I would distinguish between the concepts of “neighbor” and “neighborliness” in this short article. Two persons or two families living in adjacent houses or two sections of the same house are called neighbors. Such a concept is also used in international relations, as two countries with common borders are called neighbors. The foreign policy starts with a neighbor. Neighbors are significant variables in the actual foreign policy of the countries. Nevertheless, being a neighbor per se is not an advantage, because the neighboring countries encounter many problems due to the common border. Here I mention a number of important regional cases about troubles at the common border:
The border clashes between India and China in the Galwan Valley escalated on June 15, 2020, to become the bloodiest clash that has erupted after the Sino-India war of 1962. India confirmed that it has lost 20 soldiers in the clashes, but China did not provide any statistics for casualties. The forces of the two countries were on alert in that region for three weeks, until the Indian authorities finally announced an agreement on the distance between the forces of the two sides at the un-demarcated border regions. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed on July 15 that progress has been made on the border negotiations that have been held between the officials of the two countries following the clashes in the previous month.
Elsewhere in the region, Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan accused each other of launching artillery attacks on July 12 against the villages of Tovuz district in northern regions of Karabakh. The clashes continued until Thursday, July 16, killing 16 military forces and a civilian. The clashes were the deadliest border skirmish between the two countries after the 2016 fighting. In telephone conversations with the Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers on July 14, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran called for self-restraint and the launch of dialogue for a peaceful settlement of the disputes, expressing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s readiness to help resolve the tensions. The Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan denounced Armenia’s move as an intrigue. He described the occupation of Azeri soil as the main reason for the clashes. Despite the limitation imposed on the gatherings due to the outbreak of COVID-19, massive popular demonstrations were held in Baku calling for a military response to Armenia’s actions. The rally was a major development that should not be easily ignored. On the sidelines of the clashes, what became clear was the role of the third factor, including the internal and foreign ones, in destabilizing the Caucasus, which demonstrates the fragile situation in the Caucasus and the need to pay attention to it.
In the past recent months and amid the outbreak of COVID-19, border clashes have reported between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The skirmished have killed and injured a number of military forces and civilians. The main reason for the clashes is that the borders between the Central Asian republics have not been stabilized and the local residents are involved in disputes over those regions. The other reason relates to the activities of governments, such as the construction of roads in the disputed border areas, where the border forces are usually involved in skirmishes. Moreover, the existence of some extraterritorial regions, the shape of borders, and the intertwined frontiers of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, particularly in an area known as the Fergana Valley, have resulted in local skirmishes and border disputes.
The Iraqi and Syrian governments have repeatedly opposed the large-scale operation by Turkey’s military forces in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria over the past recent months. Furthermore, the disputes between Turkey and Greece over the borders and territories have escalated again. Turkey’s border disputes with Greece erupted after all borders of the Ottoman Empire were redrawn in 1923, except for the common border with Iran. The signing of a Maritime Boundary Treaty between Turkey and Libya over the Mediterranean Sea in November 2019, Turkey’s announcement of exploration activities in the Mediterranean Sea, and the escalation of problems regarding the refugees at the common border of Turkey and Greece intensified the tensions to the extent that the prime minister of Greece voiced his country’s readiness for war and asked for support from the European Union and the NATO. The Turkish authorities emphasized that they call for a revision of the Treaty of Lausanne which delimits the boundaries with Greece.
It is obvious that borders are of great significance as the symbol of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states. Border disputes between two neighboring countries reveal the troubles of neighborliness, specifically when the conflicts are tied to the economic, ethnic, and environmental issues. That’s why most wars break out between the neighbors. It is necessary to pay attention to the concept of “neighborliness” to address the situation. Neighborliness is a privilege that allows for taking the opportunities for being a neighbor. “Neighborliness” is an end to geography and the beginning of culture and interaction. Two adjacent countries are neighborsbut do not experience “neighborliness” necessarily. The lack of virtue of “neighborliness” between the neighboring states is the reason for the arising problems. The existence or absence of “neighborliness” defines the formation of good and bad neighbors. In other terms, this is “neighborliness” that shapes the relations between the neighbors in the path to improvement, promotion, and mutual interests. The value of a neighbor is totally based on the virtue of neighborliness. Thus, the principle of neighborliness in the foreign policy must be considered as a major variable vis-à-vis the reality of being a neighbor. I would return to the subject of border disputes. Resolution of the Caspian Sea legal regime and the Uzbekistan-oriented efforts that have been launched over the past three years to reduce the border disputes in Central Asia are promising signs of the possibility of reliance on the virtue of neighborliness. The outstanding symbols of a policy of neighborliness include stronger bonds between the neighboring states in various arenas such as energy, transportation, trade, science and technology, the promotion of popular and political relations, as well as caring about the peaceful settlement of disputes. Our region requires dialogue and formation of a mutual understanding of the concept of neighborliness to achieve peace and prosperity.
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)