Sargsyan Assesses Defense Capabilities

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan said Thursday Armenia would not hesitate to go to war with neighboring Azerbaijan if a military build-up or any other such threatening actions are taken by the country.

"If–one day–Azerbaijan feels it is stronger than Armenia–and resume hostilities with us–Armenia will not only defend itself but view this as a blatant disregard for a political settlement to the Karabakh conflict," Sargsyan told students at Yerevan State University.

Sargsyan added he did not anticipate war in the near future–as he believed Azerbaijan will not be able to match Armenia’s military strength. He affirmed that even if the process of army formation is slower in Armenia than in Azerbaijan–Armenia will remain more powerful for at least two to three years. Among factors which may prevent war–Sargsyan noted–was unity of the people and its spirit.

Noting that between 1995 and 1997–there was a recognizable arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan–Sargsyan said today–the number of weapons possessed by both countries is the same.

Sargsyan added that the danger of war resuming in the region has been reduced by 50 percent–as Armenia does not have any such intention. He stressed Armenia is nonetheless prepared for both defensive and offensive operations if need be.

Sargsyan also addressed the issue of military call-ups–saying the call-up period would remain unchanged at two years instead of the rumored extension to three years. By that same token–Sargsyan reaffirmed that the call-up period would not be reduced to a year-and-a-half–as was also rumored.

Sargsyan also restated the importance of withdrawing the obligatory military service bill–since according to him–young people with higher education must supply the intellectual deficit in the army.

Sargsyan welcomed the practice used in the Medical University–where students who serve in the army need not pay for their education–calling on other institutes to follow suit.

Sargsyan also made it clear that Armenia can’t afford a professional army today–referring to Sweden–which spends some $6 billion to maintain its professional army. France–meanwhile–decided to begin a professional army in 1995 but will likely complete its mission by the year 2008.

Sargsyan also reiterated that in Russia–where a similar goal for an army was set some eight years ago–the process had brought nothing but a disrupted fighting trim of the army and personnel reductions. "There is a need for a stronger army above all–and only after that we may think of a professional army," Sargsyan said.

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