Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a significant strategic mistake for the US-led western alliance, and after Finland’s accession and Sweden’s swifter accession, Washington and Brussels could strengthen NATO once more. Baku, in September 2023, dismantled the Republic of Artsakh in Nagorno-Karabakh and restored its territorial integrity after 30 years of Armenian military occupation. Once a peace treaty is signed, Baku will be free to apply for NATO membership through the Alliance’s open-door policy.
Azerbaijan, unlike Finland and Sweden, is not a liberal democracy, but NATO membership could incentivize it to institute democratic reforms, crack down on corruption, and improve its human rights record. This could lead to the upgrade of the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which underpins their relationship to full-fledged EU membership.
Western politicians are accountable to constituents and loyal to donors in the Armenian diaspora, engaging in performative solidarity with Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region to satisfy diaspora voters at the expense of maintaining and strengthening the Western alliance. France’s decision to sell arms to Armenia, a CSTO member state trafficking Iranian-made weapons that kill innocent Ukrainian civilians to Russia, is strategically incoherent and intellectually shallow.
Around 2/3 Armenians reside outside the country, with the diaspora being influential and safe in the West. Armenia’s economy relies on Russia-occupied Georgia and Iran. Western politicians consistently offer thoughts, prayers, and photo-ops for Artsakh in exchange for votes from the Armenian diaspora. Armenia has signaled its desire to recalibrate relations with Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, and the West. Yerevan needs this reset more than all other interested parties, including rich and influential diaspora Armenians living in the safe and comfortable West.
Azerbaijan has always been an indispensable strategic partner for the West, exporting oil and gas to the European Union (EU), maintaining an important security partnership with Jerusalem, and considering itself as “one nation with two states.” Baku is the only other pro-Ukraine government in the South Caucasus and has disputes with Iran making it a natural ally for the West.
Baku’s membership in NATO makes sense because it already has one foot in NATO’s door, being a treaty ally to Turkey, a strategic partner to Israel, and pro-Ukraine. The Turkish Armed Forces train the Azerbaijani military according to NATO doctrine, and Baku is a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and has an ambassador to the Alliance. Azerbaijani soldiers have also been deployed to NATO missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and alongside the U.S. in Iraq.
Azerbaijan is strategically located at the intersection of the Middle East and Central Asia, and is the historic meeting point of three regional powers: NATO member state Turkey and anti-Western Russia and Iran. It is bordered by Armenia to the west, Russian-occupied Georgia and Russia to the north, anti-Western Iran to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the east. Azerbaijan is the only post-Soviet state to have successfully resisted the Kremlin’s Eurasian integration initiatives.
Azerbaijan’s membership in NATO would anchor the Alliance in anti-Western Russia’s and Iran’s backyards, enabling the Alliance to maintain a naval fleet in the Caspian Sea, project power deep into Central Asia, and provide NATO with a 600-plus-kilometer-long border with Iran and another 300-kilometer-long border with Russia. The Alliance, like Turkey, could enhance its air defenses by deploying a second early warning radar to detect potential missile launches from Iran to Europe.
While currently guaranteed by Turkey, the burden of maintaining Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity would now be shared with the rest of the Alliance, consolidating Baku’s control over the occupied territories the recent liberation of Armenia in the west of the country has significantly reduced the likelihood of Armenian revanchism towards Azerbaijan from low to zero.
In line with NATO’s commitment to the principle of sovereignty, Brussels and Washington could ask Ankara for a trade-off in exchange for Baku’s accession: Turkish military withdrawal from the so-called the TRNC seeks to recognize Cyprus and restore its territorial integrity after five decades of occupation. This diplomatic mega-deal would end the 49-year impasse, seal the deal for Cyprus’ membership in NATO, enable Turkey to participate in the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, and improve Ankara’s relations with all its neighbors in the region.