This paper examines the European Union’s (EU) contribution to conflict resolution in the South Caucasus. We will examine the EU’s performance in two key areas of conflict resolution activity: mediation and peace building. Finally, we ask whether the EU is a coherent actor in conflict resolution.  While policy analyses on the EU’s new role in conflict intervention abound, there have been fewer attempts to import ideas from the field of conflict resolution to studies of the EU as an international actor.

By drawing on conflict resolution literature, we can measure EU activity in conflict resolution against definitions and standards established in this field, and thereby reveal new insights about the EU as an international actor. The EU has adopted the language of conflict resolution, but what exactly does it mean if the EU claims to be contributing to “conflict resolution” in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and other programs? The EU has recently pledged to step up its role in this area, but what does, and should, this entail? An attempt is made to step beyond the rhetoric employed by the EU and to examine the substance of EU policy and programming.

For understanding the EU’s current and possible role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process, first we should underline the EU’s interests in solving the South Caucasus’s conflicts. Nagorno-Karabakh is the one of the dangerous and important conflicts in the South Caucasus. The likelihood that the conflict will degenerate into war is the highest in the region, and this unsolved conflict is a serious obstacle to regional stability and cooperation. It is also the greatest impediment to whatever hopes there are to transform the South Caucasus into a transportation hub between East, West, North, and South.

The South Caucasus is one of the very few energy transit corridors that can allow the EU to diversify access to energy resources from the Caspian region as well as use it as a transit region.  The three possible alternative gas transit routes from the Caspian Sea to the EU — the Nabucco, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, and trans-Black Sea pipeline projects — all depend on stability in the South Caucasus.

So we can say that the EU has strong interests in the South Caucasus and the stability in this region is very important for the EU. Geographic proximity, energy resources, pipelines, and the challenges of international crime and trafficking make stability in the region a clear EU interest. A possible war over Nagorno-Karabakh would destroy the region's fragile stability and would undermine and seriously threaten the security of energy supplies from the Caspian to the international markets, including the prospects of the southern gas corridor connecting the EU gas market with Caspian producers. The price of the unsolved conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh would be extremely high for the EU, as it has been in the case of Georgia. The current situation of conflict in the region is neither acceptable nor viable; there is a concern over the recent increases in military spending. So frozen conflicts and instability in the South Caucasus is a threat to EU security. Yet, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazian, and South Ossetian conflicts have the potential to ignite into full-fledged wars in Europe’s neighborhood.

How did the role of the EU as a security actor evolve, and what are the concrete capabilities and instruments that the EU can use to influence the resolution of the conflicts in its Eastern neighborhood? How well suited is the EU to perform the role of a third party intervener, and what added value can it bring?

Since 2003, the EU has become more of a security actor in the South Caucasus. It has appointed an EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the South Caucasus and launched a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) mission. It has included Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the ENP and started Action Plan negotiations due at the end of 2006. Brussels believes that Action Plans will encourage the South Caucasus governments to establish neighborly relations and regional development cooperation as a basis for the peaceful resolution to the conflict.  With the launch of ENP and the development of a European Security and Defense Policy, the EU has not only the reasons, but also the instruments necessary for involvement in conflict resolution. The ENP Action Plans for the countries of the South Caucasus include a host of objectives that contribute to peace building, such as strengthening the rule of law and democracy, the protection of human rights, encouraging economic development, cooperating in security and border management, and regional cooperation. Nevertheless, the EU can do more to help resolve conflict in the region, in particular through the Action Plans currently being negotiated with each country. For the EU, these instruments are opportunities to create stability and cooperation in the South Caucasus if the negotiated Action Plans are tied to the conflict resolution process and include specific democratization, governance, and human rights benchmarks. For the region they may be an opportunity to map out the reform process concretely. But there is a long way to go.

The EU’s relations are not strong with either Azerbaijan or Armenia. It does not participate directly in negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh. In and around Nagorno-Karabakh, it has done little for conflict resolution. To become more proactive, the EU must increase its political visibility and develop plan for its involvement in the conflict resolution process. For example, instead of waiting for an agreement on the principles of resolution to the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict, mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, the EU should begin contingency planning to assist in peace implementation now. Whether or not a peace agreement is eventually signed, the EU should move forward in implementing confidence building programs or — in a worst scenario — prepare a range of options in case of an outbreak of fighting. The EU should also contribute funding to assist non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media sources, and others to promote public debate on resolutions to the conflict within the societies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh. This could help develop alternatives to the belligerent positions of the political elites, who frequently use state media control to manipulate opinion. The EU could support media that neutrally benefits the South Caucasus as a whole, for example, by an EU-sponsored independent regional media initiative serving television, radio, and print media (Barnes, Cohen, & Lynch, 2004, p. 25).

When asked how the EU could increase support for resolving the conflict, most senior diplomats respond, “It is the OSCE Minsk Group’s role” (Crisis Group interviews, EU member state diplomats, 2006). Without addressing here the usefulness of that format, the EU could give more support through programs which help create a better environment for the negotiations but do not duplicate them.

However, when interviewed, the European Commission staff said, “No one has allowed us to do anything in Nagorno-Karabakh… we would do something there if we were asked by the sides.” (Crisis Group interview, European Commission staff, 2006).

If international peacekeepers are called on to provide security guarantees and support implementation of a peace agreement, many recognize that the EU would be expected to provide them (Lobjakas, 2005). 1 The composition of a peacekeeping mission is politically sensitive, and the sides to the conflict may accept EU forces as the most politically neutral.

In conclusion, we can mention that the EU has expressed its strategic interest in contributing to the resolution of the frozen conflicts. The EU is getting closer to the affected countries geographically and also in terms of values and aspirations. The EU has been providing support and has been trying to collaborate and influence the countries in the South Caucasus. Its contributions so far have been considerable: rehabilitation efforts, assistance to reforms, and sorting out the border and customs issues. Delivering the message about Europe to the breakaway regions and restoring the ties between the countries and their breakaway regions are among the additional priorities. The EU does well to advise the countries affected by the conflicts to concentrate foremost on reforms, and not to allow the frozen conflicts to disrupt this agenda. As the European Neighborhood Policy will be developed further, it is right to pay attention to increased trade, travel, political contacts, regional cooperation, and people-to-people contacts between the EU and its Eastern neighbors. These efforts will contribute to conflict resolution.

In addition, the EU has the potential to figure stronger also in the sphere of political dialogue with all affected parties and in the search for the best format of stabilization operations. The EU’s political profile should match its role as a donor and also its ambition as a leading actor in resolving regional security issues. The EU’s contribution is needed in both processes — incremental changes that prepare ground and create the right conditions in the regions and efforts to find the political will necessary to take the decisive steps and reach an agreement.

The EU has over the past years expressed greater ambition to cooperate in addressing regional security issues. Working constructively to resolve the frozen conflicts is the best way to prove that these ambitions are in earnest.


Barnes, C., Cohen, J. & Lynch, D. (2004). European Union and the South Caucasus: Opportunities for intensified engagement. European Centre for Conflict Prevention.  Retrieved from

Lobjakas, A. (2006, January 11). OSCE: Russia key to new presidency’s attempt to resolve frozen conflicts. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved from

International Crisis Group (2005). Nagorno-Karabakh: A Plan for Peace, Europe Report 167. Retrieved from

1 According to an EU member state diplomat in a 2005 Crisis Group interview, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office, Ambassador Kasprzyk, requested EU support for implementing a peace agreement. Since 1994 the OSCE High Level Planning Group (HLPG) has been tasked to develop plans for a multinational OSCE peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh. In early 2006, the OSCE Chairman in Office reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to send observers or even peacekeepers if Armenia and Azerbaijan come to an agreement. Yet, in view of the OSCE’s capacities and past failures in peacekeeping operations, it is likely to turn to the EU for help.