The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Two Weeks In

October 14, 2020
Michael Kofman and Leonid Nersisyan
This is a summary of an article originally published by War on the Rocks.

The authors write that after more than two weeks of fighting, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh may settle into “a battle of attrition.”  

Azerbaijan has achieved some tactical success and advanced into a small portion of the region’s territory. The country’s “drone fleet has been pummeling Armenian forces” and both sides have “employed large caliber rocket systems, cluster munitions, and tactical missiles against each other’s critical infrastructure.” For Baku, “[t]actical successes have not yielded a notable operational or strategic victory, and Baku’s path towards achieving political objectives via the battlefield remains unclear.”

The information war has “made it difficult to objectively assess the course of combat thus far.” What can be learned from the conflict “is hardly revelatory … The lessons from this conflict are consistent with those of other wars in the latter 20th century: It is much better to have a smaller ground force that is well defended from the air, than a vast armored force that is completely exposed to sensors and airpower from above. Well prepared defenses, if insufficiently protected or camouflaged from the air — which is increasingly difficult — are naturally vulnerable.”

The authors warn that “fetishizing combat video feeds plays to a Western intellectual preference for the tactical, and system on system evaluations, while ignoring the basic fact that Azerbaijan has not been able to attain a significant operational success ... Tactical successes, which may appear impressive, can fail to add up to an operational breakthrough. In such cases, military strategy turns to the old familiar: a battle of attrition.”

Read the full article at War on the Rocks.


Michael Kofman

Michael Kofman serves as director and senior research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute.  


Leonid Nersisyan

Leonid Nersisyan is a military analyst based in Moscow, who serves as editor of New Defence Order.

Photo in the public domain.