Armenia is taking ‘asymmetric steps’ in response to Azerbaijan’s growing military spending, seeking a higher efficiency at a relatively low cost, according to a senior defense official in Yerevan.
Earlier this month Azerbaijan said it sought a nearly 90 percent rise in its military spending from this year’s level -- to stand at $3.1 billion next year.
If approved, Azerbaijan’s military budget will also be more than eight times as much as the Armenian government’s request of some $385.5 million for its military spending in 2011.
Armenia’s first deputy defense minister David Tonoyan on Monday explained in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun) that “asymmetry in military art implies inflicting unacceptable damage on the enemy with little force and fewer capabilities used.”
Tonoyan said as far as Azerbaijan is concerned, Armenia has developed “a strategic system of checks” that he said has stopped Baku from breaking the current peace.
The two former Soviet republics fought a three-year war in the early 1990s over Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region where ethnic Armenians constituted a majority of the population.
Hostilities ended only after the warring parties signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire agreement in 1994. By that time about 30,000 people had been killed in the war.
Sporadic skirmishes along the line of contact between the Karabakh and Azerbaijani armed forces have continued throughout the ceasefire years.
Both sides have suffered more than a dozen confirmed military casualties since June this year when skirmishes around Karabakh and nearby Armenian-controlled territories intensified amid a faltering peace process.
“Armenia is doing what it has done since 1994. In fact, already for 16 years our armed forces are engaged in checking hostilities,” the Armenian defense ministry official said.
“I think all states concerned with the region’s security should be aware of the contribution that our armed forces are making for keeping the peace,” Tonoyan added.
He stressed that by increasing its military spending Azerbaijan does not necessarily increase the “combat-readiness” of its armed forces.
According to the official, a number of European countries comparable to Armenia by their territory and size of the population have military budgets several times exceeding Armenia’s.
“But it does not at all mean that these states’ military possibilities are higher,” Tonoyan said.
“It is at least naïve to expect a victory by only increasing military spending and purchasing arms. The outcome of a war is decided by much more important factors and the lessons of the Karabakh war should be learned [by Azerbaijan],” said Tonoyan.
“It is already several years that we have witnessed preparations [in Azerbaijan] to solve the Karabakh conflict militarily. I think it is a matter of concern not only for Armenia, but also for the international community,” he said, adding that “regardless of its outcome a war would have catastrophic consequences for the entire region.”
The defense ministry official said that Armenia has a clear vision of a security environment for itself and the region, as well as “a realistic evaluation of the existing threats and a clear direction for neutralizing these threats.” He did not elaborate on that.
Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led defense alliance of seven former Soviet countries. The treaty calls for a collective defense action should any of its members suffer an aggression. Karabakh is not, however, legally considered to be Armenian territory.
As Moscow’s closest ally in the South Caucasus Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is also capitalizing on the offer of Russian-made weapons at cut-down prices or free of charge.
A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August extends Russia’s military presence in Armenia till 2044 and commits Moscow to supplying Yerevan with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.”