national security interests. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s fast growing economy and energy projects like the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline which is important for Europe’s energy security makes the country an important player in the region. The U.S. support for Azerbaijan is very important for the country’s future political and economic successes. Azerbaijani officials need to promote and reinforce democracy in the country, which will help improve the U.S.-Azerbaijan partnership. The country’s strategists need to find ways to make the country more foreign direct investment friendly, which will help attract more investments from U.S. corporations. Similarly, Azerbaijani governmental and non-governmental parties need to inform U.S. officials and the people about the importance of Azerbaijan for the U.S. national and energy security. Such efforts on Azerbaijan’s part will aid the development of bilateral relations between the two countries.
On the other hand, the U.S. government needs to appoint an ambassador to Azerbaijan and it needs to be approved by the U.S. Senate. This will be a starting point for the reinforced relations between the two countries. The U.S. government also needs to increase its support to projects like Nabucco and the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline, which are important for Europe’s energy security. U.S. officials should encourage American corporations to invest in Azerbaijan’s energy and non-energy sectors. Such efforts will aim to develop economic relations between the two countries. The next U.S. administration needs also to increase military cooperation with Azerbaijan, which is very important for both countries’ national security and peace in the Caucasus and Central Asian regions.