The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war holds important lessons for European defence. European governments should study it urgently.
In the last decade, it was no secret that Azerbaijan was steadily building up its armed forces. But, despite this, few experts predicted this month’s clear-cut military victory by Azerbaijan over Armenia. Much of this victory is credited to the technical and financial side of the war: Azerbaijan was able to afford more and it had Turkish and Israeli technology that was simply better than what Armenia had to draw on.
But the lessons of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war go deeper and are more complex than just questions of technology. And they hold distinct lessons for how well Europe can defend itself.
Lesson 1: Strategy and politics matter
The course of every war is influenced by the specific political circumstances that trigger it – and this war was no exception. Azerbaijan and Turkey were confident in the success of their offensive action, as Russia had from the onset of the war indicated that it had no intention of assisting the Armenians outside of their recognised borders.
Russia also saw Azeri military pressure as a tool to weaken the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who headed the 2018 revolution that removed the old regime. Azeri action would, moreover, be likely to lead Armenia accept previously negotiated “peace plans” that would strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical position. This adverse political situation directly translated into military disadvantages on the battlefield for the Armenians.
Knowing Moscow’s tacit acceptance of a military intervention, Turkey based several F-16 fighters in Azerbaijan in October 2020 as a general deterrent. These were later used to sweep the sky of any Armenian ground-attack aircraft that tried to engage in combat.
For its part, Armenia had just received eight Su-30 interceptors from Russia this summer, but did not even try to use them to contest the Azeri drones and F-16. The main reason for this was that Russia wanted Armenia not to enter into a direct confrontation with Turkey proper, and so it kept its aircraft on the ground. Russia effectively served air superiority on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey. This proved decisive. (end of excerpt)
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