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The South Caucasus Through Western Eyes; a Fluid View
Usually I interpret South Caucasus views for the West, using my training as an anthropologist, (ethnographer) so I am grateful for being presented with the challenge to do it the other way round; to use a kind of fieldwork experience among fellow Western colleagues and Western politicians to convey their views instead!
In studies of the Caucasus region, we tend to put the region before our core discipline-History, Social Science-so that regional studies become a series of 'just so' stories and analytic excellence becomes akin to good journalism rather than a fresh display of academic versatility.
In my discipline, Social Science, we place deliberate constraints on our work:
we only ask questions which will produce verifiable answers.
the framework of our questions must be a framework that can be applied in a comparative way ; even if we are not able to compare like with like, there has to be an element of uniformity of enquiry which, of course may be adapted to different cases-the equivalent of musical variations on a theme.
I have always held that for politicians, and often for military personnel (when on rare occasions they are asked their opinion,) Security is a question of perceptions.
Risk analysts perpetually realign hunches with perceived evidence, which itself is often a question of vision rather than fact-at least in many cases. It is important to point out that since we are dealing in the realm of perceptions, it opens the doors to the actors being assessed to manipulate these perceptions, a perpetual problem in International Relations studies.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF SECURITY RISKS
S= f (v+i)
When we refer to Western views of security risks in the South Caucasus, let us confine what we mean by these 'views of the importance of security issues' by expressing them in the following way:
Assessments of the importance of security issues 'S' are a function of: the number of varieties of risks 'v' and the size of their impact 'i'.
e.g. With issues, say, of homeland security in the USA, leaders can state that security is important or not important, depending on how many different kinds of risks, the number of varieties of risks, there will be (many: airplane hijacks, or bombs, poisoning, sabotage, desecrating graves) and the size of their impact (e.g. on one particular community only or anywhere and everywhere).
e.g. in the South Caucasus, the interest of Western countries in the region's security , which really entails an assessment of 1) whether it is worth spending resources, money and manpower, and assessing 2) whether interest in security in the region will reflect favourably on these Western countries' image and prestige---perhaps this interest in security will depend on:
What are the risks, the catastrophes which could happen? Are these many different ones? Highly variable? Many varieties?
Where will their impact be? Will they be locally contained, e.g. inside Tskhinvali City in South Ossetia ? Or will the impact be felt throughout the region? Or will the impact be felt throughout much of the world (for example if Caspian Oil could not be exported?)
A successful example is when some years back young Ronald Suny took a Marxist model of when a people become a nation, and applied it to the history of Georgia . It doesn't matter if we can quibble with some of its contents, it was a lovely effort-it can be done! In International Relations and Strategic Studies it is more tricky.>>