Who Lost the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijani War?

To explain the nuance of the above question; clearly the Armenians have lost the war, and while there have begun to be breakdowns of what exactly happened, which I will shortly summarise, the question remains: whose fault was it?

Armenia had world opinion largely on its side, the advantage of defence, the mountainous terrain advantage, and 26 years to prepare for what – in retrospect – seems inevitable. To their credit, the Azeris seem to have fought quite well overall, and made effective use of new drone technologies, existing stocks of weaponry, specialised troops (mountaineers particularly), and perhaps most importantly; effective leadership and long-term planning. Nonetheless, it appears that this is a war primarily lost by Armenia on the diplomatic and political front, because that is what provided Azerbaijan with the opportunity. Armenia is a member of the CSTO, a Eurasian mutual defence pact, and effectively Russia’s answer to NATO, yet Russia failed to join the conflict, despite treaty stipulations that suggest they ought to have. In 2013, the commander of the Russian 102nd military base in Armenia gave a statement that: “If Azerbaijan decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh by force, the [Russian] military base may join in the armed conflict in accordance with the Russian Federation’s obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.” The word ‘may’ could be considered relevant here in light of the fact that they opted not to, but the spirit of the message is that they would do so, what happened between then and now? A revolution of course!

In 2018, protests and civil disobedience broke out in response to the reelection of the Prime Minister, eventually generating another election wherein the traditional ruling party did not even field a candidate, and has been subsequently removed from power entirely. Despite this move being tentatively welcomed by Russia, and the new revolutionary government claiming to have no interest in distancing themselves from Russia diplomatically, it seems that their actions have been telling a different story. Russian advisors have either been removed, as have personnel with close ties to Russia, both diplomatically and militarily – meaning that officers that trained in Russia were either removed or sidelined. Being that Russia is Armenia’s only major ally, this represented a significant loss of expertise in the use of integrated equipment, and a loss of experience and institutional memory. There was no replacements for these losses, and all the while, Azerbaijan was fostering greater relations with Russia, Turkey, and Israel particularly, but certainly not burning any bridges. So we have a framework for poor leadership, disastrous diplomacy, and haphazard use of equipment setting up the loss. Armenian actions seem to have been mostly reactive, and lacking in doctrinal sophistication, while equipment was scarce for Armenia, and insufficiently used. Azerbaijan were able to take the initiative after some early setbacks – learning from their mistakes, and breaking the brittle defences, which the Armenians had no hope of regaining in the short term. This is all to say nothing of the manpower and quantitative equipment differences. So; upon whose shoulders can this be blamed?

The revolutionary government stands out immediately as the prime suspect, because clearly many of the leadership faults, and the purge can be blamed on them particularly. However, the “Velvet Revolution”, it must be said, has many of the tell-tale signs of being at the very least, significantly influenced by US groups and interests. The Armenian lobby in the US is famously strong, and they contributed significant funds as a community during the war to support Armenia, but if the intention was to bring Armenia out of the sphere of Russia, and into that of the US – then it appears to have only damaging effects. To clarify, the method of applying pressure to an existing government through NGOs and organised mass civil disobedience – was the general structure of all of the revolutions of the Arab Spring movement. In particular, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. In the case of Egypt and Tunisia particularly, it is an open secret that US interests played significant roles in the organisation of the revolutions. It is worth noting however that the 2018 Velvet Revolution did not occur within the same period as the rest of these, and so if they all were part of some coordinated plan, then Armenia seems to fall outside of the purview of it. So is the US to blame?

As alluded to previously, the US is not a single player in this regard, and so different groups will have different interests, and act accordingly – perhaps even in ways that are contradictory or conflicting. If NGOs and informal networks within the US were supporting the dissident movement in Armenia, then it has no particular place in US foreign policy as far as the government is concerned. In responding to it however they were more than happy to ‘assert the sovereignty of Armenia’, which in practice means cooling of relations with Russia; portrayed to all as an anti-corruption crackdown by removing individuals associated with the previous puppet regime. All of this is made more likely by the status of the Armenia diaspora’s traditional political ties with the Democrat party, who were out of power at the time of the revolution, and during a period of Russo-phobia in the US, particularly the Democrat party.

So, speculatively; a subgroup of US interests including Armenian diaspora elements supported a revolution against the pro-Russia government in Armenia. Why would the Armenians themselves get on board with it? Being that the previous governing party had governed solely since independence, it can easily be blamed for all of the problems in Armenia, and particularly the actions of the elites. With a great deal of perceived corruption present, and no doubt a great deal of actual corruption, along with the realpolitik considerations which have them functionally subservient to Russia on many issues. The dissidents could therefore claim support from both the Armenian right wishing to strengthen Armenian sovereignty, and the left for its promises of greater openness, democratic freedom, and a number of other low-level grievances. Of course, on top of all that, corruption is seldom popular to anyone other than the beneficiaries, so everyone is happy to oppose that point in particular. Being that this had such dramatic implications on the stability of the country in its precarious situation – open to attack at almost any time if the situation deteriorated enough, or even the perception of deterioration by the Azeris, then is it reasonable that all parties be expected to take this into account? To reiterate: is it reasonable that those either pushing for, or taking part in the revolution, be expected to take the foreign policy implications into account? The support – both from the people themselves, and the Armenian diaspora seems to suggest that the Artsakh issue is a very prominent and important one, but both seem to have pushed for the situation that made its defence untenable. Perhaps it is their fault if we assume they are rational actors who either prioritised domestic issues higher than foreign policy concerns, or miscalculated the danger, but I don’t think that’s a fair assumption.

Instead, I would point to the actions of the revolutionary government, which read like a game of brinksmanship with Russia – trying to gain both western (and particularly US) backing, while maintaining the good relations with Russia despite the obvious provocations. The pitch for involvement with the movement which was presented to the public seems to have been simplistic, and although ‘if something seems too good to be true – then it probably is’, one cannot blame the public too harshly for jumping on board with an exciting, well-funded and well-marketed movement which promises to solve their problems with no obvious or mentioned costs to the whole affair. Like a drug to which they are only-now feeling the after-effects and the low which follows the high. It remains to be seen whether they will double down, or turn away from this new revolutionary drug, replacing the government with something new, or simply reverting to what protected them from external threats. What most recognise in such situations however, is that the peddlers are more culpable than the addicts. Not all are in the government of course, but as with any revolution, a change of the governing apparatus and some of the political elites has inherent benefits to those new guard who fill the ranks. Regardless of whether the overall situation is better or worse for the country, it is usually better to be an incumbent elite in a diminished state, rather than an internal exile of a powerful state. No doubt the external players and supporters get some benefit from the whole affair also, but that matter is less clear. What is clear is that the blame ought to rest solely on the current revolutionary government, and those who gave support to it in its nascent state. They played with fire, and got the whole nation burned in the process.

Sources and further reading:









https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/ARM/armenia/gdp-growth-rate (If the revolution was due to inequality or economic failure, they don’t seem to have received much for the change)

Morale and Victory Conditions

In war, there are two means of ending the fighting, either in one’s own favour, or to one’s disadvantage: a negotiated settlement, or an unconditional surrender. In order to achieve this, a decision needs to be made early, based on available capabilities, which of these will be sought. The result of this decision will dictate the approach taken by each party. The side which possesses material and/or numerical advantage will tend to seek the unconditional surrender of their enemy through a war of annihilation – hoping to disarm them completely. The weaker party, however, will seek a more limited war – which seeks to generate a negotiated settlement through putting the enemy in a position where the costs of continuing the war are so unpalatable that the negotiated demands of the enemy are preferable. Therefore, while the materially weaker party finds its weakness rather obviously in the lack of force, the stronger will often find its weakness in morale damage caused by the potential losses of continued fighting. This is, on the assumption of all other things being equal, it should be said, because the availability of force multipliers such as favourable geography, or technological advantage would constitute a material factor in determining which side is the stronger of the two.

This morale discrepancy arises from two primary sources: firstly that – for the stronger party, there will often be more geopolitical opponents waiting on the peripheries which would require consideration, or even smaller powers which will gain the chance to increase their own power through intervention; should the forces of the stronger power be reduced too much by the exertions of war, or a particularly disastrous battle. Secondly, by the very nature of the discrepancy, it is far easier to motivate a population and an army against a larger foe, which can more legitimately be portrayed as tyrannizing the smaller nation, and posing an existential threat. The inverse is also true, that all other things being equal, a population will tend to question their cause more if the nation being conquered is obviously weaker. This is cumulative with the fact that smaller combatants will tend to level much more reasonable terms for peace, and due to the previously mentioned tendencies towards waging warfare on the morale front primarily, they will also often tend to make efforts to preserve their own morale as well.

It is imperative that within this context, the strategic leadership of all levels is aware of the strategic direction being pursued, particularly between civilian and military authorities. This is because distinct policies or methods may exist for each strategy, with measures such as civilian priming for a drawn-out war being counter-productive if a state is attempting a short war with limited aims. It should be added that this applies in the case of both the weaker, and the stronger nations, as is the case when one army is defeated and functionally at the mercy of the other. Although this point will vary from case to case, it will typically be such that a limited set of war aims might encourage the army to be allowed to flee is disarray, while the war of unlimited aims would seek to destroy the army totally. This is because the cost of rearming the force, combined with the experience of having nearly – but not actually – lost the army, would make soldiers and civilians alike demoralised by the spectre of loss. If they are destroyed however, there is a risk that it would strengthen the morale of the nation suffering the loss, because the cost has already been absorbed, thus they will be resigned to it, rather than fearful of it. So too would it create a sense that to end the war now would be to have lost those lives for nothing when the option existed to continue, as well as realistically increasing the intensity of the threat. Therefore, should a small nation succeed in such a maneuver, it may actually strengthen the resolve of the larger one, placing them further from achieving their strategic goals.

The most prominent examples of this are the Confederacy during the American Civil War, more or less any guerilla war, the Irish War of Independence, the Russo-Japanese war, and the Crimean War (to an extent). Most particularly in the case of the US Civil War, the actions of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia can, and usually are seen as pursuing this goal of demoralising the Union public and civilian leadership into a settlement – by attacking areas with large population concentrations to maximise disruption, and targeting political symbols such as Washington DC. Conversely, the Union pursued a strategy of capability reduction, through measures such as the Anaconda Plan, and Sherman’s March to the Sea, both of which served to decisively reduce the stocks and flows of resources to the Confederacy, and thus their ability to wage war – until their ultimate capitulation resulting from their hopeless situation.

Likewise during the Vietnam war, the asymmetric availability of information, and requirements of conduct meant that the North Vietnam-aligned forces merely had to continue applying pressure, while enjoying the morale advantage afforded by suppression of their own news sources which might diminish morale, while the same does not apply on the US side – the media outlets had free reign. This contributed to the perception that the US was a malignant force in the region, and thus an immoral actor which ought to be opposed (to the end of capitulation to the demands of the North, in effect). The US meanwhile largely sought to create a favourable casualty ratio (particularly under Westmoreland), thus depriving them of their ability to keep forces in the field, however in doing so, morale was not taken into account; and so although the US was trading favourably in the material sense, the morale losses taken were disproportionately in-favour of the North Vietnamese-aligned forces. In the end this turned political will in the US away from continued involvement in the war.

In both of these cases however, there are foiling factors to this analysis – it should be noted. The strategy of the Confederacy was not solely devoted to the morale-diminishment strategy, as the aid of European powers was also sought via the ‘King Cotton’ stratagem which would have given the Confederacy at least implied parity/superiority of force in order to settle a treaty – or even outright intervention. While this strategy was unsuccessful in enlisting European aid, it did hurt the ability of the Confederacy to wage the war as it required, due to the stockpiling of cotton (which would otherwise be exported) while the blockade was not yet truly in force. This missed opportunity could have bolstered the reserves of supplies early in the war, and helped to empower the crucial early armies. The war did however, help to induce the Second French Intervention in Mexico – an overt move into the US sphere of influence while the Union was occupied with the US Civil War. Had these two forces been able to coalesce, the fear of demotion from their otherwise strong position might have persuaded even the more bellicose voices the Union to come to terms with the Union – for fear of both a diminishment of their position internationally, and a general expansion of the war into a more general affair which permits other countries to get involved without the public-relations damage of seeming to defend slavery (which is part of what forbade such intervention prior). This latter outcome would pose an existential threat to the US, as it would open the door to a European partition of the Union.

In the case of the Vietnam war, the analysis may not work as it is unclear how conscious the strategy was on the part of Northern Forces until it was in full swing and generating tangible results. It would still qualify as an emergent strategy under these circumstances, but it might put a question mark over the applicability of the strategy as a deliberately applied guide to action.

As a counterpoint to the Vietnam War, the similarly sized partisan groups of the Baltic countries (most notably the Forest Brothers) were successfully suppressed by the Soviet military due to a strategy of extreme supression, punitive punishments, and regulation of information. As such the partisans were given few avenues of achieving independence through a negotiated settlement, as the Soviets had no reservations about waging the war in as brutal of a fashion as they deemed it to require, and they lacked the material means to make the war sufficiently costly that a rational disentanglement could be sought. The Soviet-Afghan War was something of a reversal of these factors, which allowed them much more success than the Forest Brothers before them.

The Irish War of Independence is perhaps a better example of the strategy generating results for a materially weaker force – the IRA and affiliated forces. From the beginning it was undertaken predominantly as a guerilla war, taking advantage of the divided attention and precarious position of the British Empire in relation to its rivals. This is particularly true if the Easter Rising in 1916 is taken as a preliminary stage of the conflict before its second flaring up in 1919. The conflict primarily involved ambushes of patrols, and assassinations, which clearly had no hope of reducing the British Empire to a state where it could no longer protect its interests, but made it unwilling to do so for the sake of a costly and relatively unimportant but troublesome province, at a time when it was important to give attention to matters elsewhere such as the Greco-Turkish War, the Russian Civil War, and the Polish-Soviet War, all of which had the potential to damage British geopolitical interests much more (should they be resolved unfavourably) – than the loss of direct control over Ireland. As a result, Britain’s willingness to continue the fight abated first, and terms were agreed.

In the cases of both the Russo-Japanese War, and the Crimean War, the totality of the resources available to Russia, particularly manpower, overshadowed those of their rivals (though more dubiously so in the case of the Crimean War). Japan in particular could not hope to match the reserves of manpower, or war material available to Russia if it came to total war. Instead then, in both cases a series of short sharp blows were delivered, which made continuing the war a highly expensive prospect, and one which might contribute to a destabilisation of the domestic political situation (as eventually did take place during the First World War). Therefore, despite not having disarmed the Russian state, it is brought into highly disadvantageous negotiations by the erosion of its will to continue the fight. As an aside, with the exception of the Mongol Invasion, this has been the only way that a conventional offensive war against Russia has been conducted successfully. Although, as per a previous essay, if we consider unilateral government replacement, then there are other successful examples and methods.

In conclusion then, for a smaller power attacking a larger one, in material terms, it is often necessary to maintain a morale advantage, and use this to attack the enemy, as it is often the weaker link in a strong nation’s ability to wage war. Existing internal divisions can be weaponised, as can the precariousness of relationships with existing international rivals. For both parties it is necessary to have all strategic parties made aware of the strategy, as decisions may otherwise be made which would compromise the overall strategy, either weakening one’s own morale, or strengthening the enemy’s. For the stronger power then, it is important to focus on morale in a defensive capacity, through information control primarily, but also demonstrating to the opposing force that continued resistance would only deteriorate their negotiating position, and do everything possible to extinguish the hope of an improved situation by isolating them from potential allies, and removing capabilities. Under these circumstances, a generous offer such as amnesty for all combatants will often be accepted.

A Broader Perspective of Warfare

If I may, let me be provocative for a moment. We may have been too hasty to dismiss an idea raised by Hillary Clinton. Having read the title of this article, it is likely no surprise which, but I shall state it more plainly – we require a broader perspective of warfare, and Clinton may have been correct in her assessment that a government sanctioned hack or digital attack of some kind – does qualify as an act of warfare. The term war has been defined variously, so I shall take one of the most famous examples: that of Von Clausewitz’s On War; (Book 1, Chapter 1, 1909) wherein it is defined as: “…an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”. It is also, however, “…a duel on an extensive scale [where] …each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will.”
I shall pose a question then: if it is possible to achieve the desired unilaterally acquired ends, without the necessity of outright physical violence, is it still warfare? I would suggest that it is, yes.

Our collective sensitivity to organised outright violence as an aggressive action, and act of warfare deserving of a response has been heightened over time. So too has, at various times, the sensitivity to perceived imminent threats, or threats to the international order, such as that presented by the Second Defenestration of Prague, the French Revolution, and Russia’s involvement in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. However, in all of these cases, the objective has been to remove a government. What about if this is achieved without state sanction?
The picture here becomes immediately more murky, as in the case of the Barbary pirates of Algeria, the central government being either unwilling or unable to stop raiding for slaves by Algerians was seen as reason enough to annex Algeria to France in 1830 – which did stop the raiding. Meanwhile, in the case of the banana republics of Honduras and Guatamala, the coup d’etats of national governments with the tacit approval of the US government are typically not considered wars, or warfare.

Next there is what is commonly referred to as a proxy war, which we are somewhat more sensitive to – wherein a party or faction is supported, often with arms, in order to achieve the desired objective of government replacement.

Finally then, there is the last type, wherein a government is toppled or instated without violence – such as in the case of Boris Yeltsin, who was aided by the CIA, and the long list of widely accepted examples of election interference, along with all of the other instances which are less readily acknowledged – perhaps because they are still relevant to the state of play at time of writing.

A further wrinkle was raised earlier however, that if a private individual or faction is operating from within the control of a state, possibly furthering the strategic aims of the state, and the state does nothing to impede these activities, can that be considered an act of warfare?
The haziness of these relationships becomes an important tool to those involved in these decisions, as they are surely well understand, but if the strategic result is the same – unilateral acquisition of power, or concessions, then we surely must consider it as existing on the continuum of warfare.

With this context established, however, we are able to put to rest the myths that pervade around the supposed peacefulness of the late 20th and early 21st century. The needs of the state did not change, but the methods and options available did. Both the US and the USSR in particular engaged in a lot of this kind of activity, that much is uncontroversial, but there are two additional dimensions to this which might be. Firstly, this clearly changes the nature and structure of warfare. Far from the mass citizen armies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, if the desired aims can be achieved via subterfuge instead; using extensive information networks, internal disloyalty, and one or two highly leveraged individuals – then the dynamics of warfare have taken on a significantly more elitist quality in the vast majority of cases. And secondly that; in effect, warfare can be conducted with much less reliance on public opinion, or even public knowledge. An army, instead, becomes one tool among many available to a government which is not necessarily estranged – but has the capacity to become increasingly distant from those it rules.

There are a number of reasons for this development, I dare say. As previously alluded to, developments in communications and information technology have allowed for much more precise applications of force, and a more complete understanding of where to apply it. In combination, the fractured and internally divisive nature of democratic and republican government creates many natural avenues and cover for these activities under the guise of genuine opposition. Therefore the explosion of republicanism in this same period from the late 20th century into the early 21st, and associated rise in the aforementioned style of warfare are – if not related, then certainly complementary to one another. Mutually so, because a useful strategy for ensuring the constant possibility of launching an attack of the former kind remains an extant option should the government and population remain internally divided. Conversely, then states with more internal unity, and authoritarian governments are much more resistant to these attacks, not only because the resources at their undisputed disposal are more numerous, but all other things being equal; they can more easily identify where an attack is taking place, due to the sudden appearance of, for example: an extremely well funded and highly skilled opposition group.

Possibly the most famous example of this defensive advantage is displayed in 1917 Russia with the German-sponsored arrival of Lenin, among other revolutionaries supported in the same manner. This was understood, and correctly identified as a threat at the time, but the government had been weakened so much by that point that the attack was ultimately successful (though with a lot of other relevant factors playing a part). Conversely, in post-war Japan, on the assurance that the leftist parties were receiving funding from the USSR, the US gave funding and support to the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party to maintain US influence. I have deliberately tried to avoid claims of more recent election interference, as that particular accusation has become a popular one to level for political reasons over the last few years, but I don’t doubt that in light of what I have already laid out, at least some of these accusations are correct, or perhaps even more than are accused – for a competently executed attack would not be detected.

One final point to note is that, despite both this described form of precise warfare, and conventional warfare; falling into the same category of unilateral extra-legal state-level action, they are typically handled as separate entities. This can be explained in a number of ways, with possible explanations including; the timeline of the development of these capacities, to the siloing of capabilities to minimise the hard power of particular officers and/or bureaucrats (particularly when those capabilities include controlling the outcomes of elections and toppling governments). With this in mind, however, it is a restriction which has the effect of creating two distinct organisational perspectives (and thus institutional pressures on policy outcomes) which will view the issue through very different lenses. For example, being that the purpose of both the current war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq war were ostensibly a change in government, then a unified command structure may have come to the conclusion that a more limited application of force would have been more efficient, and possibly even more effective. In addition, it may have averted whatever internal political pressures were taking place which would have pushed for the deployment of military assets and personnel.

To conclude then, pending further discussion on this topic; warfare ought to be considered as unilateral action (or lack of action) taken by a government in aid of strategic aims. Therefore, matters of election or government interference via espionage, conventional warfare, or selective legal prosecution (in some cases) ought to all be considered within the purview of warfare. Integration of all of these capabilities will therefore likely yield a great deal in effectiveness and efficiency of achieving strategic aims. Institutional barriers may exist, due to the reluctance to centralise such power, but doing so will clearly grant a strategic advantage. As well as the obvious counter-intelligence efforts, undisputed, centralised, and non-elective governance provides a significant defensive capability, and thus a strategic advantage within this paradigm. Going forward, therefore, all other things being equal, republics and democracies will face a competitive disadvantage, and risk becoming a battle-ground between groups wishing to capture the government – to the strategic disadvantage of the republic.

Economic Priorities

A criticism of government that seems to arise quite frequently, particularly from a position of economic uplifting, is that governments always have more money for war than they do for social programs. Figures will be thrown around to illustrate this apparent injustice (I am not necessarily refuting that point here, simply not discussing it per se). However the comparison is not quite warranted for two simple and linked reasons.

Firstly, the presence of poverty or other lamented social ills tends not to represent an immediate threat to the existence and stability of the state and/ or government. They may well in the longer term, but not immediately, and so such problems will be perceived as a smaller threat than whatever matter requires military action to combat. Whether it be an issue of destabilising and continuing terror attacks, or an outright act of aggression by another state; the government can not expect to continue for long without either being toppled, usurped by an invading state, or replaced by an administration more willing or capable of acting.

Secondly, while states can and have functioned in the absence of mandatory wealth redistribution, one cannot do so without the function of defence, especially in the face of aggression. This role may be adopted by another entity or state, but this puts the recipient in a state of de facto submission to the sovereignty of the provider. In essence this is the case because the provider may replace the recipient government at any time, with no recourse except by the consent of the provider. Ergo, defence, by the means dictated as necessary by the government, is an inextricable element of sovereign government. We may disagree on the wars that are deemed necessary, but not that they are the highest priority of any government.

The Other Story

You won’t hear my story,
It’s full of hope and glory.
You were raised on tales of woe and waste –
Of bullets faced and freedom chased.
So what of those who loved the war?
Gazed upon the raw force and asked for more.

You talk of the donkey,
And yes, stubborn was he,
But loyal, honourable to a fault,
Caring and uncaring of bullets made to halt,
In the face of will and noblesse oblige,
Beyond the realm of death’s strive.

The reaper took his due and more,
But life is never clearer than at his door.
When men are brothers in truth,
And women: valkyries who dain to stoop
In blood and muck with charity’s gift,
‘Till pulled by that otherworldly drift.

So what was the point of it all?
When nations fought in total brawl
Where virtue’s vices yield their price
And siren’s songs entice
Only the fools and those naive
Who refuse to see and must believe.

So you cannot hear my tale
Lest it crack your world most frail.