By George Friedman
JUNE 11, 2013
There is a point where three great powers -- Russia, Turkey and Persia -- meet: the Caucasus. At the moment they converge in a country called Azerbaijan. That fact makes Azerbaijan a battleground for these three great powers, which have competed with each other along various borders for centuries. Until 1991 Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, as was the rest of the South Caucasus. But as the Russian border moved north, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were once more unveiled by history. Of the three, Azerbaijan won the geopolitical prize of bordering the three great regional powers.
It also emerged as a major energy producer. At the end of the 19th century, half of the oil in the world was produced in Azerbaijan, whose oil fields around the capital, Baku, were developed by the Nobel brothers, famed for dynamite and prizes. This is where they made their fortune. I had the pleasure of dining at their mansion a few years ago, a guest of government officials. Whatever others might have thought in that elegant house, I thought of Hitler urgently trying to reach Baku and its oil, and the fact that his disaster at Stalingrad was actually part of his attempt to seize Azerbaijan's oil fields. Azerbaijan was once the prize of empire. It is now independent in a very dangerous place.
The United States: An Adolescent Global Power
I have visited Azerbaijan several times since 2008, when I published a book called The Next 100 Years, which identified Azerbaijan as geopolitically critical in the emerging global system. This brought with it an invitation to visit Azerbaijan and see the place on which my theory focused. Since I continue to regard Azerbaijan as critical both in the struggle emerging in the Caucasus and to the United States, I continue to visit and continue to enjoy dinners that never end and rounds of toasts that test my liver. But I never forget one thing: Hitler risked everything to get to Baku and its oil. He failed to reach it, and the history of our time turns on that fact.
My latest trip had to do with a conference on U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. There are a small number of people in the United States who care about Azerbaijan and most of them were there, along with some congressmen, state representatives and a large numbers of Azeris. Compared with my first encounter with Azerbaijan, the number of people interested in the country has risen dramatically.
Conferences on subjects like this are global. You can be in Washington, Singapore or Baku and it all looks the same. When you are in my business, you meet the same people several times a year. Sometimes they have something new to say; sometimes I have something new to say. It is too infrequent. What is interesting is the people you don't normally meet: the local academics, government officials, businessmen and others. Over time you create a group of friends in the countries you visit. These are the ones from whom you learn the most. And in Azerbaijan, you listen to their desire to be friends with the United States and bewilderment at American indifference.