Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan

On the Importance of Having an Armenian State Strategic Think Tank

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By Benyamin Poghosyan

Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

The launch of Russia’s “special military operation” on the territory of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, marked the start of the most severe geopolitical crisis in international relations since World War II. Relations between Russia and the West began to deteriorate in 2014, but now they are worse than even during the Cold War.

While experts are trying to assess the consequences of the crisis and possible ways to overcome it, the post-Soviet republics are faced with the problem of making rather difficult decisions. The situation is especially problematic for those states that, having close relations with one of the camps, want to maintain contact with the other side.

Armenia also faces this challenge. Being a strategic ally of Russia, a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union, Armenia, at the same time, is trying to maintain partner relations with the Euro-Atlantic community. Armenia is a member of the European Union (EU) Eastern Partnership program, and in 2017 it signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Cooperation Agreement with the EU. The Armenia-US strategic dialogue was launched in 2019, and there is also moderate cooperation with NATO through the Individual Partnership Action Plans.

The complete collapse of West-Russia relations and the start of a proxy war between the two sides on the territory of Ukraine creates significant challenges for Armenia. The situation is complicated by the consequences of Armenia’s defeat in the Artsakh war in 2020, Azerbaijan’s openly aggressive intentions towards Armenia and Artsakh, and the complicated processes of a possible settlement of Armenia-Azerbaijan and Armenia-Turkey relations.

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Under the current conditions, making wrong decisions on these issues can have irreversible consequences for both Artsakh and Armenia. To minimize the likelihood of such highly adverse developments, the appropriate think tanks must provide strategic advice to government agencies. To provide such consultations, these structures themselves must have the appropriate potential and, no less importantly, cooperate with the relevant think tanks of those states with interests in the South Caucasus. Without such cooperation at the expert level, it is impossible to draw realistic conclusions and make appropriate proposals.

In this context, the 2007-2017 experience of the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the Armenian Ministry of Defense deserves attention. Established as a center to provide strategic assessments to the military and political leadership of the Republic of Armenia, this institution, acting under the leadership of then Major General and now-retired Lieutenant General Hayk Kotanjian, a Doctor of Political Sciences, was able to establish effective expert cooperation with state think tanks in Russia, the USA, China, and Israel, using in its work the experience of those institutions.

Being the academic coordinator of the elaboration of the first national security strategy of the Republic of Armenia and the first and second strategic defense reviews, the Institute was able to become a platform for dialogue at the expert level for the professional circles of the leading countries. Moreover, this process proceeded successfully in 2009-2011 during the “reset” of US-Russia relations, and in 2012-2017, when Russian-American relations entered a stage of gradual deterioration. The main research areas of the Institute were the assessment of the dynamics of regional security and the development of the foundations of state policy in the field of cybersecurity. Among its publications, it is worth noting the elaborations related to the adaptation of the US Chief Information Officer system for Armenia and the creation of defense industrial enterprises in the Shirak region in the context of the modernization of the Russian 102nd military base.

In the context of the unprecedented turbulence of the regional and international security system and developments that threaten the security of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh, the re-establishment in Armenia of an institution that provides strategic advice to the military and political leadership of the state is of vital importance.

(Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan.)

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