top of page

Azerbaijan: the new “middle power”

Those countries considered to be “middle powers” have been at the forefront of many international initiatives that demand coordination of resources and promotion of values.

Traditionally, they have named “middle powers” because they are neither great nor small. Scholars in the literature field, however, see “middle powers” beyond their mere geographic meaning and rightly so portray their importance not only in terms of their physical criteria.

In an attempt to create a classification, some academics like Marijke Breuning divide States into great/superpowers, middle powers, regional powers and small powers, with “middle powers” defined as those “States that can wield a measure of influence, albeit not through the projection of military might”.

Image credit TD

Accordingly, “middle powers” are usually prosperous States that employ their resources to foster peace and reduce global economic inequality” and are norm entrepreneurs that “advocate for the acceptance of certain international standards and work diplomatically to persuade the representatives of other states to also adopt these norms”.

Such countries play a key role in the area of international development cooperation and the decision-makers of such countries advocate for more developmental aid and sustainable development.

Canada, the members of the G8, Norway, Palestine, Netherlands and Sweden are some examples of “middle powers”.

There is no consensus on the eligibility criteria, however, and often advanced countries of the world with purposeful activism on international affairs make their names to the list.

Another interesting element in this categorization is the distinction that some authors drive between the concepts of “middle power” and small countries.

It is underscored that the latter is not so easily defined, covers a diverse group of States and is not solely confined to geographic size. In this context, small nations are described “as those that have a rather limited capacity to exercise influence on other countries” and rarely use force within the global arena.

Within this context, Azerbaijan, a country in the South Caucasus, is also vigorously making its name as a “middle power”, despite its relatively small geographic size.

The country has come a long way to become a leader with all the energy and infrastructure projects that it is implementing together with its international partners, such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines and Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) megaproject, expected to be completed by the end of this year.

However, those projects are not merely profit-oriented, they also aim to contribute to energy security and stability of wider neighbourhood and regions, including in Europe.

Indeed, security means stability. And stability and profits facilitate sustainable development. However, merely energy and infrastructure projects aside, Azerbaijan’s rising international profile in the recent years and its role as norm entrepreneur should be closely examined as the country has earned the title of “middle power” by its initiatives and emphasis on certain values that unite societies, alongside serving as a bridge between often competing for geopolitical spaces.

Azerbaijan has also long made the promotion of tolerance and multiculturalism as one of its central slogans in international affairs and there is a specifically established International Center on Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan that implements initiatives and state’s vision in this area. It declared 2016 to be its year of multiculturalism. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state where national minorities and freedom of religious belief is respected. Tolerance is therefore idiosyncratic to Azerbaijani society.

The uppermost band of blue on the flag symbolizes the Turkic origin of the Azerbaijani nation. The middle band of red is symbolic of modern society, democracy and progress. The green band represents Azerbaijan’s connection to Islam, the predominant religion in a country of 10 million. Image credit Wikimedia Commons

On another note, Azerbaijan’s emphasis on multilateralism is no less important. Its belief in the power of international institutions and increasing weight in international affairs has elevated it to the non-permanent member status of the UN Security Council in 2012-2013. One of the hallmark initiatives promoted by Azerbaijan was the conduct of the high-level open debate on “Strengthening partnership synergy between the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)”, during its second-term presidency over the Council in October 2013, which was the first-ever high-level debate in the Council on this very topic.

Besides, Azerbaijan’s faith in multilateralism is also manifested in the very recent initiatives it took to bring together countries of diverse as well as similar faith, identities and interests. It was also Azerbaijan, who initiated the creation of what now became the driving force behind the international efforts to stabilize the global oil market, – the OPEC+.

Azerbaijan’s appeal to the concerned oil-producing countries found widespread support among the relevant oil-producing states, and so it happened. The OPEC+ format, for example, has since been acting on the forefront of all the developments associated with the global oil market.

Azerbaijan’s emphasis on international cooperation and the importance it attaches to the role of international organizations paid well in this case for the common objectives of the oil-producing states as well as attaining a balance in the global oil market.

Its above initiatives testify to the fact that Azerbaijan has acted as a “middle power”, norm entrepreneur that both “advocated for the acceptance of certain international standards and work diplomatically to persuade the representatives of other countries to also adopt these norms”, as well as worked towards “… moderating and pacifying influences in the society of states… or as principal supporters of international organizations, showcasing a particularly high sense of responsibility.

Image credit Rashid Shirinov, AzerNews

Azerbaijan also acted as a norm entrepreneur and “middle power” because it repeatedly stood for sustainable development, has allocated about 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support its efforts amid the COVID-19, especially with the idea to help the needy population in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Objectively, our world would have been a better place had all the above values and initiatives been instilled into the very fabric of our societies and foreign policy choices. The widespread acceptance of these values and norms could bring in more dialogue, understanding and peace to the anarchic nature of the international system.

Norm entrepreneurs or “middle powers” are therefore valuable examples for the role they play to build, unite, improve values and consolidate our collective home. Seems like Azerbaijan is on the right track, and its ambition to qualify for norm entrepreneur and “middle power” should be taken at face value.


bottom of page