Dimitris Rapidis

The recent diplomatic escalation between Turkey and Syria with reference to the fall of a Turkish aircraft hit by Syrian forces seems to be more important than it first looked like. Turkey’s relatively calm post-reaction is what really corresponds to the country’s strategic profile or a meticulously examined case scenario with deeper implications?

It is widely stated that Turkey has become a pivotal player in the Middle East building its strategic doctrine on the basis of zero problems with its neighbours. This aspect is inextricably interwoven with the leverage Turkey is exerting to the Arab World being identified as the peripheral power that can be followed and endorsed by all Arab states that have no direct or indirect strategic interests with the United States. In other words with all countries except for Saudi Arabia, the most committed ally of the US in Middle East.

What is more, Turkey has all necessary features that can sufficiently upgrade and stabilize its role in the region and substitute US influence. It has a boosting economy, despite late signs of downturn, with high-paced growth and production, it has investments and strong commerical ties with the wider area, it represents a political system with secularism and Islam being at least normally accomodated, and of course it is (supposedly or not) adequately equipped to address military threats. Alongside, Turkey has a chatismatic political leader, Erdogan, and a convincing and tough negotiator, Ahmet Davutoglu. Furthermore, it is an equal interlocutor with major superpowers of the wider region, like Russia and China, and this is why constraints inside this triangle are rising over the influence imposed in the adjacent areas.

Ankara is primarly focused on maintaining its zero problem policy, acknowledging the burden-sharing that is developed and unfolded along this strategic option. Ankara is also considering that Syria’s regime actions and reactions are largely regarded as partly unthoughtful as Assad seems to be puzzled having to preserve its regime from external criticism and pressure linked with atrocities and extensive violence against civilians. Erdogan’s decision to avoid military intervention can be considered as wise and thoughtful in long-term given that for Turkey a military escalation in the region could also unveil and shake-up the issue of the Kurdish community in both parts of the countries; a community that struggle for independence and would benefit from a possible escalation and re-shaping of borders in the region. Therefore, Erdogan’s decision to solely undertake diplomatic action instead of military is also a pending request addressing the international community and the Security Council of the UN to find and implement measures against Assad’s regime, assuming the burden of a possible regime change and political transformation in Syria.

From a similar perspective, Ankara acknowledges that a possible escalation between Turkey and Syria could also bring the attention of the international community in the area and involve NATO as a resolving and intervening force in order to bring back order. A possible NATO intervention is something Turkey would definitely like to avoid as the existing status quo of the region could change and bring Turkey in an inferior negotiating and strategic position comparing to nowadays. Let alone the fact that Turkey has already damaged relations with Israel, whereas bilateral relations with Russia and Iran are also put under consideration. Scratching sensitive issues of Turkey’s geopolitical agenda will not be the best option given that the effort of Davutoglu all these years to merge Turkey as pivotal and regional superpower would go nonsense. Thus Turkey has to fix this issue itself and bring normality back in its relation with Syria. And this it seems to do so.

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