The sheer number of high-profile players in the Syrian war has meant that, for many, Turkey has been somewhat sidelined in terms of global attention. The reality is, however, that Turkey is one of the few countries for whom the outcome of the Syrian war could present an existential threat. Turkey shares a border with Syria, is tottering under the weight of refugees from the war-torn country and is now considering sending troops into Syria.
Before the start of the Syrian war, Turkey was riding high on the back of the Arab Spring. The new order of the Arab world looked like being very favorable to what had already been considered a rising medium power in the region. Turkey’s strong military reputation, its robust and secular government and its general acceptability to most Arab nations and even to NATO meant that the future looked decidedly rose-colored back in 2010. Since that time, attempts to capitalize on this surge have gone disastrously. The revolts of the Arab Spring failed, the U.S. lost some of its keen interest in Middle Eastern hegemony, the rebellion against its adjacent rival, Assad, has stagnated, and Turkish President Erdogan’s program of nationalism through Islamism, and his hard line approach to the Kurdish problem, have alienated Turkey from its most vital ally — the U.S.
Not only has everything that could possibly have gone wrong done so, most analysts agree that Turkey’s management of these various crises has been disastrous. From the collapse of the Kurdish peace process which, until the Syrian war, had been making promising progress, to the downing of a Russian jet, Erdogan appears to have done everything possible to make Turkey’s situation worse. Turkey’s open hostility to the U.S.-backed YPG Kurdish militia have cost the country much of its international influence as it has distanced them from their relationship with the U.S. Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian jet has impacted significantly on their economy through Russian sanctions. And to cap it all off, their involvement in and proximity to the Syrian war has resulted in terrorist blowback, with suicide bombings killing hundreds, and trade and industry, already waning, suffering through security anxieties.
All of this adds up to a Turkey which has gone from riding high as the next big regional influencer, to becoming a near pariah nation, hemmed in on all sides by the threat of catastrophe. Gokhan Bacik, professor of international relations at Ankara’s Ipek University, said that the current state of Turkey’s affairs was unsustainable.
“This is a country that has often had problems in the past, but the scale of what is happening now is beyond Turkey’s capacity for digestion.”
What all of this means is that analysts are no longer confident that they can predict what Turkey will do next. Usually, this is a simple matter of balancing national interests against the best possible outcomes, but it seems that there are no longer good outcomes available to Turkey. Professor Bacik, in comments reported in the New Zealand Herald, said that Turkey’s posture was “very strange” and could lead to “surprises.” According to French president, Francois Hollande, this unpredictability meant that there was a “risk of war between Russia and Turkey.”
Russia has made it abundantly clear, as reported in Bloomberg, that there would be a military response to any Turkish invasion of Syrian territory. Russia, a staunch backer of the Assad regime, would always move to defend its territorial integrity in any case, but there is also the fact that Turkey would be likely to target Kurdish forces that are receiving military support from Russia.
At present, Turkey’s situation looks like a lose-lose. No matter what they do, much of their regional and global influence has been squandered in a series of bad decisions and it increasingly looks as if their “nightmare scenario” of being hedged in by Kurdish autonomous zones is a virtual certainty. Given this set of circumstances, it is understandable that many analysts see this as being a situation so bad that war might actually be an option.
[Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images]