The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the creation of 15 new states where there previously had been a single and vast multi-ethnical empire. Of the former Soviet territories, the Caucasus region – wedged in between the Black and the Caspian Sea – stands out. In addition to being haunted with separatism and civil war for the passed 14 years, the region has also evolved into a focal point for Russian and US great power interests regarding control over the substantial oil reserves situated in and around the Caspian Sea.
One of the most serious and long-standing conflicts in the Caucasus is the controversy between Armenia/Armenians and Azerbaijan/Azeris over the ethnically mixed Nagorno-Karabakh province located in the southwestern corner of Azerbaijan. This master thesis aspires to answer the research question:
Why has there not, despite several international peace efforts, been a resolution to the prolonged conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh?
In order to provide an answer as to why the conflict remains unresolved, two theoretical perspectives – neorealism and Regional Security Complex Theory – are put up against each other. The study shows that the neorealist perspective – which focuses on the system or global level of analysis – proves inadequate for understanding the conflict dynamic in Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition to an US-Russia system level conflict dimension (great power rivalry over the flow of oil from the Caspian Basin), there is also a strong Armenia-Azerbaijan regional conflict dimension (ethnic contention over territory) that interacts with, and shapes the alternatives on the system level.
Regional Security Complex Theory, on the other hand, proves able to explain the top-down influence of the great powers just as good as neorealism, and at the same time fit in the bottom-up influence that the Armenia-Azerbaijan regional level conflict dimension bring to bear on the US-Russia system level conflict dimension in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I argue that it is the linkage of several diverging interests, located on two different levels of analysis, which essentially blocks a resolution to the conflict. Thus, in order to fully grasp the nature of the deadlock in Nagorno-Karabakh, the system level conflict dimension and the regional level conflict dimension need to be viewed in relation to each other. All in all, this master thesis has made a noteworthy finding in support of Buzan and Wæver’s Regional Security Complex Theory.