The Trilateral Cooperation of Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia in the North-South Corridor and Iran’s National Security

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Department of Regional Studies, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 A PhD Candidate in Regional Studies, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


The major economic plans in the Eurasia are deeply rooted in the great games played by the regional states for the purpose of constantly gaining more power and ever-expanding influence in order to acquire and maintain an advantageous position in the international system. The main function of the North-South Corridor as an economic project is to facilitate transportation and trade at the regional and global levels. In this paper, the authors attempt to find answers to the following research question: How will  the trilateral cooperation of Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia in the North-South Corridor affect Iran’s national security? Within the framework of Gilpin's theory of the global economy and the challenges and opportunities in intensifying economic integration by trade and investment, they examine the consequences of economic cooperation between Iran and the two Eurasian states of Russia and Azerbaijan. In the substantive hypothesis, it is asserted that these three countries’ cooperation in the North-South international corridor facilitates transportation and trade of commodities, and improves Iran's political relations with regional countries by reducing threats and providing Iran with opportunities for mutually beneficial economic interactions in Eurasia. One of the purposes of the paper is to understand the nature of relations between Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. In the past, political and military considerations had a greater impact on the relations between Iran and Russia, as compared to economic ones.
     During the Cold War, Iran was an arena for confrontation where conflict between the great powers played out, because the rival states sought to    gain more influence in Iran as one of the most strategically located states in the  region. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow continued to pursue the goal of maintaining  cordial relations with Tehran in the hope of preventing the rival powers from driving a wedge between the two states. Russia keeps a watchful eye on Iran’s foreign policy and its impact on the Caspian Sea, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The North-South corridor came at a time when Putin was proposing the idea of Russia acting as a modern law-abiding great power. In line with this policy, Moscow decided to increase its bilateral cooperation with Iran and simultaneously interact constructively with the West. The inauguration of Donald Trump as the new U.S. president, followed by the withdrawal of Washington from the JCPOA, as well as the reimposition of additional economic sanctions against Iran, weakened the P5-Iran nuclear deal, and were among the factors which influenced the nature of Iran-Russia relations during Putin's fourth term. After the outbreak of war in Syria, and the advent of different approaches adopted by the leaders in the two countries to support the Bashar Assad regime demonstrated the limits of Moscow-Tehran cooperation in the region. However, Russia under Putin has often sought to treat Iran as a regional power in contrast to the U.S. regional policies. Despite their different foreign policy objectives as related to certain policy issues such as Syria and Israel, Iran and Russia still have the intention and capability to cooperate in Eurasia and elsewhere in the international system. Western sanctions against Iran and Russia have created another reason for the two countries’ interest in expanding bilateral trade ties.
      Iran with its large population provides a large market for Russian goods and services, and  thus Russia has tried to encourage closer cooperation between Iran and the member states of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).  For its part, Iran also looks at the EEU with its significant market as a good opportunity to become one of the most important routes for the transfer of goods and services between the countries in this union and South Asia, particularly India. Iranian policymakers have planned to improve economic and trade relations between Iran and South Caucasian countries. The North-South corridor has also created a good opportunity for Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan to work toward more cooperation based on mutual interest. The government in Baku joined the process in 2005 with the aim of increasing its strategic importance and power in the South Caucasus.
In order to analyze the relationship between the volume of trade facilitated by the North-South Corridor and Iran's political and economic security in the Caucasus, the authors rely on the available secondary data sources as well as data collected by the use of the method of  survey research in which a group of experts were asked to complete a questionnaire. The result showed that most respondents considered the impact of economic factors (e.g., free trade, customs status and security of basic goods) to be more important than the political-security factors (e.g., terrorism, extremism and the rivalry of major powers). The findings show that the North-South corridor will certainly have positive economic consequences by facilitating trade, but it could indirectly bring about non-economic benefits by encouraging closer political  ties which will help these states to collectively combat terrorism and confront other common security threats. Iran’s cooperation with Russia and Azerbaijan in completing the North-South corridor will increase regional trade and economic mobility and will enhance Iran’s national security due to the following reasons: 1. Encouraging free trade, 2. Modernizing trade infrastructure, 3. Increasing the investment by the private sector, 4. Facilitating economic diversification, 5. Decreasing the negative impact of U.S. sanctions against Iran and Russia, 6. Increasing Iran’s economic relations with the Eurasian countries which might generate more export revenues, 7. Increasing Iran’s bargaining power on various regional issues, 8. Iran’s membership in regional organizations reduces its international isolation and helps it to be in a better position to interact with state and non-state extra-regional players such as the World Bank, and WTO, 9. Facilitating regional cooperation in confronting external security threats in the region. However, for the purpose of achieving maximum benefits from cooperation based on the North-South Corridor, strong political and economic incentives are required to motivate the Eurasian countries to work with Iran.


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